Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Today’s top story is about balancing the needs of nature and humans in protected areas so we don’t love them to death. Sometimes nature just needs to be left alone and sometimes it can handle a bit of human interaction. Black spots in the news with the rise and rise of right wing politics and the gap left with the exit of leaders that helped form the Paris agreement; Asian coal plants on the rise; BP doubling profits on new oil; and positively reviewed reef research proposal goes unfunded. Bright spots as a convention on biodiversity meets to discuss protection of our last wilderness areas; people take part in civil disobedience in London to protect inaction on climate; and predictions that coal in Australia and gas in California are going down the gurgler.

Top Story

Trails on trial: which human uses are OK for protected areas?
There’s no question about it: parks and protected areas are the absolute cornerstone of our efforts to protect nature. In the long term, we can’t save wildlife and ecosystems without them. But people want to use parks too, and in rapidly growing numbers. Around the world, parks are destinations for recreational activities like hiking, bird-watching and camping, as well as noisier affairs such as mountain-biking, snowmobiling and four-wheel-driving. Where do we draw the line?

Climate Change

Asia coal plants worrying for climate targets: IEA | Yahoo!
Coal-fired power plants operating and under construction in Asia pose a threat to achieving the goal of halting global warming, the head of the International Energy Agency told the Financial Times on Wednesday. The coal burning plants would “lock in the emissions trajectory of the world, full stop,” IEA chief Fatih Birol told the newspaper in an interview. Last year, greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector — which account for about three-quarters of the total — rose after three years of holding steady. They are expected to increase again this year.

State governments can transform Australia’s energy policy from major fail to reliable success | The Conversation
Energy policy in Australia is a major failure. The federal government has been unable to forge an effective policy to ensure affordable, reliable and low-emissions electricity. It’s time for the states to step up. Internationally, responsibility for climate change policies rests with national governments. The federal government says it remains committed to Australia’s target under the Paris Agreement, but it has abandoned the emissions-reduction obligation of the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). This leaves Australia’s electricity sector, which is responsible for 34% of our overall emissions, with no credible policy to reduce those emissions.

Bolsonaro in, Merkel out: the Paris climate gang is breaking up | Climate Home News
The alliance of rich, emerging and poor economies that sealed the Paris climate deal is falling apart. In 2015, the world’s top two emitters, the US and China, joined with Brazil, some small island countries and the European Union, led by Germany, France and the UK, to land the agreement. But climate change politics have shifted significantly since then, with two more big tilts this week. Brazil elected a staunch and radical anti-environmentalist president, while Germany’s Angela Merkel confirmed her exit plans, further weakening an already fading image as the “climate chancellor” and Europe’s go-to leader in the field.

Three Ways to Combat Climate Change Through the Courts | The Atlantic
USA – Climate change is crashing into America’s courts. As the science gets more conclusive, the reality more sobering, and the predictions more dire, the executive and legislative branches have refused to act. That leaves the judicial branch. In theory, courts are a good place for climate science. Unlike legislative bodies, where bills based on science can be derailed just because a few people say they don’t “believe in” climate change, the courts have evidentiary standards. If something’s real, it’s real. The facts accepted by 98 percent of scientists worldwide represent pretty convincing evidence.

Environment and Biodiversity

We’ve lost 60% of wildlife in less than 50 years | World Economic Forum
Human activity is having a devastating impact on our planet. But while most people understand how pollution, resource depletion and loss of biodiversity are pushing the natural resources to the brink, the reality can seem distant and difficult to quantify. Many of us find it hard to grasp the real pace of decline happening in the natural world. Sir David Attenborough has witnessed it first hand, and calls humans a plague on earth — encapsulating in just a few words the widespread destruction we are responsible for.

Five countries hold 70% of world’s last wildernesses, map reveals | The Guardian
Just five countries hold 70% of the world’s remaining untouched wilderness areas and urgent international action is needed to protect them, according to new research. Researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have for the first time produced a global map that sets out which countries are responsible for nature that is devoid of heavy industrial activity. It comes ahead of the conference of parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Egypt in November where signatory nations are working towards a plan for the protection of biodiversity beyond 2020.

‘Success guaranteed’: Reef centre misses funding despite strong review | SMH
AUSTRALIA – A world-renowned coral reef research centre missed out on Federal funding to groups proposing the study of the “digital child”, “creative aging” and the Enlightenment. The Townsville-based Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies failed to secure the grant money from the Australian Research Council (ARC), despite an external review describing its submission as “revolutionary”.

Former Google heavy-hitter turns to underwater drones to aid marine conservation in SA | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – He quit a major position with one of the biggest companies in the world to turn his talents to preserving marine life — and Alan Noble says that decision has left him “feeling lucky”.The former Google Australia engineering director commuted to Sydney from Adelaide for 11 years and oversaw his department grow from 20 engineers to 650. Now, six months after he resigned, his not-for-profit organisation, AusOcean, is designing and building an underwater sensor network to assist with the restoration of Windarra Reef off the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia.

Kiwi savers: Can we keep our national bird from extinction? | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – Two years ago, New Zealand launched a plan to reverse the decline of its native bird – to the point where 100,000 kiwi were scratching around our bush by 2030. Are we any closer? In the first of a two-part series, science reporter Jamie Morton looks at how close kiwi have come to the brink.

Economy and Business

Demand for Australia’s thermal coal exports to be dire in future, IEEFA report warns | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Economists are predicting Australia’s thermal coal exports to plummet faster than expected due to falling demand across Asia that appears permanent and irreversible. Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) found Australia’s top four export markets — China, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea — were shifting rapidly to renewables.

Gas companies face Californian wipe-out, say S&P, Moody’s | Climate Home News
Gas companies in California face credit downgrades, ratings agencies say, after the state pledged to get all of its power from renewable sources by 2045. On 10 September, California governor Jerry Brown signed a bill which would require 100% of the state electricity’s to come from carbon-free sources. That would have no immediate effect on most gas generators, according to a report by Standard & Poor’s (S&P) analyst Michael Ferguson this month. However, he said: “We believe that over the long term, with the growth of renewable energy, these utilities face a significant threat to their market position, finances, and credit stability.”

BP profits double on higher prices and new oil fields | BBC News
Profits at oil giant BP more than doubled in the third quarter, boosted by stronger oil prices and higher production from new oil fields. Profits rose to $3.8bn (£3bn) from $1.86bn a year earlier, its best quarterly result for five years. Revenue in the July-to-September quarter jumped to $80.8bn, up from $60.8bn last year.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Byron Bay tourists could be hit with $200 fine for smoking on the beach, to reduce cigarette butt litter | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Visitors to Byron Bay could be fined up to $200 for lighting up on the beach in a bid to cut down on cigarette butt litter. The Byron Shire Council, in northern New South Wales, conducted an audit of litter across the region in 2017 and discovered more than 80 per cent of discarded items were cigarette butts. In response, the council voted to ban smoking on local beaches and will use its rangers to issue fines of up to $200 to anyone caught lighting up.

Politics and Society

Labor to propose new environmental laws to enforce biodiversity and conservation | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – A Labor government would bring in new federal environment laws and strong independent agencies including a national environment protection authority (EPA) to enforce them, under a draft policy platform signed off by the ALP national executive. Developed by a 60-member policy forum chaired by the opposition leader, Bill Shorten, and the outgoing party president, Mark Butler, the platform is the basis for debate at Labor’s national conference in Adelaide next month.

Industry concerns prompt changes to promised NT environmental protection reforms | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – The Northern Territory Government has backed away from parts of its promised reforms to environmental protection laws halfway through consultations on them, citing industry concerns about potential legal challenges by green groups.

Ideas of home and ownership in Australia might explain the neglect of renters’ rights | The Conversation
In Australia, when we think of home, we think of ownership. This normalisation of home ownership is reflected in the “Great Australian Dream”, the belief that it’s the best way to achieve financial security. This “dream” is based on the premise that if you work hard you will one day be able to buy a home. Home ownership is an important goal for many Australians. Home ownership implies success.

The Guardian view on Brazil’s new president: a global danger | The Guardian (Editorial)
It is depressing to think that for the first time since the return of democracy in 1985 Brazilians have elected a far-right president of the republic. Jair Bolsonaro, a seven-term lawmaker and former army captain, represents a clear and present danger not only to his country but to the planet. At home he has defended dictatorship and torture and joked about killing his leftwing opponents. He has a history of denigrating women, gay people and minorities.

Related: Brazil’s new president adds to global threat to science | Nature

Budget 2018: Environmental groups condemn lack of commitment to tackle climate change and wildlife declines | The Independent
UK – Environmental groups have criticised the lack of new funding and measures to tackle climate change and the spiralling decline of wildlife. In the Budget Philip Hammond announced schemes to encourage tree planting and to tax plastics, but critics said such actions fail to tackle the problems Britain and the planet as a whole faces. Many pointed out that the chancellor’s speech contained no references to climate change, despite coming in the wake of a major report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the devastating impacts of rising global temperatures.

15 environmental protesters arrested at civil disobedience campaign in London | The Guardian
UK – Fifteen environmental protesters, who blocked the roads outside the Houses of Parliament in the first stage of an “escalating campaign of civil disobedience” have been arrested. More than 1,000 people from the newly formed Extinction Rebellion group issued a declaration of rebellion in London’s Parliament Square on Wednesday in an effort to draw attention to the unfolding climate emergency.

See also: Why I’m turning from law-maker to law-breaker to try to save the planet | The Guardian

Members of the recently formed Extinction Rebellion group in Westminster on Wednesday. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

Members of the recently formed Extinction Rebellion group in Westminster on Wednesday. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

Built Environment

Complete rail network switch key to carbon footprint reduction – expert | RNZ News
NEW ZEALAND – KiwiRail needs to electrify all of the North Island’s main trunk line and expand into the South Island as well if the country is serious about reducing its carbon footprint, an energy professor says. The government has announced it plans to spend $35 million over the next four years refurbishing 15 electric trains, extending their life by 10 years. KiwiRail freight trains use diesel locomotives in Wellington, switch to electric units in Palmerston North, then back to diesel in Hamilton. The company had planned to scrap the electric trains by April next year, replacing them with Chinese-made diesel locomotives.