Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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I can’t believe I forgot to mention Earth Overshoot Day yesterday but today’s top story contains several articles that have cropped up overnight. From today we and, more pertinently, our kids, are living on borrowed resources. Lots of other news on climate change, plus, Coles extending its supply of free heavy duty plastic bags has caused a huge furore; research shows Chinese and Western infrastructure financing was a driver of tree loss and habitat fragmentation in South America; and data on high levels of youth homelessness in Australia.

Top Story

What is Earth Overshoot Day and why is it coming earlier each year? | The Independent
Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity has used more from nature than our planet can renew in that entire year. As humans use more and more of the Earth’s natural resources, this date is arriving sooner each year. While Earth Overshoot Day was marked on 2 August in 2017, it has arrived on 1 August in 2018. This means that as a species, we are currently using up nature’s resources around 1.7 times faster than the planet’s ecosystems can regenerate them, through our consumption rates and a growing population. Since the day started being observed in 1986, this is the earliest point in the year on which it has ever fallen.


Climate Change

Last year was warmest ever that didn’t feature an El Niño, report finds | The Guardian
Last year was the warmest ever recorded on Earth that didn’t feature an El Niño, a periodic climatic event that warms the Pacific Ocean, according to the annual state of the climate report by 500 climate scientists from around the world, overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) and released by the American Meteorological Society.

Gwynne Dyer: Climate change — where is it all going to end? | NZ Herald
This is Armageddon Summer in the northern hemisphere: out-of-control wildfires all around the Arctic Circle (not to mention California and Greece), weeks-long heatwaves with unprecedented high temperatures, torrential downpours and Biblical floods. And yes, it’s climate change. It’s quite appropriate to be frightened, because the summers will be much worse 10 years from now, and much worse again 10 years after that. Prompt and drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions now might stop the summers of the 2040s from being even worse, but they wouldn’t do much to lessen the mounting misery of the next 20 years. Those emissions are mostly in the atmosphere already.

Australia weather: Why our thunderstorms are getting worse |
AUSTRALIA – SCIENTISTS have been “severely underestimating” our short thunderstorms which are actually set to get worse. The latest rainfall research on Australia reveals how heavy and quick rain storms are intensifying more rapidly than expected. This means more flash floods, severe water surges in urban areas and bigger dry and wet extremes in general. A team of international scientists, led by Newcastle University in the UK and involving the University of Adelaide, studied intense rain storms in Australia over the past 50 years and discovered they were substantially larger than anticipated under climate change.

An impressive lightning storm passes over the Sydney CBD. Picture: Rohan KellySource:News Corp Australia

An impressive lightning storm passes over the Sydney CBD. Picture: Rohan KellySource:News Corp Australia

Study sees dramatic rise in heatwave deaths by 2080 | Reuters
The number of people dying from heatwaves is likely to rise sharply in some regions by 2080 if policymakers fail to take mitigating steps in climate and health policies, according to the results of a study on Tuesday.

Related: Australian heatwave deaths could rise by 500 per cent | The Fifth Estate

Sweden’s highest point set to lose title as glacier melts | The Guardian
Sweden’s highest peak, a glacier on the southern tip of the Kebnekaise mountain, is melting due to record hot Arctic temperatures and is no longer the nation’s tallest point, scientists said on Wednesday. Rosqvist said the southern peak has lost four metres (13ft) of snow between 2 July and 31 July. This means an average of 14cm of snow melted every day on the glacier in July, as Sweden experienced record hot temperatures, triggering dozens of wildfires across the country, even in the Arctic Circle.

Fire and water: July’s global weather extremes – in pictures | The Guardian
Heatwaves are setting temperature records; Europe suffered its deadliest wildfire in more than a century; 90 large fires in the western US have destroyed homes and forced the evacuation of at least 37,000 people; flood-inducing downpours have pounded parts of Asia. This year’s summer weather is more extreme because of human-caused climate change, scientists say.

A view of the parched Greenwich Park in London. Health warnings were issued during record-breaking temperatures in some parts of the country. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

A view of the parched Greenwich Park in London. Health warnings were issued during record-breaking temperatures in some parts of the country. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Environment and Biodiversity

Forest & Bird closes all kauri reserves to the public until ‘crisis situation’ is over |
NEW ZEALAND – All Forest and Bird’s kauri reserves will be closed to the public until the spread of kauri dieback is under control. The conservation group owns and manages seven reserves that contain kauri, covering nearly 250 hectares across Waikato, Auckland and Northland.

The ‘shifting baseline’ of New Zealand’s whitebait fishery |
NEW ZEALAND – “A Christchurch gentleman returning from a holiday trip to the West Coast recently, has reported a remarkable thing while in Westport. “He reported tons of whitebait being caught in the river and along the beach, and the enormous number secured proving too much for the local canning factory, which has run out of tins. The whitebait could not be shipped away, as no boat was in, and the residents are ‘sick of the sight of them’, so that several tons have been carted to the beach and buried.” This was reported in an October 1910 issue of the Marlborough Express. With the whitebait season beginning on August 15, it is timely to consider the state of the whitebait fishery in New Zealand.

A ‘perfect policy storm’ cuts puma numbers by almost half near Jackson, Wyoming | Mongabay
USA – Several decades of seemingly unrelated policies, ranging from increases in elk hunting to the reintroduction of wolves, have combined to cut a population of mountain lions in the western United States by 48 percent, a recent study has found. Over a span of 14 years, a team of biologists tracked the movements of 134 pumas (Puma concolor) fitted with radio or GPS collars in a 2,300-square-kilometer (888-square-mile) area north of Jackson, Wyoming, and arrived at that conclusion. They reported their findings on June 25 in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

Economy and Business

Chinese / Western financing of roads, dams led to major Andes Amazon deforestation | Mongabay
International development finance institutions (DFIs) invested heavily in large-scale infrastructure projects that triggered significant deforestation in the Andes Amazon especially within the nations of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia between 2000 and 2015, according to recent research published by Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Why Coles’ plastic bag backflip leaves us worse off than before | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – One month after removing free lightweight plastic bags from checkouts, Australian supermarket giant Coles has decided to offer thicker reusable plastics bags for free, indefinitely. This unprecedented move is in response to strong backlash by customers who are struggling to switch to reusable bags. We know that offering free lightweight plastic bags causes excessive plastic use. We also know that banning lightweight bags can increase the use of heavier plastic bags (such as bin liners). Coles’ decision brings out the worst of both worlds: giving out heavier plastic bags for free.

See also:

Darwin City Council outlaws single use plastic, helium balloons from January 2019 | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – All single-use plastic will be banned at Darwin City Council events and from market stalls on council land from January 1 next year — which could see more than 1,000 disposable coffee cups saved from landfill each market day. The ban, which would extend to helium balloons on council land, was decided at a Darwin City Council meeting last night.

Politics and Society

Should businesses communicate negative contributions to the Global Goals? | Edie
As more companies pledge to support and report on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), should businesses also examine and communicate negative contributions to the Global Goals?… Taking place last Thursday (July 26) – and available now on demand – the hour-long webinar, hosted in association with DNV GL, saw panellists debate how businesses can bridge the gap between ambition and action on the Global Goals, after a string of reports showed that a huge proportion of firms to have made SDG pledges have not yet to set any measurable targets related to the Goals, nor are they monitoring progress against them.

Youth homeless numbers are shocking and devastating – time to act | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – Almost one in six young people aged 15-19 has experienced homelessness, according to a new Mission Australia survey, with “devastating” and long-lasting effects for those experiencing the burden of insecure housing. While the 2016 Census found there were 43,500 young people reporting as homeless, Mission Australia said that its service experience pointed to this figure being much greater in reality. Its Youth Survey 2017 found that 15.6 per cent of young people had experienced homelessness. The figure was reached by looking at “hidden homeless”, which includes people living in refuges, transitional accommodation or couch surfing.


Guest post: ‘Peak coal’ is getting closer, latest figures show | Carbon Brief
Total global coal capacity continues to inch up, but a peak is on the horizon. In the first half of 2018, retired capacity has nearly matched newly operating plants and the global pipeline for proposed coal is quickly eroding. This is according to CoalSwarm’s latest Global Coal Plant Tracker results, which we completed in July 2018. Our figures confirm the sector is in the midst of rapid change. [Carbon Brief recently used the data from the tracker to produce a global coal plant mapand timeline.] Even if global coal capacity peaks soon, however, the sector is set to breach its share of internationally agreed climate goals — unless large numbers of coal plants retire early.

NEG in the air as Nationals go for coal, and Barnaby goes nuts | RenewEconomy
The timetable for a final decision on the controversial National Energy Guarantee has been thrown into the air amid a renewed push for coal generation by the National Party following the Coalition’s “super-Saturday” by-election defeats last weekend.

Related: National Energy Guarantee: Why the ACT isn’t convinced Malcolm Turnbull’s plan will work | ABC News

Built Environment

Greener, cheaper living for tenants: CEFC backs “build-to-rent” property fund | One Step Off The Grid
AUSTRALIA – The Clean Energy Finance Corporation has thrown its weight behind Australia’s first build-to-rent property fund, with a $50 million cornerstone investment in a $1 billion residential portfolio being developed and managed by ASX-listed diversified group, Mirvac. The deal gives the CEFC a 30 per cent interest in the investment platform, called the Australian Build-to-Rent Club (ABTRC), whose seed asset will be Mirvac’s new 258-apartment building, Indigo, at its Pavilions project in Sydney’s Olympic Park.

Food Systems

Iceland launches plastic-free chewing gum in UK first | Edie
UK – Frozen food giant Iceland has today (August 1) launched a range of plastic-free chewing gum, making it the first supermarket in the UK to offer a biodegradable alternative. While the majority of chewing gums are made from synthetic rubber, the new Iceland product, called Simply Gum, is made from the sap of the sapodilla tree, which is called chicle and was the original base for most gum products before the switch.