Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Our top story today is about semantics, arguing that we should be naming capitalism as the mechanism causing the destruction of species and by naming it, we have a focus for change. In other news, a report from Myanmar’s residents on their fight with climate change; we hear from the authors of the Nature article that maps the world’s last wilderness; and an unusual ecosystem service is provided by seagrass meadows – preserving priceless cultural artefacts.

Top Story

Capitalism is killing the world’s wildlife populations, not ‘humanity’ | The Conversation

The latest Living Planet report from the WWF makes for grim reading: a 60% decline in wild animal populations since 1970, collapsing ecosystems, and a distinct possibility that the human species will not be far behind. The report repeatedly stresses that humanity’s consumption is to blame for this mass extinction, and journalists have been quick to amplify the message… There is one word, however, that fails to make a single appearance: capitalism. It might seem, when 83% of the world’s freshwater ecosystems are collapsing (another horrifying statistic from the report), that this is no time to quibble over semantics. And yet, as the ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer has written, “finding the words is another step in learning to see”.

Climate Change

Climate change: Oceans ‘soaking up more heat than estimated’ | BBC News
The world has seriously underestimated the amount of heat soaked up by our oceans over the past 25 years, researchers say. Their study suggests that the seas have absorbed 60% more than previously thought. They say it means the Earth is more sensitive to fossil fuel emissions than estimated. This could make it much more difficult to keep global warming within safe levels this century.

[Ed: includes a video on “five things you can do to help stop rising global temperatures”]

‘We feel like hermit crabs’: Myanmar’s climate dispossessed | The Guardian
MYANMAR – On a stiflingly hot morning, Daw Mya Htay rolls up her longyi, a Burmese sarong, ready to wade into the sea. “The well used to be the centre of our village,” Mya Htay says, grasping the side of a cement water well. But it no longer holds fresh water. For the people of Khindan, the well is symbolic of their losing battle with the sea.

The effects of climate change will be felt particularly keenly in Myanmar, where experts fear limited access to fresh water could spark conflict. Photograph: Libby Hogan for the Guardian

The effects of climate change will be felt particularly keenly in Myanmar, where experts fear limited access to fresh water could spark conflict. Photograph: Libby Hogan for the Guardian

Germany reaches deal to boost renewable energy capacity: SPD | Reuters
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU and its Social Democrat (SPD) partners have agreed to keep their promise to speed up the expansion of renewable power installations, ending months of wrangling, an SPD spokeswoman said on Wednesday. Renewable energy is one of the most important drivers of Germany’s plans to become a low-carbon economy, part of the country’s commitment to help to combat global warming.

Environment and Biodiversity

Earth’s wilderness is vanishing, and just a handful of nations can save it | The Conversation
Just 20 countries are home to 94% of the world’s remaining wilderness, excluding the high seas and Antarctica, according to our new global wilderness map, published today in Nature. A century ago, wilderness extended over most of the planet. Today, only 23% of land – excluding Antarctica – and 13% of the ocean remains free from the harmful impacts of human activities. More than 70% of remaining wilderness is in just five countries: Australia, Russia, Canada, the United States (Alaska), and Brazil.

DNA project to decode ‘all complex life’ on Earth | BBC News
A mission to sequence the genome of every known animal, plant, fungus and protozoan – a group of single-celled organisms – is underway. The Earth BioGenome Project (EBP) has been described as a “moonshot for biology”. A key aim is to use the information in efforts to conserve threatened species. Scientists say clues about how species adapt to environmental change could be hidden in their DNA code.

The golden eagle has already had its genome sequenced as part of an effort to conserve this elusive bird of prey. Photo: SPL [Ed: …as has New Zealand’s Kakapo]

The golden eagle has already had its genome sequenced as part of an effort to conserve this elusive bird of prey. Photo: SPL [Ed: …as has New Zealand’s Kakapo]

Scientists count whales from space | BBC News
UK scientists have demonstrated the practicality of counting whales from space. The researchers, from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), have been using the highest resolution satellite pictures available. Even when taken from 620km up, this imagery is sharp enough to capture the distinctive shapes of different species.

Current numbers on big species such as blue whales are very sketchy. Photo: BBC/Silverback Films

Current numbers on big species such as blue whales are very sketchy. Photo: BBC/Silverback Films

Seagrass, protector of shipwrecks and buried treasure | The Conversation
For more than 6,000 years, seagrass meadows in Australia’s coastal waters have been acting as security vaults for priceless cultural heritage. They’ve locked away thousands of shipwrecks in conditions perfect for preserving the fragile, centuries-old timbers of early European and Asian explorers, and could even hold secrets of seafaring by Aboriginal Australians. Seagrass meadows accumulate marine sediments beneath their leaves, slowly burying and safeguarding wrecks in conditions that museum curators can only dream of. It’s a process that takes centuries, as mats of seagrass and sediments cover the wrecks and all their buried treasure.

Australian freshwater turtles face threats from nest ‘imprisonment’, cars, foxes and more | ABC News (Citizen Science Opportunity)
AUSTRALIA – Imagine being a baby turtle, newly hatched and ready to explore the big wide world — but being held prisoner in an underground bunker. According to one paper published in a recent special issue of the Australian Journal of Zoology, many hatchlings may die in the nest because lack of rain causes a hard cap of soil to form, which prevents them from digging their way out… Researchers struggling to come to grips with the scale of different threats to Australian freshwater turtles — and to find the best ways of protecting them — are enlisting the help of citizen scientists. So, if you care about turtles and would like to help, you can download the TurtleSAT app and start mapping turtles and their nests.

As fracking approaches, Northern Territory to pump up fines for breaching revised Water Act | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – The Northern Territory Government is getting ready to change its Water Act in what has been described as its most significant amendments since 1992. At the heart of the change is to make sure mining and petroleum companies are no longer exempt from water-use regulation.

The rowi was long thought to have been a variety of the brown kiwi until researchers realised it was a distinct species. Photo / File

The rowi was long thought to have been a variety of the brown kiwi until researchers realised it was a distinct species. Photo / File

The fight for our national bird – and why it matters | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – While set apart by its soft, slightly greyish plumage and occasional white facial feathers, the bird was long thought to have been a variety of the brown kiwi until researchers realised it was a distinct species. Had this little bird not managed to hang on, our rarest kiwi species might have vanished without ever having been documented. When the rowi recovery project kicked off in 2006, there were fewer than 200 birds. Today, it’s estimated about 600 exist, most within the Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary near Franz Josef.

Economy and Business

CEFC marks year of record investment, as industry embraces clean energy | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – The Clean Energy Finance Corporation has notched up a record year of investment in 2017-18, with the latest annual report from the federal government’s $10 billion green bank revealing a total of $2.3 billion in new finance commitments made across the year. New investments included $1.1 billion in renewable energy, $944 million in energy efficiency, $100 million in transport and $127 million in waste-related projects – “demonstrating the diversity of our approach to finance and investment,” the CEFC said.

Green building ratings are part of the drivers for Australia’s green bonds | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – Drought-resistant water infrastructure, green residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) and waste and recycling initiatives are among the future opportunities for Australia’s fledgling green bond market. Presenting the Climate Bond Initiative’s research on the state of the global green bond and climate market on Wednesday morning in Sydney, Climate Bonds’ head of markets and report author Bridget Boulle said that the climate bond market was growing globally, including in the Asia Pacific region. Since Australia’s first deals in 2014, the total green bond issuance is now $8.3 billion.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Tasmania ready for waste levy on landfill, industry figures say, but Government bins idea | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Come March next year, it is expected most of Australia will have a waste levy to encourage recycling and cut down on landfill dumping — but not Tasmania, despite many in the industry calling out for one. The lack of progress on the issue has key players in the waste management industry and local government frustrated, particularly by what they say is a lack of leadership on the long discussed levy and on waste policy generally.

I tried out Queensland’s new recycling scheme so you know what to expect | SMH
AUSTRALIA – There’s a lot riding on Queensland’s new cash for containers scheme, particularly when it comes to how easy the program is to use. If it works, people will use it and get 10¢ back for every eligible plastic container, glass bottle or can. That’s the incentive. If not, we will keep dumping recyclable containers into wheelie bins where they are considered “dirty”, making them more expensive to sort and recycle.

Coral: Palau to ban sunscreen products to protect reefs | BBC News
Palau is set to become the first country to impose a widespread ban on sunscreen in an effort to protect its vulnerable coral reefs. The government has signed a law that restricts the sale and use of sunscreen and skincare products that contain a list of ten different chemicals. Researchers believe that these ingredients are highly toxic to marine life, and can make coral more susceptible to bleaching. The ban comes into force in 2020.

Politics and Society

Five projects that are harnessing big data for good | The Conversation
We argue that the data science boom shouldn’t be limited to business insights and profit margins. When used ethically, big data can help solve some of society’s most difficult social and environmental problems. Industry 4.0 should be underwritten by values that ensure these technologies are trained towards the social good (known as Society 4.0). That means using data ethically, involving citizens in the process, and building social values into the design.

‘Precious little’: Democrats lack robust climate change plan despite global crisis | The Guardian
USA – Democrats don’t have a plan to address climate change comprehensively – or even to a significant degree – if they regain control of the US government in the near future, despite criticizing Republicans as the party of pollution. After failing to get conservatives on board to limit planet-warming gases through legislation or regulation, Democratic leaders in Washington are now wary of wading into another tough political fight, despite an intensifying environmental crisis.

Northland farmer turned musician belts out songs for refugees |
NEW ZEALAND – Northlander Merv Pinny has swapped gumboots and cows for a life playing music to raise cash for humanitarian issues around the globe. For the last two years the former farmer turned singer songwriter has crooned about “today’s issues” of war, poverty, school shootings, refugees and displacement. Pinny’s single OB (Can You Hear the Children Cry?) made it to number 1 on several US radio stations last year and has had over 15 million views on Facebook and YouTube. The proceeds – more than $2000 so far – were donated to World Vision’s Children in Crisis charity.


NSW launches emerging energy program to replace coal generation | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – The New South Wales Coalition government on Wednesday launched one of the most significant energy transition projects in Australia, with an Emerging Energy Program that is designed to help replace most of the state’s ageing coal plants with wind, solar and storage over the next 15 years.

Food Systems

Reusable bags could kill about 20 people a year claims politician |
New Zealanders are embracing the reusable bag ahead of a plastic bag ban, but they could be carrying something else around – bacteria. ACT leader David Seymour says 20 people could die each year using reusable bags. “It’s coming up to summer and people will be in a hot car with their chicken in a canvas bag … and suddenly, you’ve got a real serious case for poor food hygiene.” Food safety expert Steve Flint said it was a valid concern.