Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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I hope you had a nice long weekend and thought about your chocolate purchases.  Today’s news contains a few stories about the world’s global food systems for more informed purchasing decisions. Some good environmental news stories with conservation measures showing more reef sharks (important ecosystem links as top level predators) in Western Australia, an increase in rhinos in India with decades long protection, including a shoot-to-kill poachers policy, and frogs may be evolving an immunity to the devastating chytrid fungus that’s wiped out hundreds of species.

Climate Change and Energy

Underwater melting of Antarctic ice far greater than thought, study finds | The Guardian
Hidden underwater melt-off in the Antarctic is doubling every 20 years and could soon overtake Greenland to become the biggest source of sea-level rise, according to the first complete underwater map of the world’s largest body of ice. Warming waters have caused the base of ice near the ocean floor around the south pole to shrink by 1,463 square kilometres – an area the size of Greater London – between 2010 and 2016, according to the new study published in Nature Geoscience.

Further, faster, deeper: the UK needs a more ambitious Climate Change Act | The Conversation
The UK’s Climate Change Act is a pioneering and far-sighted piece of legislation, ushered in ten years ago by a remarkable cross-party consensus in parliament and clear support across the nation. As we celebrate its tenth anniversary, it is time to ask, though, whether the central ambition of the Act – reducing carbon emissions by at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050 – is still adequate in light of changing circumstances, or whether it needs strengthening.

Environment and Biodiversity

Jennifer Dann’s Twelve questions with Animal psychologist Alex Taylor | NZ Herald
Animal psychologist Alex Taylor was an internet sensation with his BBC video of a clever crow named 007. He’s recently shown kea can co-operate to solve problems in a similar way to chimps and has opened the Clever Canine Lab to study man’s best friend at Auckland University… “I’m fascinated with how animals think. It’s one of the big mysteries of science. We understand more about what happened one second after the big bang that created our universe than we do about what the animals around us are actually thinking.”

Rhino census in India’s Kaziranga park counts 12 more | BBC News
INDIA – A census in India’s Kaziranga National Park has counted 2,413 one-horned rhinos – up 12 from 2015. The Unesco World Heritage Site, in Assam state, is home to two-thirds of the world’s population of the species. The census is carried out every three years. It is an incredible conservation success story given the fact that there were only a few hundred rhinos in the 1970s, says the BBC’s South Asia editor Anbarasan Ethirajan. However, the conservation effort has not been without controversy. The government has in recent years given the park rangers extraordinary powers to protect the animals from harm – powers usually only given to soldiers intervening in civil unrest. About 150 rhinos have been killed for their horns since 2006, but in 2015, park guards shot dead more people than poachers killed rhinos.

Border Force patrols enable sharks return to remote Australian reef | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Sharks driven away by illegal fishermen from a remote reef off Western Australia’s northern coast have started to return, thanks to a crackdown by Border Force officers. Scientists, who say the animals are essential to the health of coral reefs, believe this is a globally significant lesson in preserving fragile ecosystems.

Frogs show signs of immunity to chytrid fungus pandemic that has wiped out about 200 species | ABC News
A disease caused by a highly contagious fungus has wiped out as many as 200 species of frog worldwide since the 1970s, and pushed many more to the brink of extinction. But researchers now believe that some frogs may be developing a resistance to the deadly chytrid fungus. When chytridiomycosis wiped through a biodiversity hotspot called El Cope in Panama in 2004, scientists said the spread was so rapid that, in places, dead frogs littered the forest floor. In the study published today in Science, researchers have documented the recovery of nine frog species in three regions of Panama, including El Cope, and have observed infected frogs showing no ill effects from the fungus.

Economy and Business

Madagascar’s vanilla wars: prized spice drives death and deforestation | The Guardian
MADAGASCAR – The vanilla thieves of Anjahana were so confident of their power to intimidate farmers they provided advance warning of raids. “We are coming tonight,” they would write in a note pushed under doors in this remote coastal village in Madagascar. “Prepare what we want.” But they either undervalued their target commodity or overestimated the meekness of their victims. After one assault too many at the turn of the year, a crowd rounded up five alleged gangsters, dragged them into the village square and then set about the bloody task of mob justice.

Politics and Society

Why the business model of social media giants like Facebook is incompatible with human rights | The Conversation
Facebook has had a bad few weeks. The social media giant had to apologise for failing to protect the personal data of millions of users from being accessed by data mining company Cambridge Analytica. Outrage is brewing over its admission to spying on people via their Android phones. Its stock price plummeted, while millions deleted their accounts in disgust.  Facebook has also faced scrutiny over its failure to prevent the spread of “fake news” on its platforms, including via an apparent orchestrated Russian propaganda effort to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

Charles Eisenstein: our cultural evolution is making us anxious | Radio New Zealand News
Charles Eisenstein is a writer and philosopher who explores the themes of consciousness, economics, ecology, civilisation and human cultural evolution. He says we have become removed from our natural reality because of our need for entertainment and technology – anything that prevents the discomfort of having nothing to occupy our minds.

EPA staffers get talking points playing down human role in climate change | The Washington Post
USA – Environmental Protection Agency staffers received a list of “talking points” this week instructing them to underscore the uncertainties about how human activity contributes to climate change. A career employee in the department’s Office of Public Affairs distributed the eight talking points to regional staffers. The list offered suggestions on ways to talk with local communities and Native American tribes about how to adapt to extreme weather, rising seas and other environmental challenges.

Built Environment

NCC 2019: Section J gets a complete overhaul | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – Proposed changes to the National Construction Code go far beyond tinkering around the edges of energy performance requirements for commercial buildings, according to Dr Paul Bannister, director innovation and sustainability at Energy Action. He said the committee working on the draft reforms have “rewritten Section J in its entirety”, with modelling showing buildings could see a 30 per cent increase in energy efficiency while being cheaper to build than under NCC 2016.

New carbon positive eco-home hits The Cape | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – Wonthaggi, Victoria home designer Beaumont Concepts has developed a new sustainable home design that can be built from 6-10 star NatHERS. A prototype of the CORE home, which has scored a 9.1 star rating, was this month completed at The Cape at Cape Paterson on Victoria’s Bass Coast. The eco-development, which has received backing from Small Giants, demands a minimum housing standard of 7.5 star NatHERS, at least 2.5 kilowatts of solar PV and energy-efficient fitout and appliances.

Australian House build to NatHERS 9-11 star rating, called CORE

Food Systems

Smallholder Farmers Are Key to Making the Palm Oil Industry Sustainable | World Resources Institute
Indonesia’s palm oil has long earned the ire of conscious consumers—its production has been linked to child and forced labor, massive deforestation and the demise of iconic species like orangutans. Most point to large corporations to solve the problem, but that’s overlooking a key actor in palm oil production: small farmers.

Row erupts between Italy’s Parma ham makers and activists over pig welfare | The Guardian
Images of pigs in filthy pens and barren conditions have sparked a row between animal welfare activists and the makers of Italy’s Parma ham. The campaigners have released footage that they claim exposes barren living conditions with no stimulation, and injured animals with abscesses and hernias being left without adequate treatment. Their expose of the farms that produce meat for Parma and a small proportion of other hams follows a series of investigations over the last few years that have repeatedly appeared to reveal concerning conditions, such as pigs being treated roughly, and sick pigs being left to die in the corridors between their pens.

Changing our diets to save the world | newsroom
NEW ZEALAND – If we’re honest, the question on New Zealanders’ lips at a meeting of top scientists in Christchurch before Easter was a variation of that Kiwi classic: what do you think of New Zealand? Newsroom specifically wanted to know what the experts thought of New Zealand’s prospects of thriving as a meat and dairy-exporting nation, in a future where people eat less meat and milk. We talked through the issues with five experts, whose readiness to answer suggested we were not the first to raise it since they reached our shores… It’s the second meeting of the 120 researchers, who are now about a quarter of the way through drafting the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Climate Change and Land.

Onion crop slashed by disease | Radio New Zealand News
NEW ZEALAND – The harvest period is wrapping up for the season, and Onions New Zealand chief executive Michael Ahern said it had been a mixed bag for growers. The main problem was a leaf blight called ‘Stemphylium’ which has damaged the plants, he said. This year is the worst case of the leaf blight that anyone in the industry can remember, he said. “No one can recall an attack by this particular fungus to this extent … so that does point potentially to, not a new pathogen, but more changing climate conditions.”


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