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 points out that AU$500m will not help the Great Barrier Reef if we don’t tackle climate change in a hint at smoke and mirror tactics by the government. Meanwhile, another story confirms the increased incidence of marine heatwaves around the world, such as the two that killed about 30% of the Great Barrier Reef. This is followed by many stories of environmental degradation and population declines but there is a bright spark in the story on several significant rewilding successes, importantly focussing on the reintroduction of keystone species.

Top Story

Government’s $500m Great Barrier Reef package may have limited impact amid climate change | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – At the end of April a $500 million package to help the Great Barrier Reef was announced by the Federal Government. The funding will be split between improving water quality, supporting reef restoration science, increasing crown-of-thorns starfish control, community engagement and reef monitoring. But there is no acknowledgement of what scientists argue is the biggest threat facing the reef: climate change. Without climate action, can this package actually do anything to help the reef?

In 2016 coral loss was highest in the northern section of the reef where the heatwave was strongest. (Supplied: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies)

In 2016 coral loss was highest in the northern section of the reef where the heatwave was strongest. (Supplied: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies)

Climate Change and Energy

The rapidly changing dynamics of Australia’s grid | RenewEconomy
The politics may not change much, but Australia’s electricity grid is changing before our very eyes – slowly and inevitably becoming more renewable, more decentralised, and challenging the pre-conceptions of many in the industry. The latest National Emissions Audit from The Australia Institute, which includes an update on key electricity trends in the National Electricity Market, notes some interesting developments over the last three months.

Wind and solar slashing corporate energy costs by 40% | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – The continuing fall in the cost of new wind and solar farms, and the emergence of new firming contract products, is allowing large corporate and industrial users to slash energy costs by up to 40 per cent. TFS Green, a Melbourne-based wholesale energy and environmental market broker, is on Friday launching its new “Renewable Energy Hub”, a day after the formal announcement of its first transaction with the Kiamal solar farm and Mars Australia.

Related: Mars goes 100% solar for all six Australian factories | One Step Off The Grid

Environment and Biodiversity

Marine heatwaves are getting hotter, lasting longer and doing more damage | The Conversation
On land, heatwaves can be deadly for humans and wildlife and can devastate crops and forests. Unusually warm periods can also occur in the ocean. These can last for weeks or months, killing off kelp forests and corals, and producing other significant impacts on marine ecosystems, fishing and aquaculture industries. Yet until recently, the formation, distribution and frequency of marine heatwaves had received little research attention.

Eerie silence falls on Shetland cliffs that once echoed to seabirds’ cries | The Guardian
Sumburgh Head lies at the southern tip of mainland Shetland. This dramatic 100-metre-high rocky spur, crowned with a lighthouse built by Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather, has a reputation for being one of the biggest and most accessible seabird colonies in Britain. Thousands of puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars gather there every spring to breed, covering almost every square inch of rock or grass with teeming, screeching birds and their young. Or at least they used to – for this year Sumburgh Head is a quiet and largely deserted place.

Puffin numbers on Shetland have fallen from 33,000 in early spring 2000 to 570 last year. Photograph: Alamy

Puffin numbers on Shetland have fallen from 33,000 in early spring 2000 to 570 last year. Photograph: Alamy

Wheelie interesting nesting box trial aims to save threatened Australian bird species | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Reject wheelie bins are being trialled as super-sized nesting boxes in an attempt to address a habitat crisis for some of Australia’s largest threatened bird species. It is estimated 42 per cent of Australian mammals, 17 per cent of birds and 28 per cent of reptile species need tree hollows for secure nesting and breeding sites. But those natural hollows can take more than 100 years to form, and clearing and development have taken a terrible toll on homes for wildlife.

Victoria plans to remove 1,200 feral horses from Alpine National Park | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Victoria plans to trap and rehome or euthanase 1,200 feral horses in the state’s high country to combat “severe damage” to fragile ecosystems in the Alpine National Park. The plan appears to be at odds with the New South Wales Government’s decision last month to reverse a planned cull of brumbies in recognition of the “heritage value and cultural significance” of the animals.

Rewilding success stories | The Guardian
Reintroduction programmes of animals driven from their once-natural habits are a cause for optimism.

Grey Wolf

Grey Wolf
Perhaps the most famous – and controversial – case of wildlife reintroduction is Yellowstone National Park’s thriving wolf population. Eleven packs and 108 wolves are reported, as of 2016, while there were none before the 1995 reintroduction of 14 Canadian wolves. The project was sparked by rampant elk overpopulation.

Economy and Business

New Zealand’s productivity commission charts course to low-emission future | The Conversation
New Zealand has set itself a target of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. A recent report issued by the New Zealand Productivity Commission has found that this is an achievable goal, even under modest forecasts of technological progress and increases in carbon price.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Shipping container debris washes ashore at Nelson Bay prompting local clean up | ABC News
A huge clean up is underway on the mid-north coast after piles of debris washed up from shipping containers that fell off a cargo ship off the New South Wales coast during rough seas. Nappies, sanitary products and surgical masks were among the flotsam that washed up after 83 containers fell overboard from the YM Efficiency on Thursday, about 30 kilometres off the coast of Port Stephens.

Photo: Volunteers hit the beaches around Nelson Bay to clean debris that washed up after a cargo ship lost 83 containers in rough seas.

Photo: Volunteers hit the beaches around Nelson Bay to clean debris that washed up after a cargo ship lost 83 containers in rough seas.

Autopsy reveals dead pilot whale had 80 plastic bags in its stomach | SMH
Some 80 pieces of plastic rubbish weighing eight kilograms were found in the stomach of a whale that died in Thailand after a five-day effort to save it, a marine official said on Sunday. The pilot whale was discovered on Monday in a canal in the southern province of Songkhla and received treatment from a team of veterinarians. The whale spat out five plastic bags on Friday and later died, the Marine and Coastal Resources Department said on its website.

Larger landfill levy and Aucklanders’ laziness in sights of Govt recycling taskforce |
New Zealanders could pay a $140 per tonne tax to dump waste at all landfills across the country as piles of plastic mount. Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage said increasing the waste levy from $10 per tonne and applying it to all landfills, not just 10 per cent of them, would help respond to China’s refusal to process our plastic rubbish. China banned imports of all contaminated plastic waste last year in a move dubbed the ‘National Sword’. It came into effect in January. Sage said piles of recycling had mounted at small sorting stations. Larger recycling sorting companies had found capacity in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia to export New Zealanders’ plastic waste to. Last year New Zealand recycling companies sent 41 million kilograms of plastic waste offshore to be processed, according to Statistics New Zealand export data.

It’s banned in other countries but New Zealand is using more toxic methyl bromide than ever |
NEW ZEALAND – Methyl bromide, an ozone depleting toxic gas harmful to humans, is banned in many countries but New Zealand is using more than ever. In part one of a three-part investigation, Tony Wall speaks to people who’ve faced pressure to keep quiet about the issue.

Read also: NZ’s problem with toxic methyl bromide has a possible solution |

Politics and Society

A survey needs to involve how many people before I’m convinced? | The Conversation
Research studies, opinion polls and surveys all rely on asking a number of people about something to try to extract some pattern of behaviour or predict a result. But how many people do you need to ask for that finding to have any convincing meaning?

Don’t turn to the military to solve the climate-change crisis | The Guardian
The Australian Senate’s declaration last month that climate change is a “current and existential national security risk” was clearly intended to inject much-needed urgency into the country’s climate policy stalemate. Bringing together the unusual bedfellows of military generals and environmentalists to warn about the dangers of climate change, it has the possibility to break though Australia’s culture wars on the issue. However, by framing climate change as a security matter, it also has significant consequences in shaping how we respond to a warming planet. As the climate crisis unfolds, is the military the institution we want to turn to for solutions?

Facing reassignment under Trump, top Yellowstone official instead retires | The Washington Post
USA – A highly respected National Park Service executive who engineered the reopening of the Statue of Liberty after the 2001 terrorist attacks and settled the contentious issue of snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park announced his retirement Friday as Interior Department officials consider a proposal to reassign him to Washington.

Food Systems

Europeans deserve a food policy that focuses on the environment and people’s health | The Conversation
The European Union’s common agricultural policy is a sprawling programme of farming subsidies that covers everything from income support for farmers to supporting the promotion of products such as wine. No wonder then that the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, wants to “modernise and simplify” the policy. This is why the EC has just published its legislative proposals for the common agricultural policy (CAP) after 2020.