Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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There’s a lot of bad news around world emissions with fossil fuel consumption rising by an estimated 2.7% in 2018, mostly driven by rises in non-power plant related consumption like cars; while Trump rolls back legislation restricting coal power plants; and the Australian government tries to subsidise coal. So today’s top story outlines hope, in five courses and 21 charts, of how we can feed 10 billion people while reducing emissions. Soils are a vital part of this as an article in Nature outlines. Still the Guardian laments that, while we know what we should be doing, we do almost nothing (with we being the ‘royal we’, our elected representatives). It’s frustrating being only one person in a big community but the biggest power we have is to make the best choices we can with the knowledge we have and tell others why we do.

Top Story

How to Sustainably Feed 10 Billion People by 2050, in 21 Charts | World Resources Institute
There is a big shortfall between the amount of food we produce today and the amount needed to feed everyone in 2050. There will be nearly 10 billion people on Earth by 2050—about 3 billion more mouths to feed than there were in 2010. As incomes rise, people will increasingly consume more resource-intensive, animal-based foods. At the same time, we urgently need to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agricultural production and stop conversion of remaining forests to agricultural land.

Climate Change

Carbon emissions will reach 37 billion tonnes in 2018, a record high | The Conversation
Carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from fossil fuels and industry are projected to rise more than 2% (range 1.8% to 3.7%) in 2018, taking global fossil CO₂ emissions to a new record high of 37.1 billion tonnes. The strong growth is the second consecutive year of increasing emissions since the 2014-16 period when emissions stabilised, further slowing progress towards the goals of the Paris Agreement that require a peak in greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible. Strong growth in emissions from the use of coal, oil and natural gas suggests CO₂ emissions are likely to increase further in 2019.

Related: Cars and coal help drive ‘strong’ CO2 rise in 2018 | BBC News

Annual global CO₂ fossil fuel emissions to 2017, with the 2018 projection suggesting coal will approach the levels seen in 2013. (Le Quere et al. 2018, ESSD; Jackson et al. 2018, ERL) Global Carbon Project

Annual global CO₂ fossil fuel emissions to 2017, with the 2018 projection suggesting coal will approach the levels seen in 2013. (Le Quere et al. 2018, ESSD; Jackson et al. 2018, ERL) Global Carbon Project

Climate reality check: Greenland ice melt speeds up |
Greenland’s ice sheet is melting at fastest rate in 350 years as greenhouse gas emissions soar, according to new studies. Melting of the world’s second largest ice sheet behind Antarctica was estimated to add more water to global ocean levels each year than any other source – 0.8mm – according to Nasa.

E.P.A. to Roll Back a Restriction on New Coal-Burning Plants | The New York Times
USA – The Trump administration is poised to roll back a significant climate change regulation on coal-fired power plants, making it easier to build new coal plants in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce the plan on Thursday, according to four people familiar with the administration’s proposal who were not authorized to speak about it publicly. The proposal will eliminate Obama-era restrictions on newly built coal plants that in effect required them to include systems to capture the carbon dioxide they produced — a technology that is still not in use on a commercial scale.

Save millions of lives by tackling climate change, says WHO | The Guardian
Tackling climate change would save at least a million lives a year, the World Health Organization has told the UN climate summit in Poland, making it a moral imperative. Cutting fossil fuel burning not only slows global warming but slashes air pollution, which causes millions of early deaths a year, the WHO says.

Hanhan, three, receives nebuliser therapy after a Beijing red alert for air pollution in 2015. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

Hanhan, three, receives nebuliser therapy after a Beijing red alert for air pollution in 2015. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters


The Guardian view on climate change: too much, too soon | The Guardian (Editorial)
Outside of the desperate and the deluded, everyone knows that the world is in the early stages of a truly catastrophic climate change. As Sir David Attenborough told the UN climate change conference in Poland, “the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon”. We have even worked out, with scrupulous care, what we must do to avoid this or to mitigate the effects of climate change. We know what to do. We can see how to do it. There’s only one problem: we do almost nothing.

Environment and Biodiversity

Put more carbon in soils to meet Paris climate pledges | Nature
Soils are crucial to managing climate change. They contain two to three times more carbon than the atmosphere. Plants circulate carbon dioxide from the air to soils, and consume about one-third of the CO2 that humans produce. Of that, about 10–15% ends up in the earth. Carbon is also essential for soil fertility and agriculture. Decomposing plants, bacteria, fungi and soil fauna, such as earthworms, release organic matter and nutrients for plant growth, including nitrogen and phosphorus. This gives structure to soil, making it resilient to erosion and able to hold water.

Rare truffle-eating marsupial crucial to Queensland’s ecosystem declines by 70 per cent, study reveals | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – A rare native marsupial crucial to the survival of Queensland’s tropical ecosystem is facing a deadly decline, a new study has revealed. The five-year WWF-Australia-funded project — which tracked the northern bettong — found there had been a 70 per cent decline in the marsupial’s population in the past 30 years.

‘We’re sounding the alarm’: half of Canada’s chinook salmon endangered | The Guardian
CANADA – Half of Canada’s chinook salmon are endangered, with nearly all other populations in precarious decline, according to a new report, confirming fears that prospects for the species remain dire. The report by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada concluded that eight of the country’s 16 populations are considered endangered, four are threatened, one is of special concern and the health of two remain unknown.

Economy and Business

Green investment fund faces challenges of size and scope |
NEW ZEALAND – The new board of New Zealand Green Investment Finance, a new $100 million Government-funded venture, faces a complex task. It effectively has two different goals, which do not sit comfortably together. As well as boosting funds flowing into projects which cut the carbon footprint of the New Zealand economy, it also tasked with turning a profit.

Politics and Society

Sea level rise threatens major NZ infrastructure – report | RNZ News
NEW ZEALAND – The burden of sea-level rise will weigh on the most vulnerable unless a new approach is developed and legislated, a new report says. The paper, written by University of Otago Associate Professor Lisa Ellis, is part of research from the Deep South National Science Challenge. It looks at how New Zealand distributes the risks of sea-level rise. It proposes an “ethically robust” policy to adapt to the risks of climate change.

See also: Playing chicken with the government on rising seas | Newsroom

More than 27 suicide attempts in two weeks – Manus refugee | RNZ News
There have been more than 27 suicide attempts in the last two weeks by refugees detained on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, a refugee says. considering a bill to ease the transfer of sick refugees from Manus and Nauru to Australia. Mr Muhamat said the crisis among about 600 men in exile on Manus was spiralling out of control… “The reason why people are attempting to kill themselves is because people are hopeless, people are tired. Six years of incarceration, six years of languishing behind bars, six years of no process and six years of not knowing even where to go and what to do. Not knowing even what your future looks like.

A refugee protest at the East Lorengau Transit Centre. Photo: Shamindan Kanapadhi

A refugee protest at the East Lorengau Transit Centre. Photo: Shamindan Kanapadhi


The verdict is in: renewables reduce energy prices (yes, even in South Australia) | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Does renewable electricity raise or lower electricity prices? There is more to this question than meets the eye: are prices lower before or after renewable subsidies are recovered, how has variability been accounted for, how have changes in network costs been accounted for, and so on and on.

Related: Turnbull: I gave it my best shot … but deniers won’t accept renewables are cheaper | RenewEconomy

Coalition scuppers Greens, Labor efforts to block new coal | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – A Greens-led and Labor-backed effort to block the Coalition from using taxpayer funds to bolster coal-fired generation in Australia has been narrowly defeated in Parliament, after Coalition moderates linked arms with the hard right in support of the controversial plan.

Making Australia a renewable energy exporting superpower | The Conversation
Politicians around Australia are proposing ambitious plans to export renewable energy from Australia, using high-voltage power lines laid under the oceans. But will this work? Our research is investigating the economic and environmental case for Australia to become an Asian energy superpower. Our recent study, which will be presented on December 11 at the UN Climate Change Conference, models electricity generation and demand – as well as the cost of augmenting and extending transmission infrastructure. We found a transmission network connecting Australia to Indonesia could help both nations achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2050.

Spain unveils ambitious green energy plan | Financial Times
SPAIN – As delegates convene at UN-backed climate talks in Poland this week, the Spanish will have a new trophy in hand: a renewable energy plan that seeks to reverse years of rising emissions. Spain’s proposals, set to be adopted by the cabinet in coming weeks, spell out an ambitious target to draw 100 per cent of the country’s electricity from renewables by 2050. The plan also aims to cut emissions by more than 90 per cent over the same period.

Food Systems

Beef-eating ‘must fall drastically’ as world population grows | The Guardian
People in rich nations will have to make big cuts to the amount of beef and lamb they eat if the world is to be able to feed 10 billion people, according to a new report. These cuts and a series of other measures are also needed to prevent catastrophic climate change, it says. More than 50% more food will be needed by 2050, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI) report, but greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture will have to fall by two-thirds at the same time.

Cattle farming in California. Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Cattle farming in California. Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP/Getty Images