Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Two reports on the economic impact of climate change are highlighted in today’s top story and both say if we act now it will be less expensive. This corroborates a Westpac report earlier this year that the NZ economy will be $30bn better off if it acts now. In other news, Trump’s bill to weaken the Clean Power Act is edited to remove mention of climate impacts; Australia is not on track to meet our weak Paris emissions target, despite ScoMo saying we are; and we hear from a University of Queensland scientist, who is also the Chief Scientist of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the one that was recently awarded $444m by the federal government. If you’re tired of the inaction on climate emissions, particularly in Australia, there is a worldwide rally on this weekend; more information on Rise for Climate below.

Top Story

‘Overwhelming’ economics favour accelerating shift from coal, reports say | SMH
AUSTRALIA – Making the transition to a low-carbon economy has the potential to unlock $US26 trillion ($36 trillion) in benefits by 2030, while failure to act on climate change will trigger huge costs including a surge in refugees, a report co-authored by Britain’s Lord Nicholas Stern has found. A separate report written partly by Canberra-based researchers argues global coal use has peaked and nations such as Australia must prepare for lower exports of the fuel. Local coal-fired power stations will also likely close earlier than forecast, it said.


Climate Change

Dire Climate Change Warnings Cut From Trump Power-Plant Proposal | Bloomberg
Warnings about potentially severe consequences of climate change were deleted from a Trump administration plan to weaken curbs on power plant emissions during a White House review. Drafts had devoted more than 500 words to highlighting the impacts — more heat waves, intense hurricanes, heavy rainfalls, floods and water pollution — as part of the proposal to replace Obama-era restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. That language was left out of the Trump administration’s final analysis of the Environmental Protection Agency proposal, when it was unveiled Aug. 21.

Australia is not on track to reach 2030 Paris target (but the potential is there) | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – While Australia is coming to terms with yet another new prime minister, one thing that hasn’t changed is the emissions data: Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are not projected to fall any further without new policies. Australia, as a signatory to the Paris Agreement on climate change, has committed to reduce its total emissions to 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030, and reach net zero emissions by 2050. New analysis by ClimateWorks Australia has found Australia has three times the potential needed to reach the federal government’s current 2030 target, but this will not be achieved under current policy settings.

Related: Scott Morrison contradicts energy advice, saying Paris targets can be met ‘at a canter’ | The Guardian

Tell us: are you taking part in a Rise for Climate event? | The Guardian
Tens of thousands of people around the world will mobilise over the weekend of 8-9 September under the banner of Rise for Climate, a grassroots movement seeking a fossil fuel free world. More than 600 events are planned in at least 80 countries, with one of the key aims to challenge the decision-makers attending the Global Climate Summit in California on 12 September to escalate decarbonisation efforts and targets.

Bangkok bulletin: No one’s talking about ambition | Climate Home News
Ambition is not on the agenda here in Bangkok. That is, the bigwigs stress the urgency of climate action, but there is a lot of technical work to do that they’re trying to keep as apolitical as possible. It seems to be working. Aside from a dispute over whether to set up a separate discussion about registries (don’t ask), procedural shenanigans have been kept to a minimum. The mood is calmly industrious.

Environment and Biodiversity

First known omnivorous shark species identified | The Guardian
It is one of the most radical rebrandings in history: contrary to their bloodthirsty image, some sharks are not irrepressible meat eaters, but are happy to munch on vegetation too. According to US researchers, one of the most common sharks in the world, a relative of the hammerhead which patrols the shores of the Americas, is the first variety of shark to be outed as a bona fide omnivore.

The bonnethead shark, which was found to get some of its nutrients from seagrass. Photograph: Alamy

The bonnethead shark, which was found to get some of its nutrients from seagrass. Photograph: Alamy

The tree that bleeds… metal? | BBC News
Heavy metals like nickel and zinc are usually the last thing that plants want to grow next to in high concentrations. But a specialised group, known as hyperaccumulators, have evolved to take up the normally toxic metals into their stems, leaves and even seeds.

Nickel gives the latex of Pycnandra acuminata a peculiar blue-green colour. Photo: Antony Van der Ent

Nickel gives the latex of Pycnandra acuminata a peculiar blue-green colour. Photo: Antony Van der Ent

Great Barrier Reef Foundation chief scientist: science will lie at the heart of our decisions | The Conversation
Much has been made of the federal government’s decision to invest A$500m into management of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), A$443.3m of it to be administered by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, of which I am the chief scientist. If my conversations with colleagues in the reef research field are any guide, there is still a lot of confusion over the intended use of these funds, the disbursement process, and whether big business will interfere with how the reef is managed.

Adani prosecuted over release of coal-laden water near Great Barrier Reef | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – The Queensland Government will take Indian mining giant Adani to court, alleging one of its companies illegally released coal-laden water near the Great Barrier Reef. Abbot Point Bulkcoal, owned by Adani, was given a temporary emission licence to release some sediment water at its central Queensland coal terminal during Cyclone Debbie in 2017. But the Government claimed the concentration of coal dust in the discharged water exceeded the approved levels by more than 800 per cent.

Photo: Abbot Point is located about 25 kilometres north of Bowen on the north Queensland Coast, near the vast coal reserves of the Galilee Basin. (Supplied)

Photo: Abbot Point is located about 25 kilometres north of Bowen on the north Queensland Coast, near the vast coal reserves of the Galilee Basin. (Supplied)

Q&A: Experts share the real facts on 1080 | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – Ahead of protests against the use of 1080 poison planned for this weekend, experts have again set out the hard science around the pest-busting tool. Toxicologist Dr Belinda Cridge (BC) and AgResearch chair in reproduction and genomics Professor Neil Gemmell (NG), both of Otago University, and Auckland University conservation biologist Associate Professor James Russell (JR) fielded these questions from the NZ Science Media Centre.

Myrtle rust detection programme wound down |
NEW ZEALAND – Biosecurity New Zealand has stopped its myrtle rust surveillance programme and staff have been laid off or re-assigned by contractor AsureQuality. Officials are now focusing on long term management of the plant disease, which was first detected on the mainland in a Kerikeri nursery in April last year.

Economy and Business

Are we killing tourist destinations for an Instagram photo? | ABC News
If you’ve sweltered in long queues with hordes of other tourists or scrambled for a patch of sand at a busy beach, then you’ve had a taste of ‘overtourism’. Overtourism is taking a toll across the globe, with closures of popular destinations in Thailand and the Philippines, and backlash from residents in cities like Venice and Barcelona. Closer to home, places like Bali, Byron Bay and parts of Tasmania have also been feeling pressure from skyrocketing visitors.

Growth without direction: How Australia measures up against UN targets | The Conversation
Australia has enjoyed 27 years of continuous economic growth, arguably more than any other developed country… This success was built on a contract – partly explicit, but mostly implicit – in which the bulk of the population agreed to support contentious reforms in exchange for a guarantee that they wouldn’t be left behind. The Transforming Australia: SDG Progress Report published this week by the National Sustainable Development Council in partnership with the Monash Sustainable Development Institute finds that contract has become fragile.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Plastic bag ban: ‘Annoying’ for some, ‘awesome’ for others | RNZ News
NEW ZEALAND – Half of Countdown’s 181 supermarkets rid stores of single-use plastic bags this week – but the move has received mixed reactions. The supermarket chain announced in October last year they would stop using the bags by the end of this year – and two reusable options would be on offer instead. But the cost, and the fact both reusable options are made of plastic has raised eyebrows.

Politics and Society

Chelsea Manning and the rise of ‘big data’ whistleblowing in the digital age | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Chelsea Manning will appear via video link at events in Brisbane and Melbourne this month – as the Australian government refuses to provide her a visa… Whether you agree with Manning or not, public debate and discussion are essential for a healthy democracy. Any attempt to shut it down flies in the face of freedom of expression. This is important as we enter an era of machines that make decisions for us, including autonomous weapons. Data ethics, transparency, accountability and avenues of recourse for injustice become even more important to explore in public forums. These are all relevant to Manning’s story.

Dead as the moa: oral traditions show that early Maori recognised extinction | The Conversation
NEW ZEALAND – Museums throughout Aotearoa New Zealand feature displays of enormous articulated skeletons and giant eggs. The eggs are bigger than two hands put together. This is all that remains of the moa. Tracing extinctions that happened centuries ago is difficult, but our collaborative analysis of ancestral sayings, or whakataukī, found that early Māori paid attention to their local fauna and environment and recognised the extinction of these giant, flightless birds that were an important food resource.

Moa once walked the uplands and forests of Aotearoa New Zealand, before they were hunted to extinction. Kane Fleury / Otago Museum, CC BY-ND

Moa once walked the uplands and forests of Aotearoa New Zealand, before they were hunted to extinction. Kane Fleury / Otago Museum, CC BY-ND

Australia signs declaration on Pacific climate ‘threat’, islands call on US to return to Paris deal | ABC News
Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Island nations have signed a declaration highlighting climate change as “the single greatest threat” to Pacific people, while island nations called on the United States to return to the Paris agreement. The communique was signed at the end of the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru, attended by large and small island states as well as New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne.

Australia relationship with Pacific on climate change ‘dysfunctional’ and ‘abusive’ | The Guardian
Australia’s relationship with the Pacific region on the issue of climate change has been described as “dysfunctional” and “abusive” – providing aid to the region to deal with the effects of global warming but undermining attempts to halt its progress, according to a climate change representative for the Pacific nation of Palau.


Campaigners celebrate as oil drilling at Surrey Hills site is blocked | The Guardian
UK – Michael Gove has blocked drilling of a controversial exploratory oil well in the south of England, causing campaigners to celebrate but sparking an angry response from one of the firms involved. Concerns over the impact on ancient woodland led the environment secretary to decide against renewing the lease at the site near Holmwood in the Surrey Hills, which is on Forestry Commission land.

Groundbreaking ‘spinning’ wind turbine wins UK Dyson award | The Guardian
A ‘spinning’ turbine which can capture wind travelling in any direction and could transform how consumers generate electricity has won its two student designers a prestigious James Dyson award. Nicolas Orellana, 36, and Yaseen Noorani, 24, both MSc students at Lancaster University, have created the O-Wind Turbine which – in a technological first – takes advantage of both horizontal and vertical winds without requiring steering.

Designers of the O-Wind Turbine, Nicolas Orellana (r) and Yaseen Noorani. Photograph: Company handout

Designers of the O-Wind Turbine, Nicolas Orellana (r) and Yaseen Noorani. Photograph: Company handout

Farmers to flock to solar and battery storage, as power costs bite | One Step Off The Grid
AUSTRALIA – Like households and small businesses, Australian farmers are increasingly turning to renewable energy technologies to cut their power costs and shore up their bottom lines. But a new report from Commonwealth Bank of Australia suggests the shift to solar and battery storage in the nation’s expansive agribusiness sector has only just begun. According to the bank’s latest Agri Insights report, a staggering 76 per cent of all farmers, nationwide, are planning to tap solar and battery storage, as regaining control over energy costs becomes a major business focus.

Origin to build 5MW virtual power plant in Victoria, from rooftop solar and storage | One Step Off The Grid
AUSTRALIA – Origin Energy has revealed plans to establish what it says will be Victoria’s largest virtual power plant – a $20 million cloud-based platform that will tap around 5MW of the battery-stored solar power of up to 650 customers during periods of peak power demand. The $20 million project has the backing of the state Labor government, with $4.5 million in funding announced on Wednesday, as part of its broader investment in microgrid technology in the state.

Food Systems

Climate change will reshape the world’s agricultural trade | The Conversation
Ending world hunger is a central aspiration of modern society. To address this challenge – along with expanding agricultural land and intensifying crop yields – we rely on global agricultural trade to meet the nutritional demands of a growing world population. But standing in the way of this aspiration is human-induced climate change. It will continue to affect the issue of where in the world crops can be grown and, therefore, food supply and global markets.