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 is on an essay by scientists who have considered ten climate change processes, and their effect on each other, and come up with the mother of all negative feedback loops. Very scary.  Ironically, we also have an article in Food Systems that identifies another feedback loop in which increased heat alters the microbes in soil. Speaking of heat, it was unspeakably hot in Portugal (and Europe) yesterday, a Professor of Climatology explains what’s going on. In better news, the world now boasts more than one terawatt of renewable energy. Australia is finally contributing with a large pipeline of projects based on economic feasibility, but this looks to be stymied by the NEG according to independent analysis on the modelling used; the politics of this is discussed in several articles, if you can bear to read them.

Top Story

Domino-effect of climate events could push Earth into a ‘hothouse’ state | The Guardian
A domino-like cascade of melting ice, warming seas, shifting currents and dying forests could tilt the Earth into a “hothouse” state beyond which human efforts to reduce emissions will be increasingly futile, a group of leading climate scientists has warned. This grim prospect is sketched out in a journal paper that considers the combined consequences of 10 climate change processes, including the release of methane trapped in Siberian permafrost and the impact of melting ice in Greenland on the Antarctic. The authors of the essay, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, stress their analysis is not conclusive, but warn the Paris commitment to keep warming at 2C above pre-industrial levels may not be enough to “park” the planet’s climate at a stable temperature.

Global climate effects cascade


Climate Change

Parts of Spain and Portugal are more than 46? – here’s what is going on | The Conversation
Wildfires, drought and extreme heat have been the talk of the town and country across Europe this summer. Attention has now turned to Portugal and Spain, where temperatures at the weekend reached more than 46℃ in some parts of both countries – close to the all-time European record of 48℃, set in Greece in 1977. Records aside, the obvious question is what is causing the current Iberian heatwave and whether this might be a harbinger of the future.

Maximum temperatures for August 6, with large areas well into the 40s. Agencia Estatal de Meteorología (AEMET)

Maximum temperatures for August 6, with large areas well into the 40s. Agencia Estatal de Meteorología (AEMET)

The world now has more than one terawatt of wind and solar | Business Green
Wind and solar capacity passes landmark 1,000GW mark – and it will only take five years for capacity to double again, according to analysts. The world now has more than one terawatt (TW) of wind and solar power capacity, according to new statistics released late last week by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) that underscore the rapid shift underway in the global energy system. As of June 30 2018 there was 1,013GW of wind and solar PV generating capacity operating around the world, 54 per cent of which is wind power and 46 per cent solar.

Environment and Biodiversity

Large number of kiwi deaths likely going undetected, experts say |
NEW ZEALAND – Kiwi are dying in some of the most heavily-monitored areas of New Zealand, sparking concern for the rare bird elsewhere.   Data on the cause of kiwi deaths in Northland for the past ten years, which was released under the Official Information Act (OIA), has revealed they are being attacked by dogs and killed by cars, while a large number are dying for reasons unknown. But the data is for tracked kiwi only, and the Department of Conservation say the deaths are just a fraction of actual moralities.

Economy and Business

Social entrepreneurs can change the world – but these 6 things are holding us back | World Economic Forum
Social entrepreneurs around the world have been unparalleled catalysts for social change. They use market-driven strategies to tackle critical social issues in brand new ways. Through non-profit, for-profit and hybrid enterprises, social entrepreneurs have promoted a broad range of solutions focused on sustainable development, decades before they were called ‘SDGs’. The real power of social entrepreneurs is their talent for identifying market failures that are holding humanity back, and their skill in tailoring and implementing solutions.

Conservationists and farmers join forces |
New Zealand’s largest conservation organisation and biggest farming group are joining forces to promote environmentally-friendly farming. Forest & Bird and Pāmu (Landcorp) have agreed to work together on developing and promoting agricultural practices that protect the natural environment.

How a humble Australian bee could help the world’s plastic problem | ABC News
There’s a buzz among researchers across the Tasman as they recruit native Australian bees to fight the war on waste by helping create a new bioplastic. The biotech start-up Humble Bee aims to take the nesting material from Banksia bees to produce a water-repellent and flame-resistant form of natural plastic. The New Zealand-based company is attempting to reverse engineer the material to create a biodegradable alternative on an industrial scale.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Here’s how many times you actually need to reuse your shopping bags | The Conversation
The plastic bag ban by the major supermarkets (and Coles’ pivot away from its ban after backlash, then pivot back to the ban after a backlash to the backlash) has left plenty of people scratching their heads. What are the best replacements for single-use plastic bags? Given that reusable bags are much sturdier, how many times must we use them to compensate for their larger environmental impact? The simple answer is that there is no simple answer. However, a kind of research called “life cycle assessment” can help us work out the impact of common types of reusable bags.

Beijing churns out 25,000 tonnes of rubbish every day — here’s how it deals with its waste crisis | ABC News
CHINA – After shutting the door to Australia and the world’s scrap imports, China is now waging a rubbish revolution on the home front to deal with a mounting waste crisis. One of the country’s biggest cities, Beijing, is churning out more than 25,000 tonnes of rubbish a day — almost two-and-a-half times what it created 20 years ago. And while China’s industry-led economic miracle is slowing, its consumers are buying more than ever, and getting it delivered — creating an unprecedented surge in plastic waste.

Photo: Wang Jindong has to support his wife and nephew. (ABC News: Steve Wang)

Photo: Wang Jindong has to support his wife and nephew. (ABC News: Steve Wang)

Politics and Society

Looking Ahead to Plan for Today: How the UK’s 2050 Target Drives Climate Action Today | World Resources Institute
Article 4.19 of the Paris Agreement urges all Parties to “strive to formulate and communicate long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies” by 2020. ‘Long-term strategies’ are documents that detail how, in practice, a country will achieve a national 2050 vision for decarbonization and development. However, given the urgency of the climate crisis as well as the wealth of existing policies and actions underway to promote achievement of shorter-term goals, a looming query emerges: Can long-term planning really support the implementation of tangible action now?

The GOP and Big Oil can’t escape blame for climate change | Dana Nuccitelli | The Guardian
ast week’s issue of the New York Times magazine was devoted to a single story by Nathaniel Rich that explored how close we came to an international climate agreement in 1989, and why we failed. The piece is worth reading – it’s a well-told, mostly accurate, and very informative story about a key decade in climate science and policy history. But sadly, it explicitly excuses the key players responsible for our continued failure.

‘Don’t match’: Analysis of Reef Foundation raises fresh funding doubts |SMH
AUSTRALIA – The Great Barrier Reef Foundation, a non-profit body granted almost half a billion dollars by the Turnbull government, appears to have overstated its past ability to raise funds, according to an analysis of its annual reports by Labor. The government has said the group’s ability to raise money from the private sector was a key reason it granted the organisation about $443.4 million in one hit in the budget for the 2017-18 financial year.

Emissions policy is under attack from all sides. We’ve been here before, and it rarely ends well | The Conversation
Federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg is battling to steer a course for his National Energy Guarantee (NEG) through choppy political waters, ahead of a crucial meeting this Friday on whether to adopt the policy. Since 2014 and the demise of Julia Gillard’s carbon pricing scheme, Australia has been in a well-documented period of policy paralysis (although “mayhem” may be more accurate) … Now we have the NEG, which is on the table at a crunch meeting of the COAG Energy Council on Friday. The table may yet become a chopping block.

See also:

Sea Shepherd sets sail for north Queensland to stop Adani Carmichael coal project | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Conservation group Sea Shepherd is training its sights on campaigning to stop Adani’s Carmichael coal project but Federal MP George Christensen has criticised the move, saying the activists should “stick to what they know”. The group’s managing director Jeff Hansen said the 12 stop trip aimed to draw international attention to the mine and to raise awareness about the “detrimental impacts it will have on the Great Barrier Reef”.


Enel signs deal to build €1.2 billion wind farms in South Africa | Climate Action Programme
Enel has reached financial close on a fleet of new South African wind farms. The Italian energy company has sealed the deal with Absa and Nedbank for 950 million euros of project financing to build five new clean energy projects around the country. Once complete the wind farms will provide South Africa with 700 megawatts of renewable energy capacity, enough to power hundreds of thousands of homes.

Food Systems

Heatwave impact on soils could be worse than thought, study claims | Business Green
UK – Climate change is altering the makeup of soil, with widespread impacts on plants, ecosystems and food security, according to scientists. The ongoing heatwave could be having a “deeper, more negative impact” on soils than previously realised with widespread implications for the UK’s plants, ecosystem and food security, a new academic study has concluded… a study published in Nature Communications late last week has provided new insight into how a drought alters soil at a microbial level, warning that UK soil is not as resilient to climate impacts as previously thought.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is changing how we grow, buy and choose what we eat | World Economic Forum
The potential of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies to advance sustainable development in rural areas cannot be taken for granted. Although world food production quadrupled between 1960 and 2010, in large part thanks to technology and an expansion of trade, this did not lead to uniformly better outcomes for food producers, consumers or the environment.