Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Yesterday we heard how two reports showed a bleak outlook for coal, today we hear from the researchers of the second report explaining the research showing that coal has no economic future in Australia. Related to this, Australia is condemned by Pacific Nations for its climate stance and for trying to water down the recently signed Boe Agreement. On the Australian environment, research shows that it’s not good enough to just put an area under protection, much of it needs active management; meanwhile an enquiry confirms that almost all public servants think the Australian government is not doing enough to protect species; and mapping shows vast areas of habitat containing threatened species have been bulldozed, despite laws in place to protect them. Elsewhere, a focus on housing in the built environment highlights efficiency and affordability; where food waste occurs; and scatterings of news on big business trying to be less bad.

Top Story

Coal does not have an economic future in Australia | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Renewables are stealing the march over coal in Australia, and the international outlook is for lower coal demand. Today the international Coal Transitions project released its findings, based on global coal scenarios and detailed case studies by teams in China, India, South Africa, Australia, Poland and Germany. Our research on Australian coal transition – based on contributions by researchers at the Australian National University and the University of Melbourne – looks into the prospects for coal use in Australia and for exports, and the experiences with local transition in the case of the Hazelwood power station closure.

See also: Fair dinkum! Renewables and storage soon to be cheaper than existing coal plants | RenewEconomy

Climate Change

Australia’s authority in Pacific ‘being eroded by refusal to address climate change’ | The Guardian
Dr Bill Hare, managing director of Climate Analytics and a lead author on the IPCC fourth assessment report, told Guardian Australia that Pacific leaders were growing increasingly disenchanted with Australia’s refusal to commit to cutting carbon emissions, even as their nations faced massive economic, physical and social disruption, even existential threat.

See also: Australia tried to water down climate change resolution at Pacific Islands Forum: leader | The Guardian

Environment and Biodiversity

Massive solar and wind farms could bring vegetation back to the Sahara | The Conversation
Switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy is an important and necessary step towards averting climate change. However, in our efforts to go green, we also need to be mindful of other consequences, both intended and unintended – and that includes how a mass deployment of renewable technology might affect its surrounding climate. What if the Sahara desert was turned into a giant solar and wind farm, for instance? This is the topic of new research published in Science by Yan Li and colleagues.

Protected areas alone won’t save all threatened species | UQ News
Protected areas alone are not enough to save Australia’s threatened species, according to research from the Threatened Species Recovery Hub. The research team, led by University of Queensland PhD candidate Stephen Kearney, investigated major threats facing threatened species and considered how protected areas could alleviate such threats. “The key finding is that simply reserving land will remove all threats to very few species – only three per cent in fact,” Mr Kearney said. “It is not enough to just place land in a protected area and then walk away.”

Threatened species inquiry told public servants think Australia is failing | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – The Australian government is failing to meet its domestic and international obligations to protect threatened species and existing environment laws are inadequate, according to public servants working on endangered wildlife. The admissions are contained in a damning submission by the Community and Public Sector Union to a Senate inquiry investigating Australia’s high rate of fauna extinctions.

The habitats of threatened species are shrinking, despite laws set up to protect them | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – An area bigger than Tasmania has been carved from the habitats of threatened species in just 17 years, prompting one environmental researcher to describe the situation as a “deep shame for Australia”. Federal laws were put into place in 2000 specifically to protect the ecosystems of a host of rare species. Now, for the first time, scientists have taken satellite data of forest and bushland that has been logged or bulldozed, and overlaid it with maps of threatened-species habitat.

Related: ‘Revved up’: Land being cleared at the rate of 14 football fields a day in northern NSW| SMH

Lower part of river ‘absolutely devoid of fish life’, yet upstream swimming with fish |
Scientists are concerned that the lower part of a Marlborough river has “no fish life at all” when the upper part is swimming with fish. The lower Waitohi River, in Picton, was revealed to be “devoid of fish” during a fish life survey, with the most likely cause thought to be harmful runoff from someone’s property.

[Ed: It’s important to think about stormwater drainage from properties because they lead to waterways where substances can accumulate and pollute, harming life in the water. Some of the common domestic contributions are from washing cars on driveways, overuse of fertiliser and washing paint equipment outside.]

Economy and Business

Pope leads Catholics to profit from, not just give to, the poor | Thomson Reuters Foundation
After decades of giving to charity, a growing number of Catholics are starting to put their philanthropic billions into profitable investments instead – a new aid model, backed by Pope Francis, that experts say could help end poverty. Catholic investment funds, which manage capital from hundreds of faith-based organisations, are increasingly investing in projects in emerging economies and earning a return while also doing good, experts say.

Designing sustainability’s first product recall | GreenBiz
Having announced what may well be the first product recall for a management concept — the Triple Bottom Line — back in June, I have been energetically scanning to find out what recent decades have taught us about designing and executing effective recalls.

4 Lessons from WRI’s Sustainable Investing Journey: A CFO’s Perspective | World Resources Institute
As the CFO of WRI, I’m often asked how WRI invests its endowment with respect to sustainability. The short, simple answer is that we seek to proactively integrate sustainability considerations across our entire portfolio. But there’s also a longer, more nuanced explanation for this approach that’s hard to distill in a quick exchange.

Island’s tourist tax could triple | Newsroom
NEW ZEALAND – The day Stewart Island’s visitor levy came into force was hailed as a momentous occasion. New Zealand’s only regional tourist tax – despite Queenstown’s so-far fruitless bid to convince the Government it needs one – was officially launched on December 9, 2013. It’s relatively easy to collect the $5 levy from tourists to the island, 30km south-west of Bluff, as there are only two ways to get there – by sea or air.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Enormous amounts of food are wasted during manufacturing – here’s where it occurs | The Conversation
Recent analysis shows that about one third of the edible food that is wasted globally comes before the farm gate and about one fifth comes from people’s plates and refrigerators. This means that just under half of all edible food that becomes waste does so during manufacturing, distribution and retail.

The food production process is full of competing inefficiencies. Marxstudio/

The food production process is full of competing inefficiencies. Marxstudio/

Drinks companies publish plan to wipe out plastic waste by 2030 | Business Green
A group of bottled water and soft drink manufacturers have come up with a roadmap to eliminate plastic packaging waste by 2030. Nine companies have set out their vision to create a production and distribution chain where packaging will be made entirely from recycled or renewable materials and will be designed to be fully reusable or recyclable. The report, published today in partnership with The Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), urges manufacturers to produce at least 70 per cent of bottled water and soft drinks from recycled material by 2025.

Related: Carlsberg to reduce multi-pack packaging by over 70% | Climate Action Programme

Politics and Society

India decriminalises gay sex, but battle for acceptance remains | Thomson Reuters Foundation
INDIA – Gay sex is considered taboo by many in the socially conservative country, and was reinstated as a criminal offence in 2013 after four years of decriminalisation. Five years on, a panel of judges has unanimously struck down the law and guaranteed the right to equality, sparking celebrations among India’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Donald Trump anonymous staffer speaks out – treason or a public service? | The Conversation
USA – One of Donald Trump’s senior White House staff has made a truly unprecedented move against their ultimate boss. The staffer anonymously published an opinion piece in the New York Times, in which the individual described a dilemma: should the White House’s employees stand by and watch a president who they see as “a threat to the health of our republic”, or should they quietly work to resist what they see as Trump’s “amoralism” and “misguided impulses”? Trump reacted to the piece in his usual style, accusing the author of “treason” and demanding the New York Times hand over their name.


The inconvenient truths about South Australia’s renewable success | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – Nearly two years on from the state-wide blackout triggered when freak tornadoes tore down major power lines, South Australia remains a punching bag for the federal government, and anti-renewable campaigners everywhere. New federal energy minster Angus Taylor can’t stop taking about it, repeating endlessly how South Australia’s 50 per cent renewable share has been a disaster, causing high prices, blackouts and, well, who knows what! But here’s the thing: South Australia’s renewable share has likely proved the opposite to what’s being claimed. Since the events of the summer of 2016/17, there have been no major outages. In fact, it’s quite possibly been the most reliable grid in the country.

Built Environment

Can Housing Be Affordable Without Being Efficient? | World Resources Institute
About 3 billion people, or 40 percent of the world’s population, will need new housing by 2030. That will require constructing approximately 21 million new homes every year across the world. Several of the fastest-growing countries have ambitious goals to meet this need. The Indian government aims to construct 20 million affordable houses by 2022. Nigeria targets 1 million homes built per year for the next decade. Indonesia’s president initiated the One Million Houses program to serve low-income citizens. While these programs show much promise, a critical question remains: What kinds of homes will they be?


When is it quicker to walk, than catch a bus? | The Conversation
UK – It can often be tempting to jump on a bus for a short journey through the city, especially when it’s raining or you’re running behind schedule. Where there are dedicated bus lanes in place, it can feel as though you speed past gridlocked traffic. But as city authorities begin new initiatives to get people walking or cycling, that could all change – and so could you.

Buses lagging behind. Alena.Kravchenko/Shutterstock.

Buses lagging behind. Alena.Kravchenko/Shutterstock.

UK’s largest van companies’ agree to go electric | Climate Action Programme
UK – Tesco, along with several other companies, have joined forces to implement a clean van scheme. 16 of the UK’s largest fleet companies are set to launch the Clean Van Commitment, led by Global Action Plan, to signal their promise to the environment. They have pledged to invest £40 million in rolling out zero emission models over the next two years as part of plans to replace 18,000 diesel vans over the next decade. The Commitment also involves switching a proportion of their fleet, 2,400 vehicles, to electric by 2020