Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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GDP is criticised for being used as a sole measure of the health of the economy in today’s top story. Money alone is not a measure of success and there are other factors to consider, like say, your happiness and wellbeing, which is linked to the health of your environment. In other news some informative and inspiring waste stories; more on climate change and unpredictable weather, including a reassuring opinion from a scientist who things we can act on greenhouse gas emissions in time; the World Bank is, encouragingly, looking to prevention rather than cure when it comes to crises; and a podcast on one of the world’s most important keystone (holds an ecosystem together) species.

Top Story

Americans, stop obsessing over GDP | The Conversation
GDP has many limitations. It captures only a very narrow slice of economic activity: goods and services. It pays no attention to what is produced, how it is produced or how it might improve lives. Still, many policymakers, analysts and reporters remain fixated on the GDP growth rate, as if it encapsulates all of a nation’s economic goals, performance and progress.

Climate Change

Don’t despair – climate change catastrophe can still be averted | The Guardian (Opinion)
Taking a step back from the gloom, we face the same three choices in response to climate change as we did before this scorching summer: reduce greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation), make changes to reduce the adverse impacts of the new conditions we create (adaptation), or suffer the consequences of what we fail to mitigate or adapt to. It is useful to come back to these three options, and settle on the formula that serious mitigation and wise adaptation means little suffering.

Soggier forest soils thwart the uptake of climate-warming methane | Mongabay
A recent investigation has revealed that the ability of forest soils to absorb methane has declined over time, likely due to an increase in precipitation as a result of climate change. The authors of a new study found that methane uptake declined by as much as 89 percent, and a review of the scientific literature demonstrated that the phenomenon was taking place around the world. These findings suggest that current carbon budgets may be overestimating the amount of methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas, that forest soils can siphon from the atmosphere, the scientists write.

Environment and Biodiversity

Myanmar’s milling industry devastated by new logging policies | Mongabay
According to domestic media reports in Myanmar, about 80 percent of Burmese logging mills have shut down amid stricter logging policies. Myanmar recently ended a one-year ban on domestic logging for export on anything other than certified and stockpiled wood. The government logging oversight entity, Myanmar Timber Enterprise (MTE), claims a drastic reduction in the illegal harvest and export of both teak and non-teak wood, which is part of why mills are now shutting down.

Beavers matter more than you think | Mongabay (Podcast 37:03)
We discuss one of the world’s most overlooked keystone species, the beaver, on this episode of the Mongabay Newscast. Environmental journalist and writer Ben Goldbarb is a big proponent of giving beavers far more attention than they’re paid. Today, the North American beaver population is on the rebound thanks to conservationists who are helping bring this keystone species back to habitat across the continent. Goldfarb tells us all about these efforts and just why beavers’ role as “ecosystem engineers” is so crucial.


Water bills to soar as climate change takes hold | The Telegraph
UK – The water industry’s battle to drain costs while tightening the tap on widespread leakage could be dealt a major blow by climate change. In the wake of recent scorching temperatures and water shortages, a report from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers has warned that increasingly frequent droughts, floods and superstorms are set to drive water utility costs higher.

Farmers are drawing groundwater from the giant Ogallala Aquifer faster than nature replaces it | The Conversation
USA – Every summer the U.S. Central Plains go dry, leading farmers to tap into groundwater to irrigate sorghum, soy, cotton, wheat and corn and maintain large herds of cattle and hogs. As the heat rises, anxious irrigators gather to discuss whether and how they should adopt more stringent conservation measures. They know that if they do not conserve, the Ogallala Aquifer, the source of their prosperity, will go dry.

Crop circles in Finney County, Kansas, denote irrigated plots using water from the Ogallala Aquifer. NASA

Crop circles in Finney County, Kansas, denote irrigated plots using water from the Ogallala Aquifer. NASA

Economy and Business

Offsetting impacts from palm oil a costly opportunity | CEED (Research)
Industrial oil-palm plantations now cover vast tracts of the tropics. The process of clearing forests to make way for these plantations has released huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and reduced the biological diversity in the areas that are now plantations. Could these impacts be reversed or somehow compensated for a reasonable price?

Investing in prevention: A new World Bank Group approach to crisis | World Bank (Blog)
Benjamin Franklin famously said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This was his message to Philadelphians on how to avoid house fires, at a time when they were causing widespread damage to the city and its people. His words ring true today, as we face global crises – natural disasters, pandemics, violent conflicts, financial crises, and more – that hit rich and poor countries alike, and have lasting consequences especially for the world’s most vulnerable people. They can take the lives of millions of people and cost the world trillions of dollars in damages and lost potential.

Waste and the Circular Economy

How environmentally friendly are ‘eco’ bath and cleaning products? | ABC News
Pretty much everything washed down household drains in Australia goes to a wastewater treatment plant where most particles and chemicals are removed or diluted, and then the water is discharged into our waterways. However, these days the treatment processes are insufficient to deal with the influx of chemical cocktails, especially the chemicals that last for a very long time, according to chemical engineer Peter Scales from the University of Melbourne.

Bringing back the bar soap and shampoo means less packaging, and usually fewer chemicals. (Getty: GSPictures)

Bringing back the bar soap and shampoo means less packaging, and usually fewer chemicals. (Getty: GSPictures)

Tackling food waste: Lidl launches cut price veg boxes for £1.50 | Business Green
Low-cost supermarket Lidl has launched a trial programme to cut food waste, selling boxes of imperfect fruit and veg to customers in store for just £1.50. The ‘Too Good to Waste’ boxes are filled with around 5kg of mixed fruit and vegetables “that are no longer considered at their perfect best” but are still good to eat, Lidl said.

Lidl's fruit and veg boxes will cost just £1.50 | Credit: Lidl

Lidl’s fruit and veg boxes will cost just £1.50 | Credit: Lidl

Designers turning offcuts into offbeat clothing for the Adelaide Fashion Festival | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – It is not the style of the fashion industry to re-use, reduce or recycle. But behind the scenes of the Adelaide fashion world, an increasing number of designers are trying to alter that stereotype and work towards a waste-free industry.

Photo: Designs in progress using so-called "dead stock" fabric. (ABC News: Claire Campbell)

Photo: Designs in progress using so-called “dead stock” fabric. (ABC News: Claire Campbell)

Leading businesses back study on NZ’s plastic packaging system | Sustainable Business Network
NEW ZEALAND – Ten leading businesses are backing a new diagnostic study of New Zealand’s entire plastic packaging system. The work will identify key challenges and interventions for the adoption of a circular economy approach to plastics.

Politics and Society

Radio Helps Niger Farmers Bring Life Back to Their Land | World Resources Institute
Ali Malam remembers what his farm used to look like. Fifteen years ago, his land was dry and barren, and barely produced enough food to feed his family. Now, his farm thrives. Healthy, mature trees dot the landscape, shading his land from the sun. Sakina Mati, another local farmer, has a similar story. Together they have begun sharing their success on local radio. The result: unprecedented interest from dozens of local farmers and hope for their lives and livelihoods. This simple and efficient program has generated interest and capacity for restoration—providing a compelling case for the importance of publicizing successes in the struggle to bring degraded land back to life.

Head of reef foundation says $444m grant was ‘complete surprise’ | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – The head of the foundation given a $444m grant to protect the Great Barrier Reef said it is uniquely placed to fundraise and deliver environmental projects, in response to criticism from Labor about the grant.


Hydrogen fuel breakthrough in Queensland could fire up massive new export market | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Two cars powered by hydrogen derived from ammonia will be tested in Brisbane today thanks to a Queensland breakthrough that CSIRO researchers say could turn Australia into a renewable energy superpower. CSIRO principal research scientist Michael Dolan said it was a very exciting day for a project that has been a decade in the making. “We started out with what we thought was a good idea, it is exciting to see it on the cusp of commercial deployment,” he said.

Victoria says it won’t sign up to the NEG without concessions | Michelle Grattan | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – The Victorian Labor government has significantly raised the bar for the federal government’s efforts to win support for the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) by declaring it will only sign up if a set of tough conditions is met.

Built Environment

The tenants are getting restless on poor energy efficiency in housing | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – If you rent a house with poor energy efficiency it could cost you $2800 a year in out of pocket expenses to compensate for the poor fabric of the place and ensure you stay warm. If you don’t spend the extra money though, the cost could also hit your health and safety.

How to cut costs AND cut waste | Sustainable Business Network
Construction and demolition waste is massive. Five or six tonnes of construction waste is produced for every average-sized three-bedroom home. It may make up as much as half of all waste generated in New Zealand. Some offcuts and waste are unavoidable. But how do you keep it to a minimum?

Corporate renewable energy procurement breaks 2017 levels by mid-year | RenewEconomy
A new report published by Bloomberg New Energy Finance this week has revealed corporate procurement levels have shot through the proverbial roof, with 7.2GW worth of clean energy purchased by corporations so far in 2018, smashing what was already a record year in 2017 by the mid-year point.

Graph of world renewable energy PPAs to mid-year 2018