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 busts what is somewhat of a myth: burning wood is carbon neutral.  This is an important consideration in burning any biomass and is also a great example of the complexity of trying to be sustainable when factors such as how long it takes to grow, whether it’s a waste by-product and how far it has to be transported to be burnt, are all important considerations.  In other news we have several articles from different perspectives about Australia’s new Murray-Darling Basin water agreement; and the nutrient limits on farming proposed for NZ farmers, also showing the complexity in decision making. In the USA a story about using ecosystems to clean the water at a fraction of the cost of technological solutions.

Top Story 

The EPA says burning wood to generate power is ‘carbon-neutral.’ Is that true?
Biomass does not introduce new carbon into the system, as its supporters point out. Yet it does transfer carbon from forests to the atmosphere, where it traps heat and contributes to climate change. As a scientist and the coordinating lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on renewable energy, I have concluded from extensive scientific studies that converting forests into fuel is not carbon neutral.

Climate Change and Energy 

Bonn morning brief: No negotiating text this week | Climate Home News
Before delegates arrived in Bonn for interim climate talks, expectations were raised they could produce a ‘negotiating text’ for the rulebook of the Paris Agreement. That text would form the basis for talks in December in Poland. One week ago, this was seen as optimistic but plausible. “It was unlikely, but it could have been done,” said one negotiator.  With three days of talks to go, such an outcome is now impossible, UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa said on Monday afternoon.
Read also: Sunday talanoa: climate negotiators ‘talk to each other like people’ | Climate Home News 

The remarkable assumptions that will shape Australia’s future grid | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – If you have an interest in how Australia’s future grid will take shape, and the pace of the energy transition and emissions reductions, dare to cast your gaze away for a moment from the typically sordid politics taking place in Canberra. There are now enough clues to suggest that the key decisions will not be taken only in the corridors of Canberra’s political elites, but also in the computations and assumptions of the energy wonks trying to model what that modern grid looks like.

Environment and Biodiversity 

Pangolins on the brink as Africa-China trafficking persists unabated | Mongabay
Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in the world, with more than a million snatched from the wild in the past decade, according to IUCN estimates. The four Asian species have been hunted nearly to extinction, while the four African species are being poached in record numbers. In 2016, pangolins were given the highest level of protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a multilateral treaty signed by 183 nations. But laws and enforcement in African nations, along illegal trade routes, and in Asia continue to be weak, with conservationists working hard to strengthen them.

If this is ‘world’s best’ water management, we’re all in trouble | SMH
Katharine McBride’s family is one of 30 on the lower Darling River currently negotiating with the NSW government about relocating as many as 200,000 sheep by summer when the river flows are next due to dry up, and domestic water supplies have to be carted in. She’s not impressed by Monday’s decision by federal Labor to back the Turnbull government’s amendments to the $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan. That bipartisan move outflanked a Greens’ bid to block cuts of environmental flows by about a fifth. That disallowance motion will now fail when the vote takes place, most likely on Wednesday.


How the growing “One Water” movement is not only helping the environment but also saving millions of dollars | Ensia
The Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District in Wisconsin had a problem. Due to tightening state and federal regulations, it had to help decrease the amount of phosphorus in the 540-square-mile (1,400-square-kilometer) Yahara River watershed… In 2012, the district spearheaded a partnership… Known as the Yahara Watershed Improvement Network… included things like adding grass strips between farm fields and waterways, sprinkling cover crop seeds from airplanes to reduce soil erosion, manure management, and urban leaf collection.

[Ed: Maybe Australia could take a leaf out of the book of ‘One Water’… NZ is also seeing improvements in water quality attributed to efforts such as riparian strips.] 

Economy and Business 

2 economic concepts every sustainability professional should know | GreenBiz
In this article, we’ll take a broader perspective on two underlying concepts of [economic] methods that are most important when dealing with sustainability problems: transitivity and compensation. We’ll explore some opportunities they provide, pitfalls to be mindful of and recommendations for applying decision-support principles in a sustainability context.

How leveraging social norms can promote ethical timber use | GreenBiz
If a tree falls in the forest, do you care how it was brought down? Globally, 15 to 30 percent of timber is taken illegally. According to Interpol, the illegal timber trade is worth $50 billion to $150. This complex issue will not be solved overnight. But I believe that social science can help curb it by showing the damage illegal timber trade causes to humans and forests, and by stigmatizing the sale and purchase of contraband wood products.

Calling into question ethical-sourcing certifications | GreenBiz

If you’re reading this, chances are the last time you shopped for fish you looked for the MSC label to tell you that the fillet of tuna or packet of shrimps you were about to buy was sustainably sourced. Or perhaps you deliberately chose to purchase your new running shoes or gym kit from Adidas, knowing they are a member of the Better Cotton Initiative, and so must be sourcing more sustainable cotton than other brands. But what if those labeling and certification schemes we rely on to guide us through the mall are actually helping to harm the environment?

[Ed: The certifiers refute the claims of the report and the author does concede we should be cautious of believing one report, but it is thought provoking.  In the meantime, I will continue buying my MSC certified John West tuna, because that’s the best I can do at this time.] 

Global jobs in renewable energy top 10 million for the first time | Climate Action Programme
A major new report has found that renewable energy now provides 10.3 million people with employment around the world. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which represents 156 member states, published the report today, which shows a 5.3 percent growth in new jobs since 2017.

Waste and the Circular Economy 

Rotten results: Sainsbury’s drops project to halve food waste | businessGreen
UK – Sainsbury’s has abandoned a £10m project to halve food waste in a designated town across Britain after a year-long trial produced miserable results. The supermarket group gave families in one town, Swadlincote in south Derbyshire, free gadgets to cut food waste – such as devices to measure the correct amount of spaghetti to cook, “smart” fridges to control content and temperatures more accurately, food planners and magnetic shopping lists – and monitored the results. But the year-long experiment fell far short of its 50 per cent target, with households believed to have cut food waste by only nine per cent – and telling Sainsbury’s that the issue was not a priority for them.

Waste collection recycling crisis deepens as Cleanaway and councils locked in stand-off | ABC News
Australia’s largest waste collector Cleanaway says it could be forced to send some recyclables to landfill or stop collecting kerbside bins in three Perth metropolitan councils within a week if the local governments involved do not agree to higher fees.

Compost bins, waste-to-fuel on the cards as ACT Government reviews recycling policy | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Canberrans could have kerbside food waste collection in five years’ time, with the ACT Government looking to expand its green bin program. The extra service is one of the recommendations of the Government’s long-awaited Waste Feasibility Study that also recommends the development of a waste-to-fuel policy.

Politics and Society 

The Argentinian fight against ‘mega mining’ | The Conversation
ARGENTINA – On May 7 1813, when Argentina was beginning the process of becoming a sovereign country, the first Argentinian law for the promotion of mining was sanctioned. The day has now become a national day of mining. But mining in Argentina is surrounded by a series of controversies that invite us to question this celebratory commemoration. Most notably, resistance to what is known as “open-pit” or “mega” mining is growing.

Indonesian study into health risks of microplastics | BBC News
Indonesian scientists have launched the largest ever study into whether tiny plastic particles can affect human health. They are investigating the presence of plastic in seafood while also tracking the diets of 2,000 people.  There is no evidence yet that ingesting small pieces of plastic is harmful but potential impacts cannot be ruled out.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw goes deep into farming country | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – Climate Change Minister James Shaw has stepped into the lions’ den in the last week. Shaw spoke in deepest blue territory on Thursday at a Federated Farmers meeting in Southland, and today was at a farmers forum hosted by DairyNZ in the Waikato. Those appearances came immediately after the Greens-supported Government made announcements which directly affect dairy farmers, including an end to irrigation subsidies and proposals to effectively limit cow numbers by setting a cap on farm run-off. Shaw, the Green Party co-leader, took a conciliatory approach today in a half-hour speech which did not criticise the previous government or the agricultural sector’s environmental record once.


Food Systems 

Hawke’s Bay farm tackles predators with high-flying support |
NEW ZEALAND – Mangarara is not your typical New Zealand family farm. “Having children was a significant turning point in our lives,” Hart says. “We started thinking about the future, about sustainability and the quality of food. I read a lot of books, listened to podcasts and did courses, learning about alternative ways to produce healthy food, that is better for the soil, better for the animals, better for the people and ultimately better for the planet. What I was learning was very different from anything I had been taught while studying agriculture at university.”


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