Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Blockchain technology has appeared several times in this newsletter because it can be used to accurately, transparently and securely track supply chains.  Today we look at how it could help tackle our waste problem.  Also of note is an article on the value of marginal, rocky land in Australia, especially in relationship to agriculture.  If we are to be sustainable, we need to recognise the value of natural systems.  This is also illustrated in the story on the potential conflict between rubber plantations and ecosystems in Cameroon, and gold mining and rivers in Ecuador.

Top Story

A rubbish idea: how blockchains could tackle the world’s waste problem | The Conversation
Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin may fill news headlines, but attention has been shifting to the technology that underpins them: blockchains. Blockchains are virtual ledgers on which data can be permanently stored. They are a public record, so they are very transparent and accountable. The Big Four accounting firms, IBM and JP Morgan have been driving uptake by investigating applications. Blockchains could transform everything from national government systems to payment apps for coffee chains to the fight against climate change.  They are also starting to make a difference to the world’s waste problem. As we shall see, this has exciting possibilities.

Climate Change and Energy

Big increase in Antarctic snowfall | BBC News
Scientists have compiled a record of snowfall in Antarctica going back 200 years. The study shows there has been a significant increase in precipitation over the period, up 10%.  Some 272 billion tonnes more snow were being dumped on the White Continent annually in the decade 2001-2010 compared with 1801-1810.  This yearly extra is equivalent to twice the water volume found today in the Dead Sea. Put another way, it is the amount of water you would need to cover New Zealand to a depth of 1m.

Linc Energy found guilty of serious environmental harm at controversial UCG plant | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Gas company Linc Energy has been found guilty of causing serious environmental harm at its underground coal gasification (UCG) plant on Queensland’s western Darling Downs. During the trial, the prosecution said Linc Energy was aware it was causing serious damage but allowed operations to continue because it was putting commercial interests above environmental obligations. The company mismanaged the underground burning of coal seams at the plant, causing the release of contaminants into the soil, air and water.

Plea for action on shipping emissions | BBC News
UK – Talks on the global shipping industry cutting greenhouse gases have opened with a passionate plea for action. A minister from the Marshall Islands warned that the future of his low-lying Pacific country was at stake. The shipping industry generates more than 2% of global CO2 emissions but that’s projected to increase rapidly. More than 100 countries are meeting at the International Maritime Organisation in London to try to agree on a new policy.

Environment and Biodiversity

A new wave of rock removal could spell disaster for farmland wildlife | The Conversation
Research has clearly shown the important ecological roles of different elements of the landscape for maintaining biodiversity on farms, especially for vertebrates such as carnivorous marsupials, frogs, snakes and lizards. Rocky outcrops and areas of surface rock, often termed bush rock, are among them. Areas of bush rock are biological hotspots. They represent island refuges for specialised plants and animals, and help ecosystems to thrive even in heavily cleared landscapes. In Australia, more than 200 vertebrate species depend on rocky outcrops to survive, and many of these species are found only in agricultural areas.

Rubber plantation in Cameroon edges closer to UNESCO World Heritage Site | Mongabay
CAMEROON – The expansion of this rubber plantation is “by far the most devastating new clearing of forest for industrial agriculture in the Congo Basin,” according to Greenpeace. Members of the conservation community say that in order for rubber development to happen sustainably in Cameroon, companies need to collaborate with conservation NGOs to create robust buffers around wetlands and streams, develop wildlife corridors, establish areas to filter the runoff of toxins and sediment, and create bushmeat alternatives. They also recommend regulatory actions be taken in the U.S. and EU, which are major buyers of rubber.

‘Our territory is our life’: one struggle against mining in Ecuador | The Guardian
ECUADOR – Three A’I Cofan men were staring down at a pit of rocks, dead foliage and filthy water where two gold-panners were working. Beyond was a sluice and hoses running down to the rushing, green waters of the River Aguarico. To the right, there was mud, more rocks, more equipment, a makeshift tent and camp. Behind, to the left, a Hyundai excavator and a track running downriver.  No more than two weeks before, no track had existed and all this had been primary forest. Now that was gone. Only an area about 110 x 50 metres, you might say, but this is how gold rushes start.

The mining site recently discovered by the A’I Cofan upriver from Sinangoe. Photograph: Nicolas Mainville/Amazon Frontlines

The mining site recently discovered by the A’I Cofan upriver from Sinangoe. Photograph: Nicolas Mainville/Amazon Frontlines

Tree clearing not urban sprawl wiping out koalas in Queensland, WWF says | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Environmentalists estimate that tree clearing in regional and rural Queensland is now 15 times more destructive to the state’s koala populations than urban sprawl. Development, and the loss of koala habitat for housing and infrastructure, was considered a key reason why the koala was added to the “vulnerable” species list in 2012. But analysis by WWF conservation scientist Martin Taylor challenges the idea that the state’s koala populations are most at threat by the growth of Brisbane, the Gold Coast and sunshine coast.

Arctic countries call for regional heavy fuel oil ban at UN shipping talks | Climate Home News
Arctic countries and indigenous communities are calling for a ban on ships burning heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the region, extending a measure already imposed in Antarctica. Advocates for the ban warn the risk of heavy fuel oil spills is increasing as melting sea ice, linked to climate change, is opening the sensitive environment to seaborne trade. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is discussing the issue this week, with a view to giving instructions to a technical committee that will begin work in early 2019.

Economy and Business

Progress is being made on greening finance, says Bank of England | Climate Action Programme
UK – The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has told bankers to ramp up their focus on the financial risks posed by climate change.   The Governor made a point, however, of highlighting the progress made so far by financial institutions. Since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, a “transition in thinking has taken place” in the financial world. This was illustrated most keenly at the One Planet Summit in Paris last year where work to increase disclosure of the risks posed by climate change on financial institutions was supported by a group responsible for managing $80 trillion of assets. These include a variety of leading global banks, pension funds, asset managers and the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world.

Powering Past Coal: Bloomberg Philanthropies and Drax join forces with UK’s anti-coal push | businessGreen
Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable body run on behalf of former New York Mayor and media tycoon Michael Bloomberg, has announced a new partnership with the joint UK-Canadian anti-coal initiative the Powering Past Coal Alliance. The partnership, launched today at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit in New York, will see Bloomberg Philanthropies work with the UK and Canadian governments to encourage more countries, regions and businesses to promise to phase out coal power from their energy portfolios. The Alliance has recruited 27 member countries, alongside a host of regions and businesses, since its launch last year at the UN climate summit in Bonn.

Carbon tax is a win-win for climate and low-income households | Climate Action Programme
USA – Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and National Renewable Energy Laboratory have found significant co-benefits to setting a carbon tax in the United States. The study, recently published in the journal Climate Change Economics, used eleven research teams at different institutions, applying the same techniques and policies to model the impact of carbon taxes. The starting values for the tax were $25 and $50 per ton with rates of increase of 1 and 5 percent a year. While there were significant differences in detail, all teams agreed on the core conclusion that carbon taxes can greatly reduce emissions, air pollution and the attending costs to society.

Green Apple: Tech giant confirms it is now 100 per cent powered by renewables | businessGreen
Apple announces renewables milestone, as company sets out opposition to EPA attempts to scrap Clean Power Plan. Apple is now 100 per cent powered by renewables having today confirmed all of its global retail stores, offices, data centres, and co-located facilities across 43 countries are now run entirely on clean electricity. In addition, another nine of the company’s manufacturing partners have committed to ensuring all of their Apple production work is powered by 100 per cent renewable electricity, the tech giant announced.
Related: How Google and Walmart work with utilities to procure clean power | GreenBiz 

Waste and the Circular Economy

Unilever developing new technology to reuse plastics | Climate Action Programme
Unilever, the company behind some of the world’s best-known consumer brands, is working on pioneering new technology to convert hard-to-recycle plastic back into high-quality packaging. The technology, developed by Ioniqa in Eindhoven, is able to convert PET waste, including coloured bottles, into transparent “virgin grade material”, according to Unilever. It does this by breaking the material down to its base molecule level and separating out the contaminants before converting it back into the original polymer, bringing it full circle. This means the material can be used again as packaging, and avoids incineration and landfill.

Politics and Society

China’s new environment ministry unveiled, with huge staff boost | Climate Home News
CHINA – New offices required to house mega-department, but will climate change survive as a priority after being shifted out of the powerful development commission?

I lived through Saddam Hussein’s fall – and the horror that came next | The Conversation (Opinion)
IRAQ – I was a senior university student in Baghdad, Iraq. It was March 2003, and over the past few months, my classmates had whispered to each other about the possibility of a US-led invasion and the likelihood that 35 years of dictatorship and tyranny could be brought to an end. We could not dare to speculate on Iraq’s future, but many were longing to see Saddam Hussein fall. And soon enough, the war came.

‘It’s our lifeblood’: the Murray-Darling and the fight for Indigenous water rights | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – When the water levels of the Darling river fall, local elders in Wilcannia, New South Wales, say, the crime rate spikes, particularly juvenile crime. It seems like an odd correlation until the elders explain just how important the river is to their everyday lives.

The Queen’s Green Planet: Documentary to see Queen and David Attenborough discuss climate change | businessGreen
UK – The Queen is set to star alongside broadcaster and environmentalist Sir David Attenborough in a one-off documentary special next week focused on the monarch’s plan to create a global network of protected forests across the Commonwealth. Set to air on ITV on Monday 16th April, the documentary is believed to be the first time Britain’s longest-reigning monarch has publicly acknowledged climate change as a threat to the planet.

Our survey found ‘questionable research practices’ by ecologists and biologists – here’s what that means | The Conversation
Cherry picking or hiding results, excluding data to meet statistical thresholds and presenting unexpected findings as though they were predicted all along – these are just some of the “questionable research practices” implicated in the replication crisis psychology and medicine have faced over the last half a decade or so.

Built Environment

Cement industry urged to reduce ‘invisible’ global emissions | The Guardian
Greenhouse gas emissions from cement production must be reduced sharply if the world is to meet the climate change goals set out in the Paris agreement, a new report has suggested. Making cement and concrete, which is the most consumed product in the world after water, entails substantial emissions of carbon dioxide, from the chemical processes involved. While manufacturers have for years been seeking ways to reduce this or capture the carbon produced, and to make cement production more energy efficient, the results have failed to keep pace with the need to cut carbon emissions.


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