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Friday 10 August 2018

Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Top Story

Hothouse Earth: here’s what the science actually does – and doesn’t – say | The Conversation
A new scientific paper proposing a scenario of unstoppable climate change has gone viral, thanks to its evocative description of a “Hothouse Earth”. Much of the media coverage suggests that we face an imminent and unavoidable extreme climate catastrophe. But as a climate scientist who has carried out similar research myself, I am aware that this latest work is a lot more nuanced than the headlines imply. So what does the hothouse paper actually say, and how did the authors draw their conclusions?

Environment and Biodiversity

Cats blamed for spread of native wildlife-killing toxoplasmosis, as calls for urgent action grow | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Toxoplasmosis is a disease spread in the urine and faeces of cats. All mammals, including humans, are susceptible. As feral cat populations in Tasmania have grown, toxo as it’s known, has taken a massive toll on local wildlife. The signs of infection in wildlife can range from “unexpected death to neurological signs such as blindness, altered behaviour and unsteady gait.” according to Tasmania’s Department of Primary Industries.

We’re all going on a scat hunt: how citizen science can help save echidnas | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Not everyone would be delighted to receive 150 echidna poo samples in the post but Tahlia Perry was thrilled. The PhD researcher is part of the University of Adelaide’s Grutzner Lab team studying the molecular biology of echidnas and the best way to collect the monotremes’ hormones is by testing their scats. In February, Guardian Australia put a call out for citizen scientists to participate in the project by downloading the echidna CSI free app and sending through their scat samples – and the team has been inundated.

More of world’s rarest wading birds released in Mackenzie Basin | Stuff.co.nz
NEW ZEALAND – A stunning breeding season for the world’s rarest wading bird meant the release of 45 into the wild near Tekapo on Thursday. The native kakī birds, or black stilt, were released onto Mt Gerald Station in the Mackenzie Basin following what the Department of Conservation (DOC) says has been the “best breeding season ever” for the endangered species.

DOC Twizel operations manager Sally Jones says a top breeding season of kakī is due to the success of extensive trapping in the Tasman Valley. Photo: Doug Field/Stuff

DOC Twizel operations manager Sally Jones says a top breeding season of kakī is due to the success of extensive trapping in the Tasman Valley. Photo: Doug Field/Stuff

Christchurch’s monarch butterfly population in rapid decline, rats in city parks blamed | Stuff.co.nz
NEW ZEALAND – Christchurch’s monarch butterfly population is being devastated and rats are the number one culprit. Butterfly specialist Vicky Steele wants the Christchurch City Council to do more to prevent the destruction of the butterflies after entire colonies have been all but wiped out this winter. Steele, who has studied butterflies for 20 years, knows how many have been killed because she regularly picked up their wings from the base of the trees. The wings were often all that were left.

Economy and Business

Crucial global climate fund facing ‘massive challenges’ | BusinessGreen
Political divisions between rich and poor countries make the board of the UN climate fund ‘extremely difficult to work with’, says green growth chief. The future of the UN’s major climate fund hangs in the balance, with a looming cash shortfall and a boardroom locked in conflict. That is the assessment of international green leader Frank Rijsberman, in the most candid high-profile interview on the Green Climate Fund (GCF) since its board meeting collapsed last month.

“Responsible” investment tips past milestone of 50 per cent | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – More than half (55 per cent) of all professionally managed assets are now being managed as “responsible investments”, according to the latest Australian Responsible Investment Benchmark Report. RIAA chief executive Simon O’Connor called the results a “major milestone”. “We are now at a stage whereby issues such as climate change, human rights, corporate culture, diversity and a whole range of other important sustainability issues are right at the forefront of consideration by Australia’s finance community,” Mr O’Connor said.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Trees are made of human breath | The Conversation
Isn’t that what trees are: air, water and history? With a bit of sun, a tree uses the natural miracle of photosynthesis to combine a little water with carbon dioxide from the air to produce the building blocks for its own growth, as well as oxygen for us. Over time, that tree can build itself higher and more massive, while recording the history of its growth in its rings.

Trees are made from human breath. Felicity Burke/The Conversation

Trees are made from human breath. Felicity Burke/The Conversation

Antidepressants are changing animals’ behaviour – and we’re using technology to find out how | The Conversation
Like many drugs we consume, antidepressants don’t get fully broken down in our bodies are excreted through our urine, from where they find their way to wastewater treatment plants. These facilities don’t have the ability to break down the drugs, which then enter our rivers and estuaries, and come into contact with and build up in our wildlife.

E-waste from drop-offs at Officeworks exported, possibly breaching treaty | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Electronic waste dropped at government-approved recycling points at Officeworks stores was allegedly exported to developing countries, potentially breaching a global waste treaty, a non-government organisation has said.

Politics and Society

We live in a populist age – but who are ‘the people’? | The Conversation
Populism is seemingly sweeping the globe, threatening the established status quo. Optimistically, it promises to bring about much needed change to what appears to be a corrupt political and economic order. More ominously, it is dangerously promoting racism, sexism, xenophobia, jingoism, and attacking basic human rights around the world.

To the ends of the Earth: the activists risking their lives to defend the environment | The Guardian
Over the past year, the Guardian has collaborated with the watchdog group Global Witness to keep a tally of the dead, name the victims and – where possible – to publish their pictures and tell their stories. In 2017, a record 207 people were killed. So far this year another 66 have been added to the toll.

Nine of the activists defending the Earth. Top row, from left: Samuel Loware, Maria do Socorro Silva, Ramón Bedoya; centre row: Marivic Danyan, Robert Chan, Isela González; bottom row: Tuğba Günal and Birhan Erkutlu, Fatima Babu, Nonhle Mbuthuma. Photograph: Thom Pierce/Guardian/Global Witness/UN Environment

Nine of the activists defending the Earth. Top row, from left: Samuel Loware, Maria do Socorro Silva, Ramón Bedoya; centre row: Marivic Danyan, Robert Chan, Isela González; bottom row: Tuğba Günal and Birhan Erkutlu, Fatima Babu, Nonhle Mbuthuma. Photograph: Thom Pierce/Guardian/Global Witness/UN Environment

Call to lift kiwi-protection ban on pet cats and dogs in the Far North | Stuff.co.nz
NEW ZEALAND – Residents are calling for rules banning people from owning dogs and cats in kiwi zones in the Far North to be lifted or relaxed. The Far North District Council can impose consent conditions on properties in areas identified as ‘high density and kiwi-present habitats’ which restrict people from owning carnivorous pets. But real estate agent Gary Jones and homeowner Lloyd Jerome say there needs to be more emphasis on responsible pet ownership, including kiwi aversion training, rather than a blanket ban on owning pets.

Energy

Organic solar cells set ‘remarkable’ energy record | BBC News
Chinese researchers have taken what they say is a major step forward for the development of a new generation of solar cells. Manufacturers have long used silicon to make solar panels because the material was the most efficient at converting sunlight into electricity. But organic photovoltaics, made from carbon and plastic, promise a cheaper way of generating electricity. This new study shows that organics can now be just as efficient as silicon.

Belo Monte: there is nothing green or sustainable about these mega-dams | The Conversation
There are few dams in the world that capture the imagination as much as Belo Monte, built on the “Big Bend” of the Xingu river in the Brazilian Amazon. Its construction has involved an army of 25,000 workers working round the clock since 2011 to excavate over 240m cubic metres of soil and rock, pour three million cubic metres of concrete, and divert 80% of the river’s flow through 24 turbines.

Hydrodam Belo Monte. Google Maps

Hydrodam Belo Monte. Google Maps

Big little lies: The rotten core that could kill the NEG | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – Ed: Giles Parkinson gives a summary of the NEG modelling and calls out politicians “lies and misleading statements”, giving seven examples. Here is some other coverage:

Adani spent a year trying to hide this information on its reef spill ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Adani has been fighting to hide details of what it told the Queensland Government about the risk of pollution to the Great Barrier Reef ahead of Cyclone Debbie in 2017. Now, conservationists say documents and a series of emails obtained through freedom of information laws appear to show the company and the Queensland Government knew the pollution would be so bad it would break the law.

Photo: A Queensland Government satellite image of the Calely Wetlands and the Abbot Point coal terminal after Cyclone Debbie. (Supplied: Queensland Government)

Photo: A Queensland Government satellite image of the Calely Wetlands and the Abbot Point coal terminal after Cyclone Debbie. (Supplied: Queensland Government)

Built Environment

Residential laws in Victoria up for change, but not enough | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – Victoria’s long-awaited residential tenancy reforms hit the table in the state parliament’s lower house this week. But while Premier Daniel Andrews said the reforms would be the biggest change to the state’s residential tenancy in 20 years, missing in action was any requirement for minimum energy standards and thermal comfort.

Food Systems

Liberia’s largest palm oil producer pulls out of sustainability roundtable – what does this mean for rural communities? | The Conversation
The palm oil industry is no stranger to controversy. While the world has come to learn of the environmental issues linked to the oil’s production, claims have arisen that countless rural communities have been affected by land grabs by companies seeking to expand their production. That began to change in 2001, however, when World Wildlife Fund started to explore setting up a Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RPSO).

EPA ordered to ban pesticide linked to learning disabilities | The Guardian
USA – A federal court has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban a widely used pesticide linked to learning disabilities in children. The decision said the EPA must prohibit the use of the pesticide, known as chlorpyrifos, within 60 days. Several environmental groups sued to force the ban, after the EPA under Donald Trump decided to allow farms to continue using the pesticide on food products. That was a reversal of the agency’s policy under Barack Obama, when it had begun the process of banning the chemical.