Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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News in today’s top story is about the bacteria (like the human microbiome) that protect plants from, in this study, wilting while feeding the bacteria, a symbiotic relationship. The world is totally interconnected from bacteria to climate change. In other news, Australia’s recycling industry is calling for a ten point plan to address the recycling crisis by putting a value on waste; the Australian government rejects the conclusions of 91 top scientists in the IPCC report, while the Netherlands Hague upholds the ruling that the government has to take stronger action on climate change; Trump is strangely quiet on the IPCC report; and a Trump-like leader is elected as President of Brazil. In food systems, Australian farmers need more than bail outs in times of drought, they need help to adapt to climate change; and related to that a wonderful photo essay from five photographers over five continents on how farmers are already adapting to changes in their climate.

Top Story


Some plants nurture soil bacteria that keep them healthy | The Economist
THE bacteria which inhabit human beings, particularly the guts of those beings, have been found in recent years to be important for fending off disease. That something similar happens in other animal species is doubtless true as well. But work by Seon-Woo Lee at Dong-A University and Jihyun Kim at Yonsei University, both in South Korea, suggests that it is not only animals which benefit from such bacterial shielding. Their study, just published in Nature Biotechnology, shows that plants do too. And that may have important implications for agriculture.

Economy and Business

The economic case for climate action is strong | SMH
If you do not trust the International Panel on Climate Change you should probably not trust the Nobel Prize for economics. Yale economist William Nordhaus has just won the highest honour in his profession partly for his work on the economics of climate change. His modelling calculated the costs of investing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and then compared them to the social and economic costs of doing nothing and just allowing temperatures to rise. The bottom line was that investment in emissions reduction was a lot better value.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Call to action as Australian recycling rates ‘stagnate’ | SMH
Australia’s national recycling body has urged governments to address stagnating recycling rates and lagging energy capture from waste, warning the nation is “now at a crossroads”. The Australian Council of Recycling is calling for an increase in landfill levies, a $1.5 billion investment into recycling in Australia and lower taxes for products with recycled materials, in a 10-point plan aimed at “rebooting” domestic recycling.

Decades-old bottle of Fairy dishwashing liquid found on English beach | ABC News
UK – A bottle of dishing washing liquid dating back at least 47 years has washed up on a beach in Somerset, England, prompting calls for action to combat the “modern day scourge” — plastic. The Burnham Coastguard rescue team noticed a significant amount of debris on the shore, washed in by the tides over several days. Most of it was natural, but there were plenty of man-made items too, they said.

Photo: The Burnham Coastguard said it found a bottle from 1971 among beach trash. (Facebook: Burnham Coastguard)

Photo: The Burnham Coastguard said it found a bottle from 1971 among beach trash. (Facebook: Burnham Coastguard)

Politics and Society

UN’s IPCC report on devastating climate change effects rejected by Morrison government, mining sector | SMH
AUSTRALIA – Australia’s mining industry and the Morrison government have rejected an international climate report that demands nations phase out all coal-fired power by mid-century and leave most fossil fuel reserves untapped to avoid dangerous global warming… Market forces, at least in Australia, indicate an exit from coal in the electricity sector is likely for all major plants by 2050 – unless governments intervene to extend their lives.

Related: Climate change: Environment Minister rejects top scientists’ advice on phasing out coal, after UN’s warning | ABC News

Dutch appeals court upholds landmark climate change ruling | The Guardian
NETHERLANDS – A court in The Hague has upheld a historic legal order on the Dutch government to accelerate carbon emissions cuts, a day after the world’s climate scientists warned that time was running out to avoid dangerous warming. Appeal court judges ruled that the severity and scope of the climate crisis demanded greenhouse gas reductions of at least 25% by 2020 – measured against 1990 levels – higher than the 17% drop planned by Mark Rutte’s liberal administration.

Trump silent as the UN warns of climate change catastrophe | The Guardian
USA – Faced with a major UN report that warns of floods, drought, extreme heat and increased poverty should the world not take radical action to address climate change, Donald Trump has been uncharacteristically reluctant to speak out.

Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil would be a disaster for the Amazon and global climate change | The Conversation
BRAZIL – It is perhaps a cruel irony that, on the same day the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a landmark call for urgent action, Jair Bolsonaro surged to victory in the first round of Brazil’s presidential elections. Although the leader of the far-right Partido Social Liberal did not achieve the 50% of the popular vote required to win outright, and will now have a run-off against Fernando Haddad of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party), his rise has posed some painful and divisive questions both within Brazil and beyond. Bolsonaro has openly spoken of the need for a military coup and has a record of racist, misogynistic and homophobic views. He is often compared to Donald Trump in the US.


Lithium-ion and new frontiers in energy battery storage | The Fifth Estate
Demand for lithium-ion battery storage is still strong despite the dangers – and expense – of its component parts. Fortunately, there is a growing stable of storage alternatives that could see our dependence on lithium-ion taper off. According to University of Wollongong’s associate research fellow in battery R&D Jonathan Knott lithium-ion batteries at present are still being used in many possible applications and demand keeps “going up and up”.

Australia’s top scientist Alan Finkel calls for hydrogen revolution to replace fossil fuels | SMH
The federal government’s top scientist Alan Finkel says Australia could slash global carbon emissions and create a multi-billion dollar export industry by developing hydrogen as an everyday energy source to replace fossil fuels used in vehicles, homes and industry. A major climate report on Monday identified hydrogen, which can be produced with virtually no emissions, as among fuel options that must be developed if the planet is stay below the critical 1.5 degrees warming threshold and avoid the worst climate change disasters.

We are suffering from a trilemma of our own creation | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – The Energiewende (energy transition) ‘is the planned transition by Germany to a low carbon, environmentally sound, reliable, and affordable energy supply’. This does not sound much like a trilemma, does it? Where the Australian government saw problems, the Germans see opportunity, by pursuing policies which can compatibly address the 3 legs of a successful energy transition simultaneously. And what are the elements of the German energy transition?

Related: Northern Territory signs PPA with 25MW solar farm, as grid reforms take shape | RenewEconomy

Built Environment

EVs travelling further than fuel vehicles – report | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – Electric vehicles are being driven further on average than their gas-guzzling counterparts, a new survey shows. The figures didn’t surprise researchers running the citizen science project that collected the data, dubbed Flip the Fleet. “Many EV owners also retain one of their old combustion vehicles as back-up, but then concentrate most of the family’s travel in the EV to save money and enjoy a better ride,” said the project’s statistician, Daniel Myall. “Families often run a simple rule. Whoever is going furthest that day, gets to take the EV. That way the EV becomes the family workhorse and the household’s transport costs and transport emissions are minimised.”

Food Systems

‘You can’t keep arguing this is just a cycle’: Farmers struggling to manage impacts of climate change | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Peter Mailler is a third-generation farmer but if the effects of climate change continue on their current path, he doesn’t expect anyone will be farming his 6,000-acre property near Goondiwindi in the future. “You can’t keep arguing that this is just a cycle,” he told 7.30. “Yes, there are dry periods and, yes, there are wetter periods, yes, there are warm periods, yes, there are cool periods, but we have shifted the averages. “The baselines have moved to the point now where we are unable to manage the impacts of those extreme events in that set.” And with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) containing dire predictions about reaching the critical 1.5 degrees of warming by 2040, Mr Mailler is not sure what he will do.

We Feed the World: photo stories of farmers fighting climate change in five continents | The Guardian (In pictures)
Five photographers follow the challenges facing small-scale farmers, and their pioneering solutions for a farming system that does not cost the planet. Starting with Zimbabwe followed by the UK, Peru, Indonesia and finishing with Australia.


Ancient Solutions to New World Problems: When Benedict Muzenda and his neighbours were children, they finished their school exams in October so they could come home to spend the summers weeding the fields, ready for harvest in January. Now the rains still haven’t come by the time school’s over, the fields are bare and the harvest is getting later and later. The annual drought in this part of Southern Zimbabwe has left farmers looking for new ways to produce food and finding the best solutions in the tried and tested methods of the past.

Photograph: Pieter Hugo/We Feed the World