Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Microplastics are literally everywhere as today’s top story describes but there is worldwide momentum on taking action (finally) and you can read more on this in the waste and circular economy section. There are also several stories highlighting the importance services the oceans provide in keeping our planet healthy.

Top Story

You’re eating microplastics in ways you don’t even realise | The Conversation
We’re increasingly aware of how plastic is polluting our environment. Much recent attention has focused on how microplastics – tiny pieces ranging from 5 millimetres down to 100 nanometres in diameter – are filling the seas and working their way into the creatures that live in them. That means these ocean microplastics are entering the food chain and, ultimately, our bodies.

Climate Change and Energy

Climate change: Pope urges action on clean energy | BBC News
Pope Francis has said climate change is a challenge of “epochal proportions” and that the world must convert to clean fuel. “Civilisation requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilisation,” he said. He was speaking to a group of oil company executives at the end of a two-day conference in the Vatican.

Farmers welcome further greenhouse gas discussions | Radio New Zealand News
NEW ZEALAND – Federated Farmers sees a silver lining in the government’s latest proposals on climate change. The government yesterday invited people to respond in a six week public consultation on the Zero Carbon Bill. This aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. The document wants public reaction to three alternative targets, and only one of them brings all greenhouse gases equally into the greenhouse fight. The other two options give a softer run to livestock-sourced methane than to carbon dioxide.


Is Australia’s current drought caused by climate change? It’s complicated | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Much of southern Australia is experiencing severe drought after a very dry and warm autumn across the southern half of the continent. Australia is no stranger to drought, but this recent dry spell, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s visit to drought-stricken parts of the country, has prompted discussion of the role of climate change in this event.

Related: ‘Australia doesn’t realise’: worsening drought pushes farmers to the brink | The Guardian

Environment and Biodiversity

Here are 5 of the biggest threats to our oceans, and how we can solve them | World Economic Forum
Oceans cover 70% of the earth’s surface. For a healthy planet, we need healthy oceans. Yet they are under threat. Here are five of the biggest challenges our oceans face, and what we can do to solve them.

Reef fish for sale in the Solomon Islands. Image: WorldFish

Reef fish for sale in the Solomon Islands. Image: WorldFish

5 Surprising Stats Show Why High Seas Need Protection | The Pew Charitable Trusts
To celebrate World Oceans Day, here are five facts showing why the high seas are so special and worth protecting.

Ocean Conservation Is an Untapped Strategy for Fighting Climate Change | World Resources Institute
The ocean contributes $1.5 trillion annually to the overall economy and assures the livelihood of 10-12 percent of the world’s population. But there’s another reason to protect marine ecosystems—they’re crucial for curbing climate change.

Mangroves, seagrass meadows and kelp forests (shown here) are 10 times more effective at storing carbon than some types of forests. Photo by oliver.dodd/Flickr

Mangroves, seagrass meadows and kelp forests (shown here) are 10 times more effective at storing carbon than some types of forests. Photo by oliver.dodd/Flickr

Rod Oram: Reform RMA and fisheries laws urgently | newsroom
NEW ZEALAND – Among developed nations we are arguably the most dependent on our natural environment for earning our living. This reliance goes well beyond the primary sector on land and at sea to attracting tourists, students, immigrants and investors. Above all, our natural assets help define us as a nation. Yet, the two central pieces of legislation by which we manage our natural resources and fisheries are 30 years old. Though much amended over the years, they are comprehensively failing to ensure we create the maximum, deeply sustainable wealth from our land and sea.

A view to a kill: Making NZ predator free with an autonomous kill-bot |
NEW ZEALAND – What could possibly go wrong? Achieve New Zealand’s Predator Free 2050 goal in double quick time by building an artificial intelligence-controlled killing machine. A robot system which sits in the bush with a night vision camera, animal recognition software, and an adapted paintball gun that can spit 1080 pellets. I am talking to Menno Finlay-Smits of the Christchurch-based Cacophony Project – a Millennial-styled “open-source” technology collective.

Lead exposure found in Wellington’s kaka | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – Researchers have pointed to a potential risk to kākā making a comeback in urban Wellington. And this time it isn’t predators threatening our native parrot species, but lead exposure likely stemming from the city’s roofs. And findings from a just-published study suggests the problem might not just be one for the endangered kākā, but other city bird species as well. Researchers began investigating after Wellington Zoo’s The Nest Te Kōhanga and Massey’s Wildbase Hospital saw more kākā being admitted for lead-poisoning treatment.

Economy and Business

Gupta’s stunning deal to supply cheap solar to South Australian industry | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – UK “green steel” billionaire Sanjeev Gupta has unveiled a stunning, landmark agreement to provide cheap solar power to five major South Australian companies, promising to slash their electricity costs by up to 50 per cent.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Planet over Plastic: Addressing East Asia’s Growing Environmental Crisis | The World Bank
East Asia is producing waste faster than any other region in the world. Plastic trash stemming from this waste pollutes rivers, coasts, and oceans. Countries in the region are taking action to tackle this growing problem… The financial toll is huge. Marine ecosystems globally suffer an estimated US$13 billion a year in damages caused by plastic waste. APEC estimates the costs to tourism, fishing, and shipping industries to be US$1.3 billion for the region. The adverse impacts on health, food chains and jobs are under study.

Spotlight: the opportunities rising from China’s waste blockade | SMH
AUSTRALIA – It was an announcement that took many Australians by complete surprise – and caught federal MPs on the back foot. In January, China declared it would no longer import waste from other countries for recycling. To those of us who had no idea we’d been shipping more than 50 per cent of our waste to China, suddenly our recycling bins lost much of their eco-friendly allure. Then we learnt that the recycling industry had been under strain for years as the price for recyclable waste dropped as much as two-thirds. Is the China blockade a death sentence for the 800 or so companies recycling waste in Australia?

Photo: A bucket's worth of rubbish can be exchanged for a cup of coffee, or a kid's scoop of gelato. (Instagram: intotheblueisland)

Photo: A bucket’s worth of rubbish can be exchanged for a cup of coffee, or a kid’s scoop of gelato. (Instagram: intotheblueisland)

Free coffee! All you’ve got to do is fill a bucket with rubbish from the beach | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Cafes along the eastern Australian coast are cleaning up their local beaches the only way they know how — by offering caffeine-craving customers free coffee in exchange for a bucket of washed-up rubbish.

Benchmark moment in plastic revolution as cotton buds in the crosshairs |
NEW ZEALAND – Plastic-stemmed cotton buds are to be pulled from supermarket shelves later this year as companies continue to clampdown on plastic products. Foodstuffs, which operates New World, Pak ‘n Save and Four Square stores, announced the new initiative on Friday to mark World Oceans Day.

Politics and Society

Charles Mann: ‘The relationship between population and consumption is not straightforward’ | The Guardian (Book Talk)
Charles C Mann is a science journalist, author and historian. His new book, The Wizard and the Prophet, examines the highly influential and starkly contrasting environmental visions of Norman Borlaug (the Wizard) and William Vogt (the Prophet). Borlaug (1914-2009) was instrumental in the green revolution that vastly expanded the amount of food humanity has been able to cultivate. Vogt (1902-1968) was a pioneering ecologist who argued that humans had exceeded the Earth’s “carrying capacity” and were heading for cataclysm unless consumption was drastically reduced. One believed in scientific ingenuity as the answer to our problems, the other was convinced that it only deepened the crisis.

Australia relies on volunteers to monitor its endangered species | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – The King Island Scrubtit and the King Island Brown Thornbill have the dubious distinction of being considered the first and third most likely birds to go extinct in the next 20 years. Yet the only reason we know the status of the scrubtit and the thornbill is the diligent efforts of volunteers.

Rose Amal: Using sunshine to create alternative fuels | SMH
AUSTRALIA – Professor Amal’s laboratory at the University of NSW (UNSW) is designing more efficient catalyst systems that use the energy from the sun – collected in solar panels on the roof of the Tyree Energies Technology Building where she works – to convert water and carbon dioxide into a sustainable and renewable source of fuel.

How a ‘most beautiful plant’ helped turn the conservationist tide | SMH
AUSTRALIA – For Alec Costin, the discovery of a field of anemone buttercups in alpine grasslands near Mount Kosciuszko marked a turning point in that region’s conservation. Six decades ago – when the environmental fate of the region was last up for grabs – Dr Costin helped get sheep removed from what was then the Kosciusko State Park. Taking Sir Garfield Barwick – a prominent lawyer and park trustee who favoured extending leases graziers had enjoyed above 1300 metres since the 1920s – on a three-day mountain tour proved Dr Costin’s master stroke.

Fencing keeps brumbies at bay on grasslands within the Kosciuszko National Park. Photo: Graeme Worboys

Fencing keeps brumbies at bay on grasslands within the Kosciuszko National Park. Photo: Graeme Worboys


Food Systems

In pursuit of traceability, palm oil giant tests GPS-based solution | Mongabay
Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), one of the world’s biggest palm oil companies, is testing new GPS-based technology to establish traceability for the palm oil it sources from third-party mills in Indonesia. The company has long acknowledged the difficulty in extending that traceability standard to the more than 400 third-party mills from which it buys the bulk of its palm oil. This is in large part because of the unregulated nature of the middlemen who buy the palm fruit from farmers and sell it to the mills.