Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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No top news story stood out today but notable stories include a weakened Gulf Stream to bring more adverse weather, New Zealand ends off short oil and gas exploration permits, further confirmation of the plastic microfibre pollution from clothes, plus an article on reducing your plastic use, and a bonus cartoon on the new Monash Forum formed from the climate change denying, white old men of Australian politics.

Climate Change and Energy

Gulf Stream current at its weakest in 1,600 years, studies show | The Guardian
The warm Atlantic current linked to severe and abrupt changes in the climate in the past is now at its weakest in at least 1,600 years, new research shows. The findings, based on multiple lines of scientific evidence, throw into question previous predictions that a catastrophic collapse of the Gulf Stream would take centuries to occur. Such a collapse would see western Europe suffer far more extreme winters, sea levels rise fast on the eastern seaboard of the US and would disrupt vital tropical rains.

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Ardern strikes drilling compromise | newsroom
NEW ZEALAND – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has taken the Government’s first major step to address climate change, announcing there will be no more offshore oil and gas exploration permits granted. But the move is a compromise as existing permits covering an area the size of the North Island will allow further drilling and new permits for onshore exploration will continue. Ardern said the 57 existing permits already awarded for offshore and onshore exploration would be protected and could allow oil and gas extraction for decades to come. The Government also opened a new ‘block offer’ for onshore exploration for oil and gas.

Partnership to investigate electric vehicles’ role in carbon neutral buildings | The Fifth Estate
A new partnership between Hitachi Europe, Mitsubishi and multinational Engie is looking at how renewables, electric vehicle fleets and building management systems can interact to create carbon neutral commercial buildings. Under the partnership, Hitachi’s vehicle-to-everything (V2X) charger will be connected to Engie’s office building in Zaandam, Netherlands, allowing bi-directional charging between electric car batteries and the building or grid. Mitsubishi said in a statement that transport and buildings together accounted for 75 per cent of a service-providing business’s carbon emissions, so tackling both areas at once could see massive reductions.

Australia’s 2017 environment scorecard: like a broken record, high temperatures further stress our ecosystems | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – While rainfall conditions were generally good across Australia in 2017, record-breaking temperatures stressed our ecosystems on land and sea, according to our annual environmental scorecard. Unfortunately, it looks like those records will be broken again next year – and again in the years after that.

Environment and Biodiversity

Honeybees hog the limelight, yet wild insects are the most important and vulnerable pollinators | The Conversation
Pollinating insects like bees, butterflies and flies have had a rough time of late. A broad library of evidence suggests there has been a widespread decline in their abundance and diversity since the 1950s. This matters because such insects are critical both for the reproduction of wild plants and for agricultural food production. The decline of these pollinators is linked with destruction of natural habitats like forests and meadows, the spread of pests such as Varroa mite and diseases like foulbrood, and the increasing use of agrochemicals by farmers. Although there have been well documented declines in managed honeybees, non-Apis (non-honeybee) pollinators such as bumblebees and solitary bees have also become endangered.

Colombia takes ‘unprecedented’ step to stop farms gobbling forests | Thomson Reuters Foundation News
COLUMBIA – Indigenous communities that depend on Colombia’s Amazon rainforest for their survival will have more say over their ancestral lands, as Colombia adds 8 million hectares to its protected areas in an effort to stem forest loss. The new measures announced by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Tuesday aim to create a buffer zone for the country’s southern Amazon region. Farmers are pushing deeper into forests, cutting down more trees to clear land for cattle-grazing and agriculture. Santos said the protected areas will be marked off in the next two weeks, meaning that “once and for all, we (will) know where we can farm, produce – and from what boundary we will protect all the forests and the entire Amazon”.


In the Mekong, questions arise over impact of favoring hydropower | Devex
On a bucolic stretch of the Mekong, near Cambodia’s northern border, people can tell you all about hydropower. The dam is why fish catches have been dropping, steadily, for the past few years. The dam is why so many young men have taken up logging jobs of dubious legality. The dam may mean development, some local people concede, but they say it won’t be for them.  Despite many campaigners’ and activists’ best efforts, major hydropower projects have remained a cornerstone of development plans in the Mekong region for years. But as new bodies of data emerge on the real potential economic and environmental costs of large dams, countries in the region are beginning to show some tentative signs of rethinking their options — even amid a major boom in dam projects.

Cotton v wetlands: three options for ambitious rehabilitation project | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – The New South Wales government is close to deciding who will run one of most ambitious environmental projects that have come out of the Murray-Darling basin plan. If successful, the rehabilitation of the Nimmie-Caira property could result in the restoration of the largest wetlands on the Murrumbidgee river. It will create a sanctuary for water birds, extend vital wetland habitats and preserve a unique area rich in Aboriginal cultural heritage – all under private sector ownership. But with the project already having cost $180m in federal funds and now years behind schedule, there is plenty of scepticism about the outcome of this highly unusual project.

Economy and Business

Is it worth paying for carbon offsets next time you fly? | ABC News
When booking flights online you may be offered the option to offset your share of carbon emissions for a few extra dollars. But where does the money go, what is it used for, and is it worth ticking that carbon offset box?

Waste and the Circular Economy

Great Barrier Reef’s microfibre problem increasing due to synthetic clothes, study finds | ABC News
A survey of pollution on the Great Barrier Reef has found microfibres to be an increasing problem, making up nearly 70 per cent of samples collected. The fibres are microscopic and usually come from synthetic clothes. Scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science have been taking samples from areas between Townsville and Cairns for the past two years. Research scientist Frederieke Kroon said they had been surprised by what they found.

Plastic pollution is killing our marine wildlife. Here are a few ways you can help | ABC News
Plastic pollution is a huge problem for marine wildlife. Just yesterday a sperm whale that washed up on a beach in Spain was found to have died due to nearly 30 kilograms of trash that blocked its digestive system. The problem is complex and requires a number of solutions. But there are some surprisingly simple things that consumers can do to help cut back their plastic pollution and reduce marine debris. Here are just a few conscious choices you can make to help.

Photo: The 10-metre-long juvenile whale was found near a lighthouse in Murcia in February. (Twitter: Espacios Naturales Murcia)

Photo: The 10-metre-long juvenile whale was found near a lighthouse in Murcia in February. (Twitter: Espacios Naturales Murcia)

Plastic bag ban introduced at South Melbourne Market could go further, management says | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – A ban on single-use plastic bags at the famous South Melbourne Market could eventually be extended to other products like straws and coffee cups, management says, as shoppers and traders embrace the new environmental stance. From today, traders at the 150-year-old food and produce market will stop supplying single-use plastic shopping bags.

What will we do with those millions of tons of solar panels when their useful life is over? | Ensia
Solar power is having its hockey stick moment. Since the early 2000s, the amount of solar panels being installed worldwide has been growing exponentially, and it’s expected to continue to do so for decades. By the end of 2015, an estimated 222 gigawatts worth of solar energy had been installed worldwide. According to a recent report from the International Renewable Energy Agency, that number could reach 4,500 GW by 2050. But the solar panels generating that power don’t last forever. The industry standard life span is about 25 to 30 years, and that means that some of the panels installed at the early end of the current boom aren’t long from being retired.

Politics and Society

Argentina accused of caving to Trump by dropping carbon price from G20 talks | Climate Home News
Argentina, host of this year’s G20 summit, has dropped carbon pricing from the agenda. But denied this was an attempt to accommodate Donald Trump’s US. That means there will be no space given to the topic at the upcoming climate sustainability group meeting in Buenos Aires between 17 and 18 April. Nor when the leaders of the world’s largest economies meet in November. Although, Gentile said, other delegations “may wish to bring up the issue during our meetings”.

Built Environment

‘We have brought swallows into Milan’, says father of the vertical forest | Climate Home News
ITALY – Close to the railway station of Porta Garibaldi in Milan stand two buildings that, for a while, were unique in the world. It has been said that they can be seen as “a house for trees inhabited by people”. The exterior facades feature a total of 21,000 plants, including 800 full size trees. Recently appointed as president of the Milan Triennale art and design museum, professor Stefano Boeri, is the architect who invented and managed the construction of the “vertical forest”. which was first realised in the 26 and 18-floor skyscrapers in the new business centre of Milan.

21,000 plants grow on the outside of the two buildings in a new business district in Milan (Photo: Stefano Boeri Architetti)

21,000 plants grow on the outside of the two buildings in a new business district in Milan (Photo: Stefano Boeri Architetti)

It’s Not Just Cape Town: 4 Shrinking Reservoirs to Watch | World Resources Institute
Cape Town, South Africa has been in the news a lot lately. The region has suffered a devastating three-year drought, and the city’s reservoirs are close to running out of water. The city has so far avoided reaching “Day Zero,” when it would turn off taps and start rationing water for citizens, but the threat still looms. What hasn’t received as much attention is the fact that reservoirs are shrinking in other parts of the world – such as in Morocco, India, Iraq and Spain.

Cost-friendly solutions and shared lessons drive sustainable cities forum | Devex
More innovative sources of financing are needed as cities look to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change threats, city officials and business leaders said during the third annual Financing Sustainable Cities Forum on Tuesday.  While public climate financing is on the rise, the estimated needs are expected to continue to increase before 2050. By then, developing countries could require between $140 to $300 billion a year to adapt to climate change.

Food Systems

Wild-caught Queensland prawns off the sustainable seafood menu | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Wild-caught Queensland prawns, bugs and scallops will be off the menu if consumers heed warnings about unsustainable fishing practices from conservationists. The shellfish varieties have all been downgraded to a red rating in the latest sustainable seafood guide published by the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS).


What is it about coal that makes old white men so crazy? | First Dog on the Moon | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Brenda the civil disobedience penguin opines on the newly established Monash Forum in the latest cartoon from First Dog on the Moon.

Cartoon - The Monash Forum - First Dog on the Moon


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