Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Baobab trees are dying in Africa. Our top story suggests that climate change may be involved, and if so, a sad marker for iconic, ancient trees that have survived hundreds of years. Lots of other news on climate progress, with the EU to set a more ambitious 2030 climate target, and non-progress, particularly with India looking for coal in Papua, Trump walking away from climate change negotiations at the G6, and Australia refusing to take climate emissions seriously.

Top Story

Scientists shocked by mysterious deaths of ancient trees | BBC News
A tree regarded as the icon of the African savannah is dying in mysterious circumstances. International scientists have discovered that most of the oldest and largest African baobabs have died over the past 12 years. They suspect the demise may be linked to climate change, although they have no direct evidence of this. The tree can grow to an enormous size, and may live hundreds if not thousands of years.

Panke, the oldest known African baobab, in 1997. The tree has since died. Jocelyn Alexander

Panke, the oldest known African baobab, in 1997. The tree has since died. Jocelyn Alexander

Climate Change and Energy

EU closes in on clean energy package, with Spain, Italy joining push for higher targets | Climate Home News
New governments in southern Europe have pushed the needle of EU clean energy talks toward ambition. EU energy ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday debated a package of laws that will underpin the EU’s 2030 climate target. With targets set to be finalised in the next two weeks, the range of possible outcomes narrowed when Spain and Italy joined a coalition of more progressive countries. A leaked document from the Bulgarian presidency of the European Council ahead of the meeting proposed improving energy efficiency 30-33% from business-as-usual by 2030 and boosting the renewable share of the energy mix to 30-33%.

Power sector emissions dip stalls, while transport revs up | SMH
AUSTRALIA – Cuts in power sector emissions are unlikely to be maintained, while those from the transport sector will continue to climb in the absence of mandatory standards, according to analysis by The Australia Institute. A separate report by the institute also found Australia’s Paris climate goals to be “grossly inadequate”. At the end of March, carbon emissions from electricity generation were down more than 12 per cent compared with mid-2011, with almost the entire drop made up by brown coal-fired power stations.
See also: Australia’s emissions reduction target ‘unambitious, irresponsible’ | The Guardian

Anxiety around proposed climate change legislation ‘understandable’, Climate Change Minister says |
NEW ZEALAND – The public’s anxiety around the proposed zero carbon legislation is understandable, Climate Change Minister James Shaw says Shaw, the Green Party co-leader, was in New Plymouth on Monday for the second of 14 meetings to be held around the country during June and July to help explain the Zero Carbon Bill consultative document launched on June 7.

India eyes coal reserves in Indonesian Papua | Mongabay
India is looking to get in on the ground floor of coal mining in previously unexploited deposits in Indonesian Papua. The details of an Indian mining project in Papua are still being negotiated — what India will get in return for financing surveys is said to be a sticking point — but the Indonesian government is keen to explore energy resources in the country’s easternmost provinces. Rights activists fear the launch of a new mining industry could deepen tensions in a region where existing extractive projects have damaged the environment and inflamed a long-running armed conflict.

Forest clearance and plantation development in PT Megakarya Jaya Raya (PT MJR) palm oil concession in Papua. New Guinea Island is home to the world’s third-largest rainforest, but is facing intense pressure due to the logging, palm oil and mining industries. Image by Ulet Infansasti/Greenpeace.

Forest clearance and plantation development in PT Megakarya Jaya Raya (PT MJR) palm oil concession in Papua. New Guinea Island is home to the world’s third-largest rainforest, but is facing intense pressure due to the logging, palm oil and mining industries. Image by Ulet Infansasti/Greenpeace.

Economy and Business

G6 leaders advance climate agenda while Trump’s US defends fossil fuels | Climate Home News
A meeting of G7 leaders in Canada ended with a split over climate change on Saturday. Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the EU agreed new language on the importance of carbon pricing and a “just transition” to clean energy, as well as reaffirming their commitment to the Paris Agreement. The US asserted its position in a separate paragraph, prioritising economic growth and energy security. It would support countries in using “all available energy sources”, including to “access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently,” the statement said. On the biggest source of friction at the summit, trade, the leaders arrived at a consensus position – only for president Donald Trump to retract US endorsement after leaving the meeting.

Rules-based trade made the world rich. Trump’s policies may make it poorer | The Conversation
Nations sell goods and services to each other because this exchange is generally mutually beneficial. It’s easy to understand that Iceland should not be growing its own oranges, given its climate. Instead, Iceland should buy oranges from Spain, which can grow them more cheaply, and sell Spaniards fish, which are abundant in its waters. That’s why the explosion in free trade since the first bilateral deal was penned between Britain and France in the mid-1800s has generated unprecedented wealth and prosperity for the vast majority of the world’s population. Hundreds of trade agreements later, the U.S. and several other countries established an international rules-based trading system after World War II. But now the U.S., which has played an integral role in bolstering this system, is actively trying to subvert it.

Trump against the world? Jesco Denzel/German Federal Government via AP

Trump against the world? Jesco Denzel/German Federal Government via AP

Adidas, Nike urged to ensure fair wages for Asian workers making World Cup kits | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Sportswear giants Adidas and Nike – two of the main sponsors of the upcoming World Cup – must ensure workers in their Asian supplier factories are paid a fair wage as their share of the production cost dwindles, civil society groups said on Monday. The share of what Adidas and Nike spend on making a pair of shoes that goes into workers’ pockets has fallen since the early 1990s, said the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), citing a shift in manufacturing from China to cheaper countries such as Indonesia.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Linking plastic ingestion research with marine wildlife conservation | CEED
Over the last 50 years, the number of studies documenting plastic ingestion has increased with the problem. These studies aim to provide a baseline for future comparison, and we now know that at least 44% of marine species ingest some amount of plastic… The benefit of plastic ingestion research to marine wildlife could be improved greatly by establishing a stronger understanding of how discoveries could be integrated into conservation policy and practice.

Politics and Society

Scott Pruitt was undoing key environmental policies this week amid scandal | Vox
In the past week, even as Democrats asked the Justice Department to investigate Pruitt and federal inquiries and audits of his ethical conduct in office keep piling up, Pruitt managed to deliver two wins for industries that don’t like EPA regulations: continuing to roll back rules on toxic chemicals and change how the EPA weighs costs and benefits of regulations. These are regulations that affect the health of millions of Americans and perhaps the future of how the EPA protects the environment. Let’s walk through them.

Brussels criticised for delays in banning toxic chemicals | The Guardian
BELGIUM – People’s health is being put at risk by Brussels’ slow response to the use of dangerous chemicals, according to a report. A study by ClientEarth, an environmental law organisation, found that in nine out of 10 cases the European commission’s decision to ban a toxic chemical after it had been identified was “excessively delayed”, sometimes for up to four years… ClientEarth cited as one example the case of DEHP, a plastic-softening chemical found to readily leach from the plastic and to be a hormone-disrupting substance toxic for human reproduction.

Increased deaths and illnesses from inhaling airborne dust: An understudied impact of climate change | The Conversation
The Dust Bowl in the 1930s was one of the worst environmental disasters of the 20th century. Intense dust storms relentlessly pounded the southern Great Plains of the United States, wreaking severe ecological damage, forcing 2.5 million people to leave the region and claiming unnumbered lives, mainly from “dust pneumonia.” Research has shown that this disaster was fueled by a combination of severe droughts and over-cultivated lands. Today, climate change driven by human actions is enhancing the occurrence of droughts in multiple regions around the world. In a recently published study, we estimate that if the world stays on its current greenhouse gas emissions path, rising fine dust levels could increase premature deaths by 130 percent and triple hospitalizations due to fine dust exposure in this region.

Activists channel Martin Luther King with new national climate campaign | The Guardian
USA – The Poor People’s Campaign’s attempt to stage a “moral revival” across dozens of US states echoes much of its 1968 antecedent – a guttural cry to shake America from a miasma of racism, poverty and militarism. But the modern version has also opened up a new battleground – the environment.

Built Environment

The missed opportunity in climate change adaption | CEED
Cities around the world are investing billions of dollars in climate change adaptation to combat the effects of sea-level rise, temperature extremes, increasingly intense storm events, flooding and water scarcity… While increasing urban greenery plays a key part in most city adaptation plans (72%), along with other areas with enormous potential to promote biodiversity, only 18% of plans specifically addressed biodiversity. This is a missed opportunity for human adaptation responses that could have biodiversity conservation outcomes in cities.

Mexico City’s new airport is an environmental disaster but it could become a huge national park | The Conversation
MEXICO – Mexico City long ago outgrew the two-terminal Benito Juárez International Airport, which is notorious for delays, overcrowding and canceled flights. Construction is now underway on a striking new international airport east of this metropolis of 20 million… But after three years of construction and US$1.3 billion, costs are ballooning and corruption allegations have dogged both the funding and contracting process. Environmentalists are also concerned. The new airport is located on a semi-dry lake bed that provides water for Mexico City and prevents flooding. It also hosts migrating flocks and is home to rare native species like the Mexican duck and Kentish plover.

Rising fuel prices don’t bother south Auckland Tesla EV owner Sean Dick |
NEW ZEALAND – Sean Dick couldn’t care less about the rising cost of fuel. The Manurewa, south Auckland, resident owns a $220,000 Tesla car that runs on electricity rather than petrol or diesel. Dick said he used to spend about $400 a month on fuel for his previous vehicle, an Audi RS5, but he now spends about $100 a month on electricity to charge the Tesla, saving him about $3600 a year.

Daimler shapes up to Tesla, with new all-electric semi-trailer | RenewEconomy
German auto giant Daimler AG has delivered its answer to the Tesla Semi, unveiling an all-electric version of its Cascadia heavy duty semi-trailer truck, called eCascadia. The electric big-rig was unveiled this week alongside a smaller electric truck, the Freightliner eM2 106, which the company said was designed for local distribution operations and last-mile delivery services. But most of the media attention has been focused on the eCascadia, which is being seen as a direct – and worthy – competitor to Elon Musk’s “class 8 truck,” the Tesla Semi.

Food Systems

Livestock’s innate wisdom to choose the right food |
Monocultures designed to maximise pasture yields makes livestock more susceptible to environmental and nutritional problems and create an over-reliance on commercial drugs and chemicals. The 40-year career of emeritus professor Fred Provenza from Utah State University makes this clear. Provenza explains the ‘wisdom body’, an innate sense grazing livestock have in determining dietary needs when selecting from a range of species than if given access to a single nutritionally balanced food.

Avoiding fisheries observers: ‘What is it that they are trying to hide?’ | Radio New Zealand News
NEW ZEALAND – The environmental lobby group Forest and Bird has accused many fishing boat skippers of wriggling out of oversight by an observer from the Ministry for Primary Industries, despite having a legal obligation to do so.