Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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We are seeing rapid changes around the world with extreme weather disrupting communities and costing billions. The top story today describes how we are going backwards in our endeavours to eliminate world hunger, with climate change attributed as a leading cause. Meanwhile, the UN Secretary General warns we need to move faster with climate action and while the EU puts in place stricture emissions reductions for transport, Australia is hamstrung by politicians who apparently don’t recognise that the people want action, and the USA just continues cutting back regulations, justifying hundreds of thousands of extra tonnes of methane emissions because it will save $75m per annum. I do like to include news of individuals making a difference and today we have two extremes, a Housing NZ tenant starts a recycling and reuse scheme for pallets headed for landfill that is now backed by businesses, and a couple in Newcastle, Australia, pay “a few hundred thousand dollars” for an ex-navy ship so they can stop oil leaking from WWII wrecks.

Top Story

Global hunger levels rising due to extreme weather, UN warns | The Guardian
Global hunger has reverted to levels last seen a decade ago, wiping out progress on improving people’s access to food and leaving one in nine people undernourished last year, with extreme weather a leading cause, the UN has warned. Hunger afflicted 821 million people last year, the third annual rise since 2015, with most regions of Africa and much of South America showing worsening signs of food shortages and malnutrition. More than half a billion of the world’s hungry live in Asia.

Villagers at a World Food Program aid centre on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia. Many will have walked for days from rural villages looking for food in the nation’s capital after severe drought hit crops and livestock, March 2017. Photograph: Giles Clarke/Getty Images

Villagers at a World Food Program aid centre on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia. Many will have walked for days from rural villages looking for food in the nation’s capital after severe drought hit crops and livestock, March 2017. Photograph: Giles Clarke/Getty Images

Climate Change

Fossil fuel dependence poses ‘direct existential threat’, warns UN chief | The Guardian
United Nations secretary general António Guterres has warned that the world is facing “a direct existential threat” and must rapidly shift from dependence on fossil fuels by 2020 to prevent “runaway climate change”. Guterres called the crisis urgent and decried the lack of global leadership to address global warming. “Climate change is moving faster than we are,” Guterres said on Monday. “We need to put the brake on deadly greenhouse gas emissions and drive climate action.”

EU lawmakers back 45 percent CO2 cut for cars, vans by 2030 | Reuters
The biggest political group European People Party did not, however, back the tighter targets. If approved by the assembly as a whole next month, EU lawmakers are set for tough talks with the bloc’s 28 governments on a final law, as nations with big automotive industries fear stricter rules could cost growth and jobs.

Climate poll shows Morrison politically vulnerable as more voters back action | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – A study tracking voter sentiment for more than a decade, funded first by the Climate Institute and now by the Australia Institute, finds 73% (up from 66% in 2017) of respondents concerned about climate change, and a clear majority, 68%, believes the government should set domestic targets to comply with our Paris commitments.

EPA admits scrapping regulations will put more methane into atmosphere | The Guardian
USA – The EPA conceded that relaxing the Obama-era rule for methane leaks at oil and gas sites would put another 380,000 tons of methane into the atmosphere by 2025. The amount is roughly equivalent to more than 30m tons of carbon dioxide, another fossil-fuel emission that receives far more attention in efforts to slow climate change. Relaxing federal oversight will save $75m in regulatory costs annually, the agency said.

Google searches reveal where people are most concerned about climate change | The Conversation
What do you do if you have a question? You probably Google it. According to Google Trends, in 2017 Australians were keen to know about tennis, Sophie Monk, fidget spinners and Bitcoin. But besides these arguably trivial queries, our Google searches also revealed our concerns about extreme weather events such as Cyclone Debbie, Hurricane Irma, and the Bali volcano. Our research, published in the journal Climatic Change, suggests that Google search histories can be used as a “barometer of social awareness” to measure communities’ awareness of climate change, and their ability to adapt to it.

Environment and Biodiversity

After 12,000km flight, godwits arrive in Auckland bay to large-scale developments |
NEW ZEALAND – A tiny bird renowned for its record-breaking 29,000 kilometre migration has more to worry about than surviving its epic return trip to Alaska, Forest and Bird says. Every year, the bar-tailed godwit flies to the northern hemisphere for breeding before returning to New Zealand at the start of spring. The birds have started arriving at Miranda, on the Firth of Thames, and are due to land in Auckland in the next six weeks. But Forest and Bird is concerned large-scale developments at the edge of a North Shore estuary could create sediment issues at a popular feeding spot.

Economy and Business

Fossil fuel divestment funds rise to $6tn | The Guardian
The funds committed to fossil fuel divestment now total more than $6tn (£4.6tn), with almost 1,000 institutional investors having made the pledge, according to a new report. The sell-off of coal, oil and gas investments is led by the insurance industry, with $3tn of funds. But it also now includes the first nation to divest, Ireland, major cities including New York and key medical organisations. Major oil companies such as Shell have this year cited divestment as a material risk to its business.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Businesses cutting land-filling by recycling thousands of wooden pallets into the community |
NEW ZEALAND – A simple scheme to divert wooden pallets from landfill now has the backing of three large distributors. Porirua resident Daphne Swinton started the scheme to divert thousands of wooden pallets away from Wellington’s landfills by redistributing them into the community for everything from firewood to fencing. Over the past year, the mother-of-five from Cannons Creek has grown her scheme to include three large distributors including branches of Mainfreight and Sealed Air along with the likes of Mitre 10, Bunnings, and various local supermarket stores.

Daphne Swinton at a public drop-off point, known locally as Pallet Mountain, along Bedford St in Cannons Creek, Porirua. Photo: Monique Ford/Stuff

Daphne Swinton at a public drop-off point, known locally as Pallet Mountain, along Bedford St in Cannons Creek, Porirua. Photo: Monique Ford/Stuff

‘Gorse of the sea’ turned into plant products |
NEW ZEALAND – Demand is growing for organic fertiliser made from an invasive seaweed which chokes out native species and clogs mussel farms. Harvesting is underway in the Marlborough Sounds of the pest species wakame, commonly known as wakame seaweed or “the gorse of the sea”. Introduced to New Zealand waterways in the 1980s via ballast water from cargo ships, the weed is now widespread along the eastern and southern coastlines from Auckland to Bluff. Although classified as an unwanted organism under the Biosecurity Act, wakame is edible and can also be used to make fish food and fertiliser.

What happened at the first ever Circular Economy Summit Aotearoa? | Sustainable Business Network
NEW ZEALAND – Last Wednesday’s event in partnership with WasteMINZ brought together world leading thinkers with Kiwi pioneers in the circular economy. The challenge now is to ensure this idea meets its potential for creating radical change.

Politics and Society

Happiness is the metric of the future – but there are problems with how we measure it | The Conversation
Move over GDP: happiness is angling to become the metric of the future. Nation states have begun to compete in global happiness rankings and plan policy according to statistics of well-being.

Q&A: High school leaders take charge as they debate political heavyweights | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Four vocal high schoolers have provided a sound alternative to the Federal Government’s self-described Muppet Show, testing their political mettle on Q&A’s latest school panel. The students from different states, cultural backgrounds and political persuasions went head-to-head with seasoned politicians as they debated questions from the student audience.

Australian conservation couple buy NZ ex-Navy warship | RNZ News
Paul and Wilma Adams of Newcastle have sailed their 44-metre ship, the decommissioned Royal New Zealand Navy dive tender Manawanui, across the Tasman and docked it at their hometown of Carrington. The Adamses plan to use their ship, bought for a sum in the vicinity of “a few hundred thousand dollars”, to preserve the fuel-laden, mostly Japanese vessels that sank in the South Pacific during World War II. Many of the wrecks are corroded and starting to leak oil from the ocean floor. The Adamses have feared a looming ecological disaster ever since they visited Micronesia’s Chuuk Lagoon, where the US Navy sank dozens of Japanese ships in Operation Hailstone in 1944.

The Manawanui Photo: NZ Defence Force

The Manawanui Photo: NZ Defence Force

The myth of a vegetarian India | The Conversation
India has a reputation as a vegetarian nation, and Indians certainly consume far less meat than the global average. But the view of India as a predominantly vegetarian nation may not be quite accurate. India, whose population is predicted to overtake China’s, is rapidly changing from an agricultural society to an industrial economy with a surging urban population. This is driving the fastest-growing poultry market in the world, as cultural norms change and eating meat becomes a status symbol.

Camilla Highfield: NCEA review should ask some basic questions | NZ Herald
With educational organisations all over New Zealand making submissions on the review of NCEA, we have a rare opportunity to look deeply at our education system and ask what we’re really trying to achieve when we assess student work, and if what we are teaching them is even worth assessing. New Zealand and international evidence shows that in testing-intensive jurisdictions there’s a real danger of making the test the point of the learning. This can create a pernicious idea that learning is something that only happens with a teacher while you’re sitting at a desk in a classroom, and the only type of assessment that has validity are examinations testing students’ ability to memorise content.


Power poverty: ‘We don’t even have a heater’ | RNZ News
NEW ZEALAND – Pensioners sit in cold houses wrapped in sleeping bags for fear of a big power bill, a budgeting services trust says, as a new report reveals energy hardship in New Zealand. Nearly a third of all households struggle to pay their electricity bills with many incurring fines or having their power cut entirely.

Related: Why energy poverty is something we have to urgently end | The Fifth Estate

Built Environment

Fremantle brings key players together to showcase a green built future | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – City of Fremantle is achieving what is believed to be a first for Sustainable House Day (SHD), with all three tiers of government and the private sector coming together to showcase pathways towards a greener built environment next weekend. Defence Housing Australia, a federal government enterprise, will be opening up its One Planet Living aligned multi-residential development, Liv Apartments. Western Australian Government agency, LandCorp, is putting a range of the homes and apartments at its White Gum Valley estate on show, and Freo’s mayor, Brad Pettitt, will have his own home open for pre-booked tours.

Liv Apartments

Liv Apartments

How much does it cost to power an electric car around Australia? $150 | The Guardian
Sylvia Wilson drove around Australia in an electric car. It cost her $150.90. Wilson, 70, a retired farmer from near Biloela in central Queensland, had planned the trip of a lifetime with her husband, Rod. One impulsive evening in mid-2016 they went online and, sight-unseen, bought a Tesla S75 electric car for the journey. A few months after Rod died last year, Sylvia announced to her family: “I think I’ll do that trip.”

The race is on: GPT flags net zero by 2020 | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – The Investor Panel at Tomorrowland 2018 last week made the call: the property sector is friendly but super competitive – and that’s handy when it comes to sustainability and net zero. By Monday competition spirit was in full flight. GPT Wholesale Office Fund said it would aim for a net zero carbon emissions portfolio by the end of 2020 – easily the tightest target in the A-REIT sector (Australian real estate investment trust) so far. The target is five years ahead of the next closest: Lendlease’s Australian Prime Property Fund Commercial’s (APPFC) target for net zero carbon by 2025, which was announced earlier this year.

Food Systems

How to eat well – and save the planet | BBC News
Switching to a healthier diet can reduce an individual’s water footprint by as much as 55%. According to new research, turning vegetarian has the biggest impact, but even cutting down on meat gives a saving of at least 10%. Shifting to a healthy diet is a “win-win situation”, say researchers. Citizens will be healthier and their food can be produced using less of one of our most precious natural resources – water.

Rice farming up to twice as bad for climate change as previously thought, study reveals | The Independent
Rice farming is known to be a major contributor to climate change, but new research suggests it is far bigger a problem than previously thought. Techniques intended to reduce emissions while also cutting water use may in fact be boosting some greenhouse gases, meaning the impact of rice cultivation may be up to twice as bad as previous estimates suggest. Scientists at the US-based advocacy group the Environmental Defense Fund suggest the short-term warming impact of these additional gases in the atmosphere could be equivalent to 1,200 coal power plants.

Precious rock New Zealand is accused of stealing from the Sahara | (Part 1)
New Zealand’s economy is reliant on a mineral at the centre of an ugly refugee crisis, deep in the Sahara desert… New Zealand is uniquely reliant on pastoral farming, which revolves almost entirely around grass. Animals need grass, which grows with nutrients from the soil. To put nutrients in the soil, farmers use fertiliser. Most of the phosphate rock dug up from that mine in the Sahara ends up as Superphosphate, the most commonly used fertiliser in New Zealand.

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