Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Today’s top story tells of one woman who started a journey with one simple step, providing leftover sandwiches to a woman’s refuge, and ended up founding an organisation that has redistributed a million kilos of waste food away from landfills to those in need. Other stories of courageous individuals that made a difference in a trio that started a campaign in 1967 that was the beginning of the Great Barrier Reef protection; a young Melbourne woman who has organised her 45 apartment complex to win a $100k grant to change their backyard from concrete to a garden oasis (literally cooling them from the effects of the urban heat island effect); and an Amazonian couple facing death threats from illegal loggers but remain determined to stay and fight to protect land.

But you don’t have to face death threats or save a million kilos of food to make a difference. Check out the simple things you can do to help prevent a ‘hothouse Earth’. Together our influence can be great.

Top Story

As Kaibosh nears 10-year mark it clocks up ‘rescuing’ 1 million kilograms of food |
NEW ZEALAND – It all started with one woman picking up sandwiches from a Wishbone cafe and giving them to the Women’s Refuge. Ten years later, the staff and volunteers from food rescue charity Kaibosh have celebrated saving 1 million kilograms of food from the landfill. The figure was reached on a food-sorting shift on August 5.


Hothouse Earth: seven things you can do to stop it | The Conversation
If global temperatures are allowed to rise by 2℃, we face creating a “Hothouse Earth” that would shift the planet to an irreversible state, a recent research paper warns. This has provoked a global frenzy in social, news and print media reminiscent of the planetary emergency professed by Al Gore a decade ago. Only this time climate scientists, and not politicians, are the ones causing the storm… the idea of Hothouse Earth has taken off. This is a good thing in terms of raising awareness and triggering global concerns and subsequent actions for integrated climate governance. But such accounts often fail to consider the political climate of the day.

Environment and Biodiversity

Are they watching you? The tiny brains of bees and wasps can recognise faces | The Conversation
Recognising faces is essential for how we interact in complex societies, and is often thought to be an ability that requires the sophistication of the large human brain. But new evidence we published in Frontiers in Psychology shows that insects such as the honeybee (Apis mellifera) and the European wasp (Vespula vulgaris) use visual processing mechanisms that are similar to humans’, which enables reliable face recognition. This is despite the tiny size of the insects’ brains. They contain fewer than one million brain cells, compared with the 86,000 million that make up a human brain.

How do you look to a bee? A face shown through a “bee eye” camera. A. Dyer and S. Williams (RMIT), Author provided

How do you look to a bee? A face shown through a “bee eye” camera. A. Dyer and S. Williams (RMIT), Author provided

Brazil cuts emissions from deforestation two years ahead of schedule | Climate Action Programme
Brazil has already hit its targets for emissions from deforestation, according to the government. The Environment Ministry announced yesterday that overall emissions caused by deforestation in the Amazon rainforest were down by 610 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. This is ahead of its 2020 target of 564 million tonnes.

Harold Holt, the poet and ‘the bastard from Bingil Bay’: How reef conservation began | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – The reef was dead, said the farmer. He was going to bulldoze it. Indeed, the flat surface at the top of the reef, exposed at low tide, did lack the vibrant colours that are normally associated with the Great Barrier Reef. But did that mean it was dead? That it wouldn’t matter if it was mined? Limestone taken directly from the patch of reef would be a cheap fertilizer for the local cane farmer, but at what ecological cost to the region? This local story was to be the seed which started a long campaign to protect the Great Barrier Reef in its totality.

Coral reefs ‘weathered dinosaur extinction’ | BBC News
Corals may have teamed up with the microscopic algae which live inside them as much as 160 million years ago, according to new research. The two organisms have a symbiotic relationship, meaning they need each other to survive. But this partnership was previously thought to have developed about 60 million years ago. The new findings suggest that reef algae may have weathered significant environmental changes over time.

Scientists race to bank seeds before rainforests die | SMH
AUSTRALIA – Why is one nut different from another? Why does the palm-sized seed of the hairy walnut hate being dried, making it a tough nut to preserve? How can the macadamia withstand being frozen at minus 192 degrees celsius, and still revive to produce new seedlings – as new research discovered a few weeks ago – but other oily nuts won’t survive in these conditions? Far from questions leading to a punchline, these are the challenges facing scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney and Mt Annan who are racing to develop effective ways of preserving seeds from rainforest plants (like the macadamia) before they become extinct.

Scientists at the Australian PlantBank have yet to work out how to preserve these large black bean seeds. Photo: Botanic Gardens

Scientists at the Australian PlantBank have yet to work out how to preserve these large black bean seeds. Photo: Botanic Gardens

MPI’s warnings over kauri dieback revealed in documents |
NEW ZEALAND – The Government was warned repeatedly the kauri dieback programme was “not delivering” the protection kauri forests need, official documents released to Newshub reveal. Forest & Bird says the documents confirm what the group has known all along: “There is a major problem with the kauri dieback programme,” chief executive Kevin Hague said.

Call to end domestic ivory trade in New Zealand |
NEW ZEALAND – Calls have been made to end the legal domestic trade of ivory in New Zealand. On World Elephant Day today, The Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand has called on Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage to ban sales. According to the environmental advocacy organisation, one elephant is killed for its ivory every 15 minutes, while one rhino is killed for its horn every eight hours.

Economy and Business

The world of plastics, in numbers | The Conversation
From its early beginnings during and after World War II, the commercial industry for polymers – long chain synthetic molecules of which “plastics” are a common misnomer – has grown rapidly. In 2015, over 320 million tons of polymers, excluding fibers, were manufactured across the globe.

Don’t greenwash our consumption crisis | Newsroom
Coined in 1984 by Jay Westervelt, greenwashing now stands for the negligible, misleading or false environmental claims, and more recently, social impacts of business activities. It is based on a business ideology run on short-term profits, negating negative effects on human and natural life, a thirst for continual and perpetual (economic) growth, and one which sees the need, either for reputation or profit, to ‘sell’ themselves as green. Most ‘green’ activities are often negligible. Indeed, businesses frequently spend more money on advertising their ‘green’ impacts than they actually spend on helping society.

Waste and the Circular Economy

The politics of plastic | Newsroom
NEW ZEALAND – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern capped off her first week back from maternity leave by announcing her Government will get rid of single use plastic bags by July next year. The proposal is being put out to consultation so the final detail of what it will look like, including which bags are banned and what might be exempted is not yet finalised.

Ohakea group avoids contaminated water, waits for answers | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – Andy Russell has stopped drinking the water on tap at his farm shed near Ōhakea. Now he’s wondering whether he should even give it to his dogs. Russell has farmed deer on 100ha bordering Ōhakea Airforce Base for 23 years. In December last year residents were told the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) wanted to test their water for the presence of per and poly fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Water from shallow bores was found to have PFAS, an ingredient in firefighting foams once used at the base. Eight residents use that water for drinking, usually only in summer when their rainwater tanks run dry.

600 AccorHotels worldwide now grow their own food | Climate Action Programme
AccorHotels is making strong progress on plans to cut food waste around the world. The global chain announced yesterday that it has installed 600 urban gardens at 4,300 of its hotels. These gardens help to provide fresh vegetables for use in its restaurants and bars without the need for imports. Collectively, they are helping the chain reach a goal of reducing food waste by 30 percent by 2020 with plans to increase the number of gardens to 1,000.\

Politics and Society

Death foretold? A courageous Amazon peasant couple resists illegal loggers | Mongabay
The Terra do Meio (Land in the Middle) is a continuous mosaic of protected areas, 20 indigenous territories and 10 conservation units covering 28 million hectares in the heart of the Amazon and intended as a buffer against illegal deforestation and land theft. As big as Colorado, it represents one of the world’s largest areas of conserved tropical rainforest. Today, this vast conserved area in Pará state is under great pressure from organized crime and illegal loggers.. Organic farmers Osvalinda Maria Marcelino Pereira and Daniel Pereira have resisted, holding onto their plot, with Osvalinda founding the Association of the Women of Areia. Hounded by hired gunmen and threatened with death, the two have become isolated and are now seeking outside support for their cause.

Daniel and Osvalinda Pereira planting their next crop at their homestead, a farm that took them 18 years to create inside the Areia settlement. Over the years, community members were so fearful of the illegal loggers that they abandoned their homes and farms. Osvalinda and Daniel decided to stay. Photo by Lilo Clareto / Repórter Brasil.

Daniel and Osvalinda Pereira planting their next crop at their homestead, a farm that took them 18 years to create inside the Areia settlement. Over the years, community members were so fearful of the illegal loggers that they abandoned their homes and farms. Osvalinda and Daniel decided to stay. Photo by Lilo Clareto / Repórter Brasil.

Indonesia’s ‘one-map’ database blasted for excluding indigenous lands | Mongabay
The Indonesian government has decided to not include maps of indigenous territory in its unified land-use map database when it is launched this month, despite the fact that some of the maps have been formally recognized by local governments. The exclusion has drawn criticism from indigenous rights activists, who say it defeats the purpose of the so-called one-map policy, which is to resolve land conflicts, much of which involve disputes over indigenous lands.

Friday essay: The Meg is a horror story but our treatment of sharks is scarier | The Conversation
After 20 years of development hell, the film The Meg opens in Australia this week. The screenplay is based on the first of Steve Alten’s six-book, horror sci-fi series. The film has been pitched as an action-packed thriller, centring on our hero, naval captain and diver Jonas Taylor (played by Jason Statham) and his monstrous fishy nemesis. The pre-launch trailer, featuring frightening scenes of the Meg set to Beyond the Sea, a chirpy love song first popularised by Bobby Darin, suggests we shouldn’t take the film too seriously. But, then again, perhaps we should.

See also: The Meg: the myth, the legend (the science) | BBC News

Weedkiller glyphosate ‘doesn’t cause cancer’ – Bayer | BBC News
Pharmaceutical group Bayer has dismissed claims that an ingredient used in weed killers is carcinogenic. The German company, which owns agriculture giant Monsanto, says herbicides containing glyphosate are safe. On Friday, Monsanto was ordered to pay $289m (£226m) damages to a man who claimed the products caused his cancer. A Californian jury said Monsanto should have warned users about the dangers of its Roundup and RangerPro weedkillers.


Labor states keep the National Energy Guarantee in play but withhold agreement | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – The Labor states have kept the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) alive but withheld the in-principle support the federal government had originally hoped to extract from Friday’s meeting of the COAG Energy Council. The next stage in the NEG battle is the Coalition parties’ crucial meeting on Tuesday, when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg will be confronted by Tony Abbott and other critics who want, in effect, the plan to be made less green.

Related: States withhold support on NEG – say it “needs more work” | RenewEconomy

Built Environment

Urban Forest Fund helps turn concrete common areas into apartment block oases | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – A recent study projected daily temperatures in Melbourne would rise 3.8C above existing records by the end of the century, even hitting 50C on some days. But as our cities get hotter, green spaces are increasingly being looked at as a way to cool the concrete jungles. It has even prompted the City of Melbourne to offer predominantly ratepayer-funded grants to owners wanting to green private land. Kensington resident Milla Mihailova is a keen environmentalist, so when she saw an opportunity to make her apartment complex greener she jumped at the chance.

With Transportation Data, These Cities Became More Sustainable and Socially Inclusive | World Resources Institute
Cities across the world have pledged to take action on climate change, including planning for more sustainable forms of transportation. Many cities, however, lack the data and information necessary to track and monitor their progress. This data provides valuable examples of transportation patterns and needs, allowing cities to plan mitigation actions that decrease their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—an important step to meeting goals set in the Paris Agreement. A number of cities have demonstrated additional and unexpected benefits from tracking such information.

Solar-integrated EV in works in Germany – and open to pre-order worldwide | RenewEconomy
GERMANY – The green driver’s dream of a solar self-charging EV are set to be realised in Germany, with Munich-based start-up Sono Motors reaching the final stages of trialing a fully electric car with integrated PV panels. Reuters reports the start-up company, founded in 2016, is using the northern summer to test the final development of the charging system of its Sion car, which can be charged via solar or from conventional charging points.

Food Systems

Can Ecuador do palm oil right? Jurisdictional RSPO commitment stirs hope | Mongabay
ECUADOR – Oil palm is considered an important crop worldwide, as its fruit produces palm oil, one of the most ubiquitous oils on the market. It’s used in everything from margarine, ice cream, makeup, certain lubricants and fabrics, and is a popular biodiesel. At the same time, it has drawn international ire for its association with mass deforestation, land grabs and labor abuses on large plantations. This has also been true in some parts of Ecuador, where the industry has been accused of displacing communities and contributing to the destruction of rainforests.