Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Scientists explain why they think we should account for methane emissions differently to carbon despite them being 25x more active as a greenhouse gas in today’s top story. A variety of other news abounds with Germany to miss its 2020 target to reduce climate emissions by 40% on 1990 levels but Scotland is going gangbusters (while Australia is likely to miss its pathetic 26-28% reduction on 2005 levels by 2030); a couple of articles on appreciating and encouraging functional wilderness, such as grass verges and land under solar arrays; and for the activists amongst you, a save the date for 8 September. Oh, and a couple of philosophical articles, one on how we can save the world with two actions and the other on why we should give up because the problem is too big.

Top Story

Why methane should be treated differently compared to long-lived greenhouse gases | The Conversation
New research provides a way out of a longstanding quandary in climate policy: how best to account for the warming effects of greenhouse gases that have different atmospheric lifetimes. Carbon dioxide is a long-lived greenhouse gas, whereas methane is comparatively short-lived. Long-lived “stock pollutants” remain in the atmosphere for centuries, increasing in concentration as long as their emissions continue and causing more and more warming. Short-lived “flow pollutants” disappear much more rapidly. As long as their emissions remain constant, their concentration and warming effect remain roughly constant as well.

Climate Change and Energy

Fast-track Europe to net zero emissions, campaigners urge | BusinessGreen
Pressure is mounting on EU leaders to deliver on promises of a net zero emissions goal, with a letter today from businesses, investor groups, campaigners, and local governments calling on EU leaders to draw up a long-term climate strategy in line with a 1.5C trajectory.

Germany to miss 2020 climate target, government concedes in official report | Climate Home News
Germany will miss its 2020 climate target, the government is to acknowledge in a report due for release on Wednesday. A draft of the 2017 Climate Protection Report was seen by Climate Home News. It goes to cabinet for sign-off tomorrow. The country’s target is a 40% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, but the report has suggested that Germany will only achieve a 32% reduction by 2020. “This will lead to a gap of about 8 [percentage points],” states the report draft.

Scotland making strong headway in cutting carbon emissions | Climate Action Programme
UK – Fresh data has highlighted Scotland’s strong progress in making the transition to a low-carbon economy. New statistics from the Scottish Government show that as of 2016 the country has managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 49 percent compared to 1990. The news comes shortly after the devolved administration set a bold new target to reduce carbon emissions by 90 percent by 2050.

Environment and Biodiversity

Nesting river birds under attack from ground and air predators |
NEW ZEALAND – Canterbury’s ever-changing braided rivers are almost unique in the world. Fed by torrential alpine rains, they are constantly bringing down from the mountains gravel and sediment that over millennia have formed the Canterbury Plains… The wrybill, the only bird in the world with a sideways-curved bill which it uses to reach insect larvae under stones, nests here, along with black-fronted terns and black-billed gulls.

Philanthropists’ $1m pledge aims to double largest cat-free zone | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – A $1m donation to the fight against feral cats could help to double the size of the world’s largest cat-free sanctuary or help genetically neuter cats, conservationists say. Sydney philanthropists Andrew and Jane Clifford have pledged to match every donation made to the Australian Wildlife Conservancy up to $1m before the end of the financial year, hoping to create a $2m fund to eradicate Australia’s cat plague.

Chris Packham warns of ‘ecological apocalypse’ in Britain | The Guardian
UK – He’s currently enjoying a great bounty of nature, from tree-climbing slugs to blackbird-gobbling little owls on this year’s Springwatch, but Chris Packham warns that we are presiding over “an ecological apocalypse” and Britain is increasingly “a green and unpleasant land”. The naturalist and broadcaster is urging people to join him next month on a 10-day “bioblitz”, visiting road verges, farmland, parks, allotments and community nature reserves across the country to record what wildlife remains – from butterflies to bryophytes, linnets to lichens. According to Packham, British people have normalised a “national catastrophe” and only see a wealth of wildlife in nature reserves, with the wider countryside bereft of life.

How land under solar panels can contribute to food security | Ensia
USA – Native plants have replaced turfgrass and gravel as the go-to bedding for solar gardens in Minnesota, a result of a 2016 state standard that outlines how developers can create pollinator-friendly environments. More than half of the 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares) of solar farms built in 2016 and 2017 feature native plants that not only benefit pollinators but also beautify the site.

Economy and Business

Warren Buffett secures amazing low prices for 1GW of solar | RenewEconomy
USA – Nevada Power, a utility owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, has signed a deal to build more than 1GW of new large-scale solar in the US, with power purchase agreements starting as low as $US21.55/MWh, a record low in the US.

Citigroup limits financing for mines that dump tailings at sea | Mongabay
Following pressure from advocates, Citigroup said last month that it will not fund any future mining projects over $50 million that dispose of mine waste in the oceans. Tailings, a fine-grained, often toxic slurry left over after the processing of mined ore, are still disposed of in oceans, lakes and rivers in several countries. Mines in Papua New Guinea, Norway and Chile are proposing to dispose of tailings in the ocean.

National Energy Guarantee ‘clumsy, inefficient’, says VEPC’s Mountain | SMH
AUSTRALIA – The Turnbull government’s proposed revamp of Australia’s electricity sector has many unresolved issues just two months before states and territories are supposed to sign off on the plan, the head of the new Victorian Energy Policy Centre said. Bruce Mountain, who will launch the new centre in Melbourne on Wednesday said the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) as designed would not reduce coal generation and would “only slightly increase renewable capacity”. “It’s clumsy and inefficient,” and deliberately set up to hide a market price for emissions, Dr Mountain told Fairfax Media. The government’s own forecasts say “it will move nothing in a meaningful sense”.

GM revs up electric vehicle production | BusinessGreen
GM has said it plans to step up production of its Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle (EV) models this year in response to soaring global demand for plug-in vehicles. The pledge formed the centrepiece of the US automaker’s latest sustainability report, as it today also outlined progress on renewable energy sourcing and CO2 emissions reduction. The motoring giant said it aims to launch at last 20 new all-electric vehicle models globally by 2023, having last year outlined its ‘zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion’ vision.

Waste and the Circular Economy

SeaWorld, Ikea and Royal Caribbean are getting rid of plastic straws and bags | The Washington Post
Less than two weeks after a pilot whale died off Thailand with 80 plastic bags in its stomach, three major companies — SeaWorld, Ikea and Royal Caribbean — have vowed to remove plastic straws and bags from their properties. The companies are now linked to a host of businesses, governments and others across the world that have joined an effort to dramatically reduce the 8 million metric tons of plastic that pollute oceans each year — “one garbage truck into the ocean every minute,” according to a 2016 report released by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Burger giants back away from plastic straws | BusinessGreen
Plastic straws are becoming an increasingly toxic feature of restaurant counters on both sides of the Atlantic, with two leading burger chains in Canada and the UK announcing plans to eliminate plastic straws by the end of the year.

Food scraps collection bins to be rolled out across Auckland |
NEW ZEALAND – A new bin for food scraps will be introduced to roadside collections in Auckland Council’s push to get the city waste free by 2040. The Environment and Community Committee voted on Tuesday to adopt the Auckland Waste Management and Minimisation Plan 2018: Working Together for Zero Waste. The plan included rolling out a food scraps collection bin across the region in the next couple of years.

Politics and Society

How can climate policy stay on top of a growing mountain of data? | The Guardian
When the lines between scientific facts, legitimate disagreements and uncertainties about climate change are being deliberately blurred – not least by world leaders like Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has never been more important. It is the IPCC’s task to make sense of the landscape of scientific findings, where they agree, and why they may differ. The authors of the IPCC’s sixth assessment report – hundreds of scientists across many disciplines – have a massive task on their hands, ahead of its publication in 2021.

Exponential growth in scientific publications on the topic of climate change.

Exponential growth in scientific publications on the topic of climate change. The numbers shown refer to the Web of Science database for scholarly literature. The overall climate change literature relevant for assessment will be much larger. Figure by Max Callaghan, updated from Minx et al. (2017). Photograph: Max Callaghan

Activists plan worldwide climate demo to spur on the clean energy transition | Climate Home News
Campaigners are planning a wave of climate demonstrations across the world in September to spur leaders into action and demand greater climate commitments. Organisers expect tens of thousands of people to participate in Rise for Climate on and around Saturday 8 September, ahead of a climate action summit in California and extra UN negotiations in Bangkok.

It’s Hooray for Climate Scientists Day (formerly Hug a Climate Scientist Day) | The Guardian (Opinion)
It’s Hooray for Climate Scientists Day (formerly Hug a Climate Scientist Day) by First Dog on the Moon.

How universal basic income and rewilding could save the planet | The Guardian (Book Talk)
Enough concrete has been produced to cover the entire surface of the Earth in a layer two millimetres thick. Enough plastic has been manufactured to clingfilm it as well. We produce 4.8bn tonnes of our top five crops, plus 4.8 billion head of livestock, annually. There are 1.2bn motor vehicles, 2bn personal computers, and more mobile phones than the 7.5 billion people on Earth. The result of all this production and consumption is a chronic, escalating, many-sided environmental crisis.

Are we deranged, or just delusional? | GreenBiz
As Shanghai reaches for the skies, with more building activity than I remember seeing anywhere else in the world, the latest science suggests that a 2-degree Celsius warming trajectory could inundate land in the world’s largest city that currently houses 11.6 million people. A 4-degree warming could adversely impact 22.4 million. Forget the decimal places — no one has a true grip on the scale of the devastation, and Shanghai is spending billions in attempts to moderate the likely impact. But, really, what sort of species would pour so much time, energy and investment into cities destined to become 21st-century versions of Atlantis?

EFIC fail: Support for Adani opens ‘legal and political risks’ | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – A new report by Environmental Justice Australia finds that if Australia’s export credit agency, EFIC, funds Adani’s controversial Carmichael coal mine, it would expose EFIC’s directors to significant legal and political risk. The  Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (EFIC) has met regularly Adani  and reportedly decided to provide  concessional  support to a company in Adani’s supply chain. EFIC told Senate Estimates on 1 June 2018 that the relevant transaction was not proceeding “at the moment”.However,  neither EFIC nor the Federal Trade Minister, Steven  Ciobo, have ruled out supporting Adani or its associates for the Carmichael project.

Built Environment

Industry challenged to achieve net zero carbon buildings | The Fifth Estate
The World Green Building Council has issued a challenge to the global building sector: eliminate carbon emissions from building use by 2030. The Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment – the first of its kind worldwide – was issued at the WorldGBC Congress Canada in Toronto last week.

Lendlease scores approval for second Barangaroo timber building | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – Barangaroo South will welcome a sister building for its super-sustainable engineered timber International House Sydney, with planning approval granted for Daramu House. Meaning “tree house” in local Dharug and Eora language, Daramu House will be the company’s sixth engineered timber building in Australia, joining International House Sydney, Brisbane’s 25 King St, Melbourne’s Forte Apartments and Library at The Dock, and Western Sydney’s Jordan Springs Community Hub.

Frasers gets green light for “world’s most sustainable shopping centre” | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – Frasers Property Australia’s ambitious plan to create the world’s most sustainable shopping centre has received planning approval from Melbourne’s Whitehorse City Council, with the first sod set to be turned today (Tuesday 12 June). The Burwood Brickworks shopping centre, targeting Living Building Challenge certification, will be built by Melbourne-based builder Hacer Group, and is part of a $500 million masterplanned estate that will include 700 homes, community facilities, and 2.5 hectares of open space and parkland.

Food Systems

A solution to NZ’s nitrate Catch-22 | newsroom
Nitrate pollution is a serious problem in New Zealand, with excess nitrate in the water causing algae bloom and didymo, which smother our marine life and poison the fish we eat. But nitrate is a key ingredient in most fertilisers – so what to do? Victoria University of Wellington’s Dr Putri Fraser, Research Fellow in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, has a solution. “Using iron and microsilicate, we’ve created a chemical that can remove nitrate from soil before it reaches the waterways,” Fraser says. “Our tests so far show it is easy to work with and safe for marine life.”