Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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In the top news story today we hear about the advancement of farming in an area of undervalued biodiversity.  What is the appropriate balance? On plastics, a study finds krill can grind microplastics into nanoplastics in their stomachs; a movie is made about albatrosses in an attempt to get us to care; and microplastics a prevalent in UK steambeds.  In better news, India is going gangbusters on solar and is now setting up and alliance to help other tropical nations do the same; and coral reefs in the Caribbean get an insurance policy against hurricane damage – an important precedent in valuing ecosystems.

Top Story

Cerrado: appreciation grows for Brazil’s savannah, even as it vanishes | Mongabay
BRAZIL – The Brazilian Cerrado – a vast savannah – once covered two million square kilometers (772,204 square miles), an area bigger than Great Britain, France and Germany combined, stretching to the east and south of the Amazon. Long undervalued by scientists and environmental activists, researchers are today realizing that the Cerrado is incredibly biodiverse. The biome supports more than 10,000 plant species, over 900 bird and 300 mammal species. Agribusiness – hampered by Brazilian laws in the Amazon – has moved into the Cerrado in a big way. More than half of the biome’s native vegetation has already disappeared, as soy and cattle production rapidly replace habitat.

A giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus). Photo by Fernando Trujillo / IUCN

A giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus). Photo by Fernando Trujillo / IUCN

Climate Change and Energy

As India offers up cash and advice, sunny nations form a solar alliance | Thomson Reuters Foundation
INDIA – Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has moved to quickly scale up its use of renewable power. In 2014, the year Modi took office, India had 3 gigawatts of solar power. By the end of 2017, it had nearly 7 times that, or 20 GW, according to industry tracker Bridge to India, a renewable energy consultancy. Now India wants to quintuple that total by 2022 – a goal once seen as hugely ambitious but now considered within reach by energy experts… On Sunday, in New Delhi, Modi and the French President Emmanuel Macron hosted the launch of a solar energy partnership that aims to build a network to help tropical countries around the world boost their use of solar power.

Environment and Biodiversity

Krill found to break down microplastics – but it won’t save the oceans | The Guardian
A world-first study by Australian researchers has found that krill can digest certain forms of microplastic into smaller – but no less pervasive – fragments. The study, published in Nature Communications journal on Friday, found that Antarctic krill, Euphausia superba, can break down 31.5 micron polyethylene balls into fragments less than one micron in diameter.  The study was conducted in laboratory conditions with new plastics. The lead researcher, Dr Amanda Dawson, who completed the study as part of a PhD with Griffith University, said that it was likely that microplastics in the ocean would be even easier to digest because they had already been degraded by UV radiation.

Yes, kangaroos are endangered – but not the species you think | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Do you know what kind of animal the mala, nabarlek, or boodie is? What about the monjon, northern bettong, or Gilbert’s potoroo?  If you answered that they are different species of kangaroo – the collective term for more than 50 species of Australian hopping marsupials – you’d be right. But you’d be in the minority.  Kangaroos are so diverse that they have been dubbed Australia’s most successful evolutionary product. But sadly, not everyone is aware of this great diversity, so most kangaroo species remain obscure and unknown. This is brought into sharp relief by a new movie that premieres nationally this week called Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story.

The iconic red kangaroo. Large kangaroos are typically widespread and secure, unlike many of their smaller cousins. Karl Vernes

The iconic red kangaroo. Large kangaroos are typically widespread and secure, unlike many of their smaller cousins. Karl Vernes

Saving the yellow-eyed penguin – a photo essay | The Guardian
Photographer Murdo MacLeod visits New Zealand’s South Island where conservationists are seeking to protect the endangered yellow-eyed penguin from predation, disease and habitat destruction.

Sarawak makes 80% forest preservation commitment, but some have doubts | Mongabay
MALAYSIA – The Malaysian state of Sarawak is committing to the preservation of 80 percent of its land area as primary and secondary forest, according to an announcement by Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg. According to data, concession boundaries for oil palm and other kinds of tree plantations covered 32.7 percent of Sarawak’s land area as of 2010/11, suggesting that if Sarawak is to fulfill its commitment to preserve 80 percent of its land as primary and secondary forest, then it may need to cancel some of these concessions. The director of environmental and human rights watchdog organization Earthsight expressed doubts that Sarawak will follow through on the commitment, and recommends the state increase transparency and crack down on illegal logging.

Economy and Business

$94B Needed to Realize RE100 Renewable Energy Targets by 2030 | Sustainable Brands
Bloomberg New Energy Finance has released a new report that reveals that signatories of the RE100 initiative have a long way to go to achieve their 100 percent renewable energy targets by 2030. For the initiative’s 128 members to meet their goal, they will need to spend an estimated $94 billion. According to Bloomberg, this is enough to procure 172 TWh of renewable power and add 87 gigawatts of new wind and solar power capacity.

Mexican coral reef and beach get unique insurance policy against hurricane damage | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Dozens of kilometres of coral reef and beach on Mexico’s Caribbean coast will be insured to help preserve them and reduce the impact of hurricanes, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a large U.S.-based charity, said on Thursday. Rapid payouts will be triggered when storm-force winds reach a certain speed under the “insurance-for-nature” plan, a concept TNC said countries such as Belize and Honduras were considering. TNC said about 60 kilometres (37 miles) of reef and beach around Cancun and Puerto Morelos to the south would be covered. “It’s never been done before, there’s never been insurance on a reef,” Mark Way, TNC’s director for global coastal risk and resilience, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “It’s really the first time the protective value has actually been monetised.”

Waste and the Circular Economy

More of us are drinking recycled sewage water than most people realise | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Drinking recycled sewage is a very confronting topic. But what many people don’t realise is that we already rely on recycled sewage in many Australian water supplies. Even in Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, it is an important part of the water supply. This is because many large towns discharge their treated sewage into the catchment rivers that supply the city.

Saving the albatross: ‘The war is against plastic and they are casualties on the frontline’ | The Guardian
We are living in a plastic age and the solutions may seem glaringly obvious, so why aren’t all 7.6 billion of us already doing things differently? Shocking statistics don’t guarantee effective change. So what’s the alternative? American photographer and filmmaker Chris Jordan believes the focus should be on forcing people to have a stronger emotional engagement with the problems plastic causes. His famous photographs of dead albatross chicks and the colourful plastic they have ingested serve as a blunt reminder that the planet is in a state of emergency.

Albatross ... ‘They are loving, sensitive and graceful,’ says Jordan. Photograph: Chris Jordan

Albatross … ‘They are loving, sensitive and graceful,’ says Jordan. Photograph: Chris Jordan


Microplastics are ‘littering’ riverbeds | BBC News
UK – Microscopic plastic beads, fragments and fibres are littering riverbeds across the UK – from rural streams to urban waterways.  This is according to a study that analysed sediments from rivers in north-west England.  Scientists from the University of Manchester tested river sediments at 40 sites throughout Greater Manchester and found “microplastics everywhere”.

Western Harbour tollway: What makes up the toxic sediment in Sydney Harbour | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – There are dangerous toxic industrial by-products lying at the bottom of Sydney Harbour that could be disturbed if a plan to build another underwater tunnel is approved. A report marked ‘Cabinet in confidence’ and seen by the ABC and Fairfax Media showed that the preferred option for Sydney’s planned Western Harbour tollway would be to lay water-tight concrete tubes to make two tunnels on the harbour floor — one near Balmain and the other near Seaforth.

Record rubbish haul collected from Tasmania’s remote World Heritage beaches | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – An annual clean up of some of Tasmania’s most remote beaches has resulted in a record haul of rubbish. More than 112,000 pieces of garbage were picked up from the beaches around the south-west World Heritage area. Organiser Matt Dell said favourable weather conditions allowed volunteers to visit beaches they have not been able to access for about seven years.

Politics and Society

Climate change is a disaster foretold, just like the first world war | The Guardian (Opinion)
“The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”
The mournful remark supposedly made by foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey at dusk on 3 August 1914 referred to Britain’s imminent entry into the first world war. But the sentiment captures something of our own moment, in the midst of an intensifying campaign against nature.

Adani mine: Majority of Queenslanders want review |
AUSTRALIA – THE “Adani curse” has hit Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with a poll finding most of his constituents want a review of the Queensland coal mine. It has been a huge political problem for Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and now Mr Turnbull could be asked to explain himself. It now has been revealed that two-thirds of voters in Mr Turnbull’s seat of Wentworth and 60 per cent in Brisbane want a review of the environmental approval given the project, according to a survey released today by the Australia Institute.

New Initiative Seeks to Fund Innovative Partnerships for Sustainable Development | World Resources Institute (Podcast 14:47)
While the rate of population growth in the world has slowed, there are still some 7.6 billion of us today and another 1 billion people expected by 2030. At the same time, living standards are rising in Africa, Latin America and large Asian countries. How can these countries grow sustainably while still providing citizens with enough food, water and energy? A new global initiative funded by the Danish government and managed by WRI aims to forge innovative public-private partnerships to help countries address their sustainable development goals.

Built Environment

Gaza City residents’ water problems continue to compound | Mongabay
GAZA – Red-faced and with his hair still wet, Hani Abu Amirah’s grandson sobbed as he shuffled over to where she sat, looking out on the Mediterranean Sea from Gaza’s Shati refugee camp. The boy’s distress stemmed from his decision to go swimming a little earlier that morning, one that incurred his father’s wrath when he was yanked out of the water and beaten for disobeying orders to stay away from the sea. A year ago, that childlike act of enjoyment would have gone unnoticed but today 80 percent of Gaza’s Mediterranean Sea coastline is thought to be polluted and families who used to rely on it for livelihoods and leisure now fear its waters.


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