Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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The sea wall is meant to mitigate the city’s severe flooding The sea wall is meant to mitigate the city’s severe flooding Today’s top story shows how big business can take the lead on environmental issues with investors calling for the RSPO to strengthen their certification after years of criticism over its effectiveness. In other news, beautiful butterflies using nanotechnology can inspire human invention; economics gone wrong with businesses linked to deforestation using tax havens (imagine what we could do with their taxes); Caribbean countries come together to fight climate change, supported by big business; and AI technology assists scientists in discovering that some shallow reefs might be more resilient to bleaching than previously thought.

Top Story

RSPO should ban deforestation, say investors representing $6.7t in assets | Mongabay
More than 90 institutional investors managing more than $6.7 trillion in assets have called on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil to strengthen its standards, including by banning deforestation. The investors outlined their demands in a letter to the RSPO, the world’s largest association for ethical production of palm oil, a ubiquitous commodity found in everything from chocolate to laundry detergent.
See also: Investors worth $6.7tr urge RSPO to beef up palm oil standards | Business Green

Climate Change

Hothouse Earth: our planet has been here before – here’s what it looked like | The Conversation
The Earth has been in hothouse (often called “greenhouse”) states before, and there is not one kind of Hothouse Earth, but several. A little like Dante’s circles of Hell, they progress into ever-deeper states of heat and changes to the planet’s biosphere and climate. The end result is undoubtedly hellish, and even the early stages would be, for humans at least, decidedly uncomfortable.

More than 100 large wildfires in U.S. as new blazes erupt | Reuters
USA – Six large new wildfires erupted in the United States, pushing the number of major active blazes nationwide to over 100, with more expected to break out sparked by lightning strikes on bone-dry terrain, authorities said on Saturday. More than 30,000 personnel, including firefighters from across the United States and nearly 140 from Australia and New Zealand, were battling the blazes that have consumed more than 1.6 million acres (648,000 hectares), according to the National Interagency Coordination Center.


Environment and Biodiversity

Five ways that natural nanotechnology could inspire human design | The Conversation
Though nanotechnology is portrayed as a fairly recent human invention, nature is actually full of nanoscopic architectures. They underpin the essential functions of a variety of life forms, from bacteria to berries, wasps to whales. In fact, tactful use of the principles of nanoscience can be traced to natural structures that are over 500m-years-old. Below are just five sources of inspiration that scientists could use to create the next generation of human technology.

AI identifies heat-resistant coral reefs in Indonesia | The Guardian
INDONESIA – A recent scientific survey off the coast of Sulawesi Island in Indonesia suggests that some shallow water corals may be less vulnerable to global warming than previously thought. Between 2014 and 2017, the world’s reefs endured the worst coral bleaching event in history, as the cyclical El Niño climate event combined with anthropogenic warming to cause unprecedented increases in water temperature.

A scientist conducts a reef survey using a scooter with a 360 degree camera set up in Manado, Indonesia. Photograph: The Ocean Agency/The Ocean Agency funded by Paul G. Allen Philanthropies

A scientist conducts a reef survey using a scooter with a 360 degree camera set up in Manado, Indonesia. Photograph: The Ocean Agency/The Ocean Agency funded by Paul G. Allen Philanthropies

Planning for sea-level rise: Reducing risk in conservation reserves using economic theory | CEED (Research)|
In a recent paper, we build on prior studies to show how Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) can be adapted to maximise benefits and minimise risk in reserve design. MPT is a mathematical framework developed by Nobel Prize winning Harry Markowitz to maximise expected returns for a given level of risk in financial investment portfolios.

Greens win big native trees concession | Newsroom
The Greens have won a big concession from the One Billion Trees programme, forcing Shane Jones to accept that two-thirds of the trees planted will be natives, Thomas Coughlan reports.

See also: Boost for plan to plant one billion trees |

Economy and Business

Tax haven link to rainforest destruction and illegal fishing | BBC News
Deforestation in the Amazon and widespread illegal fishing have both been linked to tax havens, according to a new study. Some 68% of the investments tracked in the Amazon came from companies based in countries where no tax is paid. When it comes to illegal fishing, around 70% of known vessels are registered in tax havens. Tax avoidance schemes say the authors, are essentially subsidising the destruction of the environment.

Blow for coal power as EU carbon emissions price hits 10-year high | The Guardian
The amount polluters pay for emitting carbon in the EU has hit a 10-year high, in a blow for coal power station owners and a boost for renewable energy. The price of carbon in the bloc’s emissions trading scheme reached €18 (£16) per tonne on Monday, triple the level a year ago. About 12,000 factories and power stations have to pay for every tonne of carbon they emit under the scheme, but for years an oversupply of permits has meant the cost has languished at about €5 per tonne. That is too low to spur companies to lower emissions.

Climate change worsens infrastructure deficit – Chapman Tripp | NZ Herald
New Zealand’s sagging infrastructure is harming the economy with problems exacerbated by the impact of climate change, say commercial lawyers Chapman Tripp. The firm is also pushing for a new authority to open up more land for housing and global funds to back big infrastructure projects. Quality of life from gridlock, lost production, unaffordable housing, and environmental degradation was being hit and current financing models were not equal to the task, Chapman Tripp says in the wide-ranging report.

Politics and Society

6 young leaders who are improving the state of the world | World Economic Forum
Across the world, young people are shaping the future in healthcare, education, technology, food security and more. Their ideas are transforming communities and society. To celebrate International Youth Day, here’s a look at the achievements of six inspirational young leaders who are improving the state of the world as part of our Global Shapers Community.

$1bn pledged to support climate resilience in the Caribbean | Climate Action Programme
A coalition of 26 Caribbean nations is joining forces to drive forward low-carbon and climate-smart solutions. The group of countries, including Jamaica, St Lucia and Barbados, will work to develop sustainable societies which can respond to the growing threats posed by climate change. The coalition is joined by 40 private sector organisations, including the Clinton Foundation, Tesla and the Virgin Group.

‘Natural disasters’ and people on the margins – the hidden story | The Conversation
Disasters aren’t actually all that natural. The reality is that social structures harm and disadvantage individuals, putting them at risk of harm when exposed to hazard. Poverty and inequality are much more entrenched causes of disaster than any hazard (or climate change) is. There is a danger that by focusing on the “grand narrative” of global change – and flashy technological solutions – we obscure the reality of everyday risk experienced by the most marginalised people in our world.

Related: Heat: the next big inequality issue | The Guardian

CSIRO unaware of $444m reef grant before announcement | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – The CSIRO was not aware a $443.8 m grant would be offered to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and staff at the agency are likely to be seconded to the charity to help administer the funds, according to documents tabled in the Senate. The documents, tabled on Monday, show the agency “didn’t have visibility” before the government announced the grant on 29 April, with correspondence from senior staff noting the prime minister’s office appeared to be involved.

See also: Josh Frydenberg says two-stage due diligence conducted before reef grant | The Guardian


CoAG takes major step forward on renewables, despite NEG standoff | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – The Integrated System Plan, released a few weeks ago by the Australian Energy Market Operator, has an altogether different outlook, and expects high penetration of renewables by 2030 come what may, in recognition of the lower costs and the acceptance that – despite the NEG modelling – you can’t stop the future, but you can plan for it… The ISP is touted by AEMO as a blueprint for what needs to be done to accommodate that transition. It was feared that it could be yet another significant document left to gather dust, but the CoAG energy ministers – to their credit – have other ideas.


Built Environment

Jakarta, the fastest-sinking city in the world | BBC News
The Indonesian capital of Jakarta is home to 10 million people but it is also one of the fastest-sinking cities in the world. If this goes unchecked, parts of the megacity could be entirely submerged by 2050, say researchers. Is it too late?

The sea wall is meant to mitigate the city's severe flooding. Getty Images

The sea wall is meant to mitigate the city’s severe flooding. Getty Images

Indian miners drowning for sand despite government crackdown | Thomson Reuters Foundation
INDIA – Sand is becoming scarce globally, with its annual consumption of 40 billion tonnes far exceeding the sediment carried by rivers across the world, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Sand mining has been declared illegal in most parts of India with countless court petitions highlighting the danger it poses to coastlines, marine life, and sand reserves. The crackdown has helped make sand so valuable it has been dubbed “India’s gold”, with mining dominated by criminal gangs.

Food Systems tracks commodities, links supply chains to deforestation risk | Mongabay
Launched in 2016, Trase is an innovative Internet tool, available to anyone, which tracks commodities supply chains in detail from source to market, and can also connect those chains to environmental harm, including deforestation. Until the advent of Trase, knowledge of supply chains was sketchy and difficult to obtain.