Dedicated to finding a path to sustainable development
Header

Friday 14 September 2018

Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
If you like what you see, you are welcome to sign up (on the right) for free sustainable development news delivered direct to your inbox each weekday morning.

Today’s top story is an opinion piece by David Shearman, honorary secretary of Doctors for the Environment Australia and Emeritus Professor of Medicine, on the importance of listening to science. In other news, scientists are getting more confident in attributing climate change to weather events, but there still seems to be some uncertainty on Australia’s emissions with a new report claiming the country will not meet its paltry Paris target; it’s not clear they’ve considered the massive pipeline of renewables but the fact remains there is much more to be done outside the electricity sector. Frighteningly, Adani seems set on going ahead with the Carmichael mine. In the ocean, some protection for whales on exposure to noise and fishing nets and a lovely story about non-discrimination [tongue-in-cheek attribution of human qualities to whales :-P] ; and scientists reckon it takes 14 pieces of plastic to kill a turtle.

Top Story

Human survival cannot be left to politicians. We’re losing our life support systems | ABC News
When medical researcher Jonas Salk discovered the Salk Vaccine for polio, it prevented hundreds of thousands of deaths throughout the world. His work on viruses gave him a deep understanding of the natural world. He warned “if all insects on Earth disappeared, within 50 years all life on Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the Earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish”. Eighty years later, scientists understand these words, but governments do not.

Climate Change

Climate change means Hurricane Florence will dump 50% more rain | The Guardian
Hurricane Florence is set to bring 50% more rainfall to the US east coast due to human-induced climate change, according to a landmark forecast that has outlined the influence of warming temperatures upon the looming storm. An attribution study by scientists ahead of Florence’s landfall, expected in North Carolina on Thursday, found that the storm will be about 50 miles (80km) larger in diameter than it would be if human activity had not warmed the planet.

Related: Extreme Flooding from Florence Likely, Due to Convergence of Threats | Scientific American

A handout photo made available by European Space Agency (ESA) shows Hurricane Florence seen from the International Space Station (ISS), in space, on Wednesday. Photograph: Alexander Gerst/ESA/Nasa Handout/EPA

A handout photo made available by European Space Agency (ESA) shows Hurricane Florence seen from the International Space Station (ISS), in space, on Wednesday. Photograph: Alexander Gerst/ESA/Nasa Handout/EPA

Australia on track to miss Paris climate targets as emissions hit record highs | The Guardian
Australia remains on track to miss its Paris climate targets as carbon emissions continue to soar, according to new data. The figures from NDEVR Environmental for the year up to the end of June 2018 show the country’s emissions were again the highest on record when unreliable data from the land use and forestry sectors was excluded. It is the third consecutive year for record-breaking emissions.

The trend line for the Government's Paris emissions reduction targets assumes a linear rate of reduction to reach the final target. | Source: NGGI, NDEVR Environmental

The trend line for the Government’s Paris emissions reduction targets assumes a linear rate of reduction to reach the final target. | Source: NGGI, NDEVR Environmental

ACT becomes first in Australia to join UN’s Powering Past Coal Alliance | SMH
The ACT government has become the first jurisdiction in Australia to join the United Nations-backed Powering Past Coal Alliance aimed at rapidly phasing out the fossil fuel considered a major contributor to climate change. The move, announced at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco overnight, came as almost 400 investors with $US32 trillion ($45 trillion) unveiled accelerated efforts to meet the Paris Climate Agreement goals to keep global temperatures from rising less than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

West Coast communities warned they must move from flood and erosion zones | Stuff.co.nz
NEW ZEALAND – Residents in a small West Coast town have paid more than $10,000 each for protection from the sea, but experts say they will still have to leave their homes. The sea inundated properties in the seaside villages of Hector and Granity, north of Westport, when the remnants of ex-Cyclone Fehi struck in February.

Environment and Biodiversity

Earlier Springs May Mean Mistimed Bird Migrations | Scientific American
Climate change means springtime’s arriving earlier across North America. But the season’s onset isn’t changing at the same rate across the nation. “Spring is not advancing as quickly in southern regions as it is in northern regions.” Eric Waller, a biogeographer at the U.S. Geological Survey. He and his team analyzed more than a hundred years of data on when the first leaves and flowers emerge across North America. And they found that although spring has sprung earlier nearly everywhere, in certain wildlife refuges, the season hits extremely early.

Whales given protection from noise and fishing nets | WA Today
Whales finally got some good news on Wednesday after a proposal to create a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic was defeated at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission the day before. Three resolutions were adopted at a meeting in Florianopolis, Brazil, on the third day of the 67th annual meeting of the IWC. One, recognising the crucial role of whales in ecosystems, was voted on and got through despite opposition from Japan. The other two – mitigating the threats among cetaceans of both noise pollution and getting entangled in ghost gear – were adopted by consensus.

‘One of the boys’: lost narwhal finds new home with band of beluga whales | The Guardian
Whale researchers in Quebec’s St Lawrence River are celebrating a remarkable discovery: a juvenile narwhal far from its arctic home, that appears to have been adopted by a band of beluga whales. The narwhal, more than 1,000km outside its typical range, was filmed by a drone swimming and playing with dozens of belugas that were treating it as one of their own.

‘What’s extraordinary to us is that this animal has been lucky enough to find friends,’ said Robert Michaud. Photograph: Group for research and education on marine mammals (GREMM)

‘What’s extraordinary to us is that this animal has been lucky enough to find friends,’ said Robert Michaud. Photograph: Group for research and education on marine mammals (GREMM)

EU climate law could cause ‘catastrophic’ deforestation | The Guardian
Senior climate scientists say that the world’s carbon sinks could be facing a grave threat from a wholly unexpected source: the EU’s renewable energy directive. The climate law could suck in as much imported wood as Europe harvests each year because it will count energy created from the burning of whole trees as “carbon neutral”, according to several academics including a former vice-chair of the UN IPCC.

Mining rehabilitation fund details to remain secret after Qld Government to ban RTI requests | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – A new mining and gas rehabilitation fund to contain hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions from resources companies will be shrouded in secrecy, with the Queensland Government granting a blanket exclusion from right to information requests after industry concerns. The information watchdog and Transparency International have raised the alarm about changing the Right to Information (RTI) Act to protect industry, when it was the public that paid the price when companies did not fulfil their rehabilitation obligations.

Photo: After rain, rivers around the Mt Oxide mine turned sky blue. (Supplied)

Photo: After rain, rivers around the Mt Oxide mine turned sky blue. (Supplied)

Economy and Business

Editorial: Doing what’s right, for everyone | Stuff.co.nz
The Saharawi have been illegally forced out of their Western Sahara homeland by Morocco, which has established its own kind of pipeline and a lucrative trade in mined phosphate. That occupation is maintained in part by the patronage of two New Zealand fertiliser firms: Ballance Agri-Nutrients and Ravensdown claim they are “aware” of the political situation in Western Sahara, but they defer to the UN process for sorting it out.

Adani edges closer on Carmichael after slashing $1bn from rail costs | The Australian
AUSTRALIA – India’s Adani has moved closer to a finance deal and construction start at the controversial Carmichael thermal coal project in Queensland after shaving $1 billion off the cost of its rail plan and as thermal coal prices remain robust… The new rail plan is expected to halve the cost of what was previously a $2.2bn rail project.

Waste paper kitty litter offers employment for north Queenslanders with disability | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Could the contents of your cat’s litter tray help create jobs? A trial project by Endeavour Foundation Townsville is turning confidential documents into paper shreds that are sold to a Queensland company that turns it into kitty litter. Endeavour Foundation Townsville site manager Paul Oliver said the project not only finds a new life for waste paper, it creates safe and supported employment for people with a disability.

Photo:Endeavour Townsville's shredded paper ends up as eco-friendly kitty litter pellets. (ABC North Queensland: Nathalie Fernbach)

Photo:Endeavour Townsville’s shredded paper ends up as eco-friendly kitty litter pellets. (ABC North Queensland: Nathalie Fernbach)

Waste and the Circular Economy

How much plastic does it take to kill a turtle? Typically just 14 pieces | The Conversation
We know there is a lot of plastic in the ocean, and that turtles (and other endangered species) are eating it. It is not uncommon to find stranded dead turtles with guts full of plastic. But we weren’t really sure whether plastic eaten by turtles actually kills them, or if they just happen to have plastic inside them when they die. Another way to look at it would be to ask: how much is too much plastic for turtles? This is a really important question. Just because there’s a lot of plastic in the ocean, we can’t necessarily presume that animals are dying from eating it.

A green sea turtle that died after consuming 13 pieces of soft plastic and balloons, which blocked its gastrointestinal system. Kathy Townsend

A green sea turtle that died after consuming 13 pieces of soft plastic and balloons, which blocked its gastrointestinal system. Kathy Townsend

Plastic in NZ waters: ‘We can only control a segment of it’ | RNZ News
NEW ZEALAND – The vast lack of knowledge about the main contributors to plastic in New Zealand’s waters has been highlighted at Parliament today… all agreed the majority of plastic in this country’s Exclusive Economic Zone did not actually come from New Zealand. Steven Harris – who is currently working with the Commonwealth Clean Ocean’s Alliance – said any proper solution for cleaning up New Zealand’s waters must be an international one… But Mr Harris said New Zealand was by no means blameless, citing a recent study by 5 Gyres and Algalita Marine Research of ocean plastics off the coast of Chile. “A huge proportion of what they trawled out of the ocean was fishing containers, and more than you would like to think came from New Zealand,” he said.

Plastic destined for the rubbish heap as Christchurch embraces green revolution | Stuff.co.nz
NEW ZEALAND – Christchurch has underlined its green credentials after backing the Government’s proposal to eliminate single-use plastic bags. The city council went a step further on Thursday, calling for all single-use disposal bags – including paper or plastic ones that can degrade or be composted – to be phased out. It also urged the ban to be extended to other single-use items such as coffee cups, plastic straws and packaging.

Fungi may solve plastic problem | NZ Herald
Mushrooms could be the key to winning the battle against plastic waste, leading scientists at Kew Gardens have said. The first report on the state of the world’s fungi has revealed that if the natural properties of fungus can be harnessed, plastic could be broken down naturally in weeks. Dr Ilia Leitch, a senior scientist at Kew Gardens, said: “This is incredibly exciting because it is such a big environmental challenge. We are in the early days of research, but I would hope to see the benefits of fungi that can eat plastic in five to 10 years.”

Politics and Society

World politics explainer: The Holocaust | The Conversation
6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. What happened then, and how we can keep to the promise – “never again”? The event traditionally defined as the Holocaust — by which I mean the systematic extermination of European Jewry between 1941 and 1945 — defies an overly simplified explanation. With that being said, making sense of the who, what, where and when presents the somewhat easier task.

Sharing your meter data might help cut your power bill, but it needs secure regulation | The Conversation
We are now well and truly in the era of big data. A new frontier is the rollout of smart electricity meters in Australia. Giving households more control of their energy consumption data can arguably help them cut their power bills, and drive innovation and competition in the retail energy market. This can involve allowing third parties to access your data.

Built Environment

A road full of bottlenecks: Dutch cycle path is made of plastic waste | The Guardian
NETHERLANDS – Senior climate scientists say that the world’s carbon sinks could be facing a grave threat from a wholly unexpected source: the EU’s renewable energy directive. The climate law could suck in as much imported wood as Europe harvests each year because it will count energy created from the burning of whole trees as “carbon neutral”, according to several academics including a former vice-chair of the UN IPCC.