Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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In our top story today, Bill McKibben praises the wise words of Pope Francis to a gathering of oil executives. The bottom line is, we’re all living on this one planet together and if we don’t radically reduce fossil fuel consumption now, we stuff it up for everyone present and future. We also have some informative articles building on previous news from this week, all from The Conversation, i.e., by academics, on the rate of Antarctic sea ice melt (three different aspects) and the deaths of ancient baobabs in Africa.

Top Story

Big Oil CEOs needed a climate change reality check. The Pope delivered | Bill McKibben | The Guardian (Opinion)
You kind of expect popes to talk about spiritual stuff, kind of the way you expect chefs to discuss spices or tree surgeons to make small talk about overhanging limbs. Which is why it was so interesting this week to hear Pope Francis break down the climate debate in very practical and very canny terms, displaying far more mathematical insight than your average world leader and far more strategic canniness than your average journalist. In fact, with a few deft sentences, he laid bare the hypocrisy that dominates much of the climate debate.

Climate Change and Energy

Antarctica has lost 3 trillion tonnes of ice in 25 years. Time is running out for the frozen continent | The Conversation
What will Antarctica look like in the year 2070, and how will changes in Antarctica impact the rest of the globe? The answer to these questions depends on choices we make in the next decade, as outlined in our accompanying paper, also published today in Nature. Our research contrasts two potential narratives for Antarctica over the coming half-century – a story that will play out within the lifetimes of today’s children and young adults.

Antarctica has lost nearly 3 trillion tonnes of ice since 1992 | The Conversation
Improving our understanding of how much Antarctica has contributed to sea level rise in the past, and how much it will contribute in the future, is vital to informing our response to climate change. Achieving this is impossible without satellites. Antarctica is too vast, too remote – satellites are our only means of monitoring its behaviour on a continental scale. Satellites launched by the European Space Agency and NASA allow scientists to monitor changes in ice height, ice velocity and ice mass through changes in Earth’s gravity field. Each of these satellites provide an independent way to measure Antarctica’s past contribution to sea level rise.

Ocean waves and lack of sea ice can trigger Antarctic ice shelves to disintegrate | The Conversation
Large waves after the loss of sea ice can trigger Antarctic ice shelf disintegration over a period of just days, according to our new research. With other research also published today in Nature showing that the rate of annual ice loss from the vulnerable Antarctic Peninsula has quadrupled since 1992, our study of catastrophic ice shelf collapses during that time shows how the lack of a protective buffer of sea ice can leave ice shelves, already weakened by climate warming, wide open to attack by waves.

EU raises renewable energy targets to 32% by 2030 | The Guardian
The EU is raising its target for the amount of energy it consumes from renewable sources, in a deal lauded by the bloc’s climate chief as a hard-won victory for the switch to clean energy. Energy ministers agreed a binding renewable energy target of 32% by 2030, up from the previous goal of 27%, but fell short of the hopes of some countries and green groups for a more ambitious share.

State-based renewable schemes “critical” – especially under NEG | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – Victorian Renewable Energy Advocate, Simon Corbell, has stressed the “critical importance” of state-based renewable energy targets and schemes, as Australia transitions to a low-carbon electricity market. Corbell, who masterminded the ACT government’s highly successful 100 per cent by 2020 renewable energy target, said state-based schemes like Victoria’s VRET not only filled the void of federal energy policy, but helped to identify and seize the enormous economic opportunities that were emerging – particularly for regional Australia.

Lightsource BP to enter Australia household solar and battery market | One Step Off The Grid
AUSTRALIA – Lightsource BP intends to enter the burgeoning household solar and battery storage market in Australia, with an installation plan that requires no upfront payments… The offer will be made through a new subsidiary called LightSource Labs, which will enter a PPA with households based around 10-year, 15-year and 20-year contracts, with the PPA price falling.

Environment and Biodiversity

Baobab trees have more than 300 uses but they’re dying in Africa | The Conversation
It has been reported that nine of 13 Africa’s oldest and largest baobab trees have died in the past decade. These trees, aged between 1,100 and 2,500 years, appear to be victims of climate change. Scientists speculate that warming temperatures have either killed the trees directly or have made them weaker and more susceptible to drought, diseases, fire or wind.

An ancient giant. Shutterstock

An ancient giant. Shutterstock

Human activity making mammals more nocturnal, study finds | The Guardian
Human disturbance is turning mammals into night owls, with species becoming more nocturnal when people are around, research has revealed. The study, encompassing 62 species from around the globe, found that when humans were nearby, mammals spent relatively less time being active during the day and were more active at night – even among those already classed as nocturnal. Experts say such a shift might not only affect particular animals themselves – for example impacting their ability to navigate or find food – but also have numerous knock-on effects across other species.

Read also: To avoid humans, more wildlife now work the night shift | The Conversation

A European beaver comes out at night, France. Photograph: Geslin Laurent/Science

A European beaver comes out at night, France. Photograph: Geslin Laurent/Science

One new species of ‘micro-moth’ found in Britain every year | The Guardian
UK – While the abundance of moths is in decline, more than 125 new species of moth have been spotted in Britain this century alone, with 27 species establishing themselves as breeding species. People are being urged to spot and help document these new arrivals as part of this year’s Moth Night, an annual three-night event to record and celebrate moths, organised by Butterfly Conservation, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and wildlife publisher Atropos.

The brown China-mark. Photograph: Patrick Clement/Butterfly Conservation

The brown China-mark. Photograph: Patrick Clement/Butterfly Conservation

Great Barrier Reef: four rivers are most responsible for pollution | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Four rivers are most responsible for polluting the Great Barrier Reef, according to research that scientists hope will help governments better target efforts to reduce damage to the reef from land use. The Burdekin, Fitzroy, Tully and Daintree rivers in Queensland posed the greatest risk to the reef, the study led by The Nature Conservancy and the University of Queensland found.

Avian malaria killing kiwi in Auckland reserve |
NEW ZEALAND – A deadly disease has ravaged the little spotted kiwi population in an Auckland sanctuary, killing more than 10 per cent of the endangered birds at the park. A total of 40 kiwi were moved to Shakespear Open Sanctuary in north Auckland in two batches, in March 2017 and in April 2018. Since then five birds have died of avian malaria, with four others dying of other causes.


Brazilian farmers paid to “produce” water in fight against scarcity | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Global demand for water is expected to increase by nearly a third by 2050, when 5 billion people could be left with poor access to water, according to a U.N. report published in March. To avoid scarcity, it recommended “nature-based solutions” that use or mimic natural processes to boost water availability. Those include adapting farming practices so that soil retains more moisture and nutrients, harvesting rainwater, and conserving wetlands that capture runoff and decontaminate water.

Economy and Business

Secret men’s business – why the public image of economics is bad news for all of us | The Conversation
What is economics all about? Ask a person in the street and the most likely answer will be along the lines of “economics is about money, earning money, something similar to business and finance”. But economics is more than just the study of money – there is a whole other side of economics that many people have never thought of. It is time we spread this message to attract more students, especially women and those from minority backgrounds, into economics.

Researchers say economic models are greatly understating potential impacts of climate change | Mongabay
Researchers in the US and the UK are sounding the alarm over what they say are misleading conclusions reached by current models for estimating the future economic damages of global climate change. In a recent paper, Thomas Stoerk of the Environmental Defense Fund, Gernot Wagner of Harvard University’s Center for the Environment, and Bob Ward of the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science write that there is “mounting evidence that current economic models of the aggregate global impacts of climate change are inadequate in their treatment of uncertainty and grossly underestimate potential future risks.”

Waste and the Circular Economy

Battery recycler amps up pressure on manufacturers and governments to cut down on waste | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Founders of Australia’s only lithium-ion battery recycling plant are calling on electronics manufacturers — and governments — to keep battery waste out of landfill. Inside the Envirostream factory at New Gisborne in Victoria, 200 plastic-lined drums are full to the brim with about 160 tonnes of flat batteries. “They’re in so many devices — we’ve got laptop batteries, power tool batteries, toothbrush batteries, car batteries, remote control batteries, telephone batteries,” co-founder Andrew Mackenzie said… About 95 per cent of the original battery can be recovered from the process.

PFAS chemicals found in waterways near Richmond RAAF base | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – An investigation into contamination from potentially toxic PFAS chemicals at the Richmond RAAF base in north-west Sydney has found a 10-square-kilometre plume of the chemical in groundwater. More than 25 surface water test sites were found to have PFAS levels above what is safe to drink, including Rickabys Creek and Bakers Lagoon, while low levels of PFAS were also found in the Hawkesbury River.

Politics and Society

Gay men create t-shirt with their blood to protest U.S. donation ban | Thomson Reuters Foundation
USA – Gay staff at a global advertising agency have created a t-shirt printed with their own blood to protest against U.S. rules barring many gay men from donating blood. They said a ban on gay men donating blood if they have had sex in the past year was discriminatory and should be scrapped. The red slogan on the front of the “Blood is Blood” t-shirt reads: “This shirt is printed with the blood of gay men”. On the back it says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) position that blood from gay men is “too risky” to use is outdated, stigmatising and not backed by science.

Green watchdog: Commons approves government concession amendment | BusinessGreen
UK – MPs in the House of Commons last night passed an amendment to the government’s key Brexit legislation that will grant the UK’s proposed new environmental watchdog increased powers. The amendment ensures a new environmental watchdog will have the power to take “proportionate enforcement action – including legal proceedings if necessary”. It also sets out that the nine existing EU legal principles – including ‘polluter pays’ and the precautionary principle among others – will continue to apply in the UK after Brexit.

The legal fight to leave the dirtiest fossil fuels in the ground | The Guardian
USA – Tar sands are the dirtiest fossil fuels. These are low-quality heavy tar-like oils that are mined from sand or rock. Much of the mining occurs in Alberta Canada, but it is also mined elsewhere, in lesser quantities. Tar sands are the worst. Not only are they really hard to get out of the ground, requiring enormous amounts of energy; not only are they difficult to transport and to refine; not only are they more polluting than regular oils; they even have a by-product called ”petcoke” that’s used in power plants, but is dirtier than regular coal.

Activists blast EU for extending deadline to ban palm oil in biofuels | Mongabay
The European Parliament and EU member states have agreed to phase out palm oil from motor fuels by 2030, much later than the initially proposed deadline of 2021. Environmental activists say the extension will allow the environmental and human rights violations linked to the production of palm oil — which prompted the push for the ban in the first place — to continue unabated for several more years.

Brian Fallow: Carbon cuts we can bank on | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – The Government has begun the process of public consultation on the most important legislation to come before Parliament in this term: the Zero Carbon Bill. In many ways it is akin to the Reserve Bank Act, which established a durable and, crucially, depoliticised framework for monetary policy nearly 30 years ago. Parliament decided that New Zealand was to become and remain a low-inflation economy. It enacted a statutory objective — price stability then, an emissions target for 2050 now.

Thousands of RMA breaches – many fewer prosecutions | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – Fewer than a hundred prosecutions are being carried out under New Zealand’s main environmental law each year, despite thousands of breaches. Now a legal researcher is investigating whether the 27-year-old Resource Management Act (RMA) is having the deterrent effect that any law including criminal offences should.

East Coast forestry: Replanting ‘required’ under contracts | Radio New Zealand News
NEW ZEALAND – Farmers in Tolaga Bay north of Gisborne are seething after thousands of tonnes of forest debris were swept onto their land during two successive rainstorms in a week. The material smothered some of their fields and destroyed fences. The government has had to provide financial support to the region for damage costing an estimated $10 million, and the damage has led to calls for forestry to be reduced in scale or even abandoned entirely. But Peter Weir of the Forest Owners Association said that was easier said than done.

Built Environment

Melbourne development lures buyers with promise of Tesla car-share | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – Malaysian-based developer EcoWorld is offering potential residents of its Yarra One apartment development exclusive access to a Tesla car share scheme – part of a growing number of green marketing strategies in the apartment sector, particularly in Melbourne.