Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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An argument in today’s top story that humans are innovative and can solve our greenhouse gas problem but we need to overcome short term thinking and get some political backbone. Other news on research showing higher sea levels will make tsunamis relatively worse; Australia rolls back marine protection at a federal level in one area and implements protection at a state level in another; native trees are to replace forestry plantation in the Hunua Ranges to improve water quality (think ecosystem services); aquaculture finds a commercial use for a waste product and invasive pest; and a proposal for an eco-skyscraper in Melbourne that, among lots of other good features, utilises wind flow between towers for cooling.

Top Story

Capitalism can crack climate change. But only if it takes risks | The Guardian (Opinion)
The struggle to combat climate change brings out the best and worst of capitalism. Decarbonisation of the economy requires alternatives for coal and cars that run on diesel, and that plays to capitalism’s strengths. Innovation is what capitalism is all about, and there has been staggeringly rapid progress in developing clean alternatives to coal, oil and gas. The cost of producing solar- and wind-powered electricity has collapsed. Great advances are also being made in battery technology, which is vital for the new generation of electricity-powered vehicles. Humans are endlessly creative. In the end, they will crack climate change. But by the time they do, it could be too late.

Climate Change

Climate change risks ‘devastating tsunamis’ causing havoc across globe, experts warn | The Sun
Tsunamis are one of the deadliest natural disasters – and experts say they could get even worse. A new Science Advances study modelled the impact of tsunamis based on sea level increases, and discovered worrying results. It found that rising sea levels allowed tsunamis to reach much further inland, significantly increasing the risk of floods. This means small tsunamis that might not be deadly today could wreak havoc in the future.

Environment and Biodiversity

On patrol with the wildlife rangers of Chinko – photo essay | The Guardian
Deep in the heart of Africa, a dedicated group of rangers patrol the Chinko nature reserve. In baking equatorial heat, they are weighed down with body armour and camouflage fatigues. Beads of sweat run down their faces; mosquitos whine. The men keep watch over a vast patchwork of savanna and rainforest in the Central African Republic – a country mired in civil strife and one of the many frontlines of a poaching war that spans the continent and reaches across the globe.

Chinko’s rangers are the guardians of an ecosystem that is home to a rich variety of species.

Chinko’s rangers are the guardians of an ecosystem that is home to a rich variety of species.

Senate bid to block reduction of national marine park protection fails | SMH
AUSTRALIA – A bid to prevent the Turnbull government reducing environmental protection in Australia’s national marine parks has failed after Labor and the Greens were unable to secure Senate crossbench support. Separate disallowance motions to block the government’s plan to increase commercial fishing and other activities in the 3.3 million square kilometres of protected offshore regions lost 29 votes to 36 on Thursday.

‘Significant step’: NSW government unveils Sydney marine park plan | SMH
AUSTRALIA – Twenty-five high-value biodiversity marine sites around the Sydney region will get enhanced protection as part of a long-awaited marine park proposed by the Berejiklian government. The sites, stretching from Newcastle to Wollongong and taking in parts of Sydney Harbour, include sanctuary zones allowing activities such as boating and diving, and conservation zones where extraction will be limited to such species as abalone and lobster fishing.

The Great Barrier Reef has been bleaching for at least 400 years, but it’s getting worse | The Conversation
We know about those recent events as they have been widely observed and studied, but prior to the 1970s we have little understanding of coral bleaching due to scant observational records. This could mean that bleaching didn’t happen, happened very infrequently, that we didn’t know how to recognise it, or that we were not looking for it in the right places. To better assess the survival chances of the Great Barrier and other coral reefs, we wanted longer-term records to help us understand how and why coral reefs end up bleaching in response to environmental change over the centuries. This in turn would give us a better sense of their ability to cope with recent rapid changes.

Researcher launches petition to close all kauri forests | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – A Kiwi researcher has launched a petition urging the closure of all kauri forests, over fears current measures aren’t enough to save the ancient giants from a killer disease. The call by Victoria University’s Dr Matt Hall comes days after Forest & Bird shut all of its reserves that have kauri trees and urged the Government to do the same. The Department of Conservation was eyeing dozens of new track closures across at-risk areas, but insisted blocking access to all kauri forests wasn’t needed.


Millions of trees to be planted in Hunua Ranges to ensure Auckland’s water supply |
Watercare is carrying out a massive tree-planting project to ensure water supply to Aucklanders. A 1900-hectare commercial pine forest in the Hunua Ranges in south Auckland will be replaced by native trees over the next 30 years to prevent sediment run-off. “Sediment and silt are our number one enemy from a water supply point of view,” Watercare’s chief executive Raveen Jaduram said.

A drone used to spread native seeds in the Hunua Ranges not far from the Ardmore Water Treatment Plant. Photo: David White / Stuff

A drone used to spread native seeds in the Hunua Ranges not far from the Ardmore Water Treatment Plant. Photo: David White / Stuff

Rural Victorian community fights David vs Goliath battle against bottled water company | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – A rural Victorian community has started a global campaign to stop water being extracted from its local water table for bottling, in what has been described as a David-and-Goliath battle. Stanley is an agricultural hamlet in the state’s north-east and a prime apple and nut growing district. Groundwater from the water table beneath Stanley’s plateau is being extracted under licence from a local property and transported to Albury where it is bottled for Asahi Beverages.

Economy and Business

Gupta: ACCC underwriting idea may help slash solar costs to $20/MWh | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – UK billionaire Sanjeev Gupta says that the ACCC proposal for the federal government to underwrite new “firming” capacity could help drive down the cost of solar in Australia to prices as low as $20/MWh, and no more than $50/MWh with back-up.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Banning Straws and Bags Won’t Solve our Plastic Problem | World Resources Institute
It seems to be the summer of plastic bans. Starbucks, Hyatt, the city of Seattle and others have all committed to phase out plastic straws. Stafford Township in New Jersey passed a plastic bag ban just last month, joining dozens of other American cities and states imposing taxes or bans on single-use plastics. But is this a good thing? Not if that’s all we do.

We’re banning bags, but what about all the other single-use plastic? |
NEW ZEALAND – The plastic bag’s days are numbered in NZ, as the Government plans to phase them out over the next year. But what about all the other single-use plastic littering the country? Sustainable Coastlines, which the Government cites in its bag ban consultation document, removed 1,732,991 individual items from NZ’s beaches rom December 2010 to April 2016. Of that, 77 per cent was single-use plastic.

Small pieces of plastic litters the coast at Evans Bay in Wellington. This photo was taken on the day of the Government's bag phase-out announcement. Photo: Sustainable Coastlines

Small pieces of plastic litters the coast at Evans Bay in Wellington. This photo was taken on the day of the Government’s bag phase-out announcement. Photo: Sustainable Coastlines

Blue mussel processing plant funded through Provincial Growth Fund |
NEW ZEALAND – A blue mussel processing plant is the first Marlborough project to gain funding from the Government’s provincial fund, creating up to a dozen jobs in the region. The small blue mussel has long been wedging its way onto green-lipped mussel farms and is usually chucked back in the sea as a worthless byproduct. But researchers have found the blue mussel can be turned into a valuable protein for pet food or aquaculture feed.

E-waste exports highlight need for tighter controls on ‘unethical and irresponsible’ trade | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Reports that a defunct computer screen dropped at Officeworks for recycling was shipped to a junkyard in Thailand have renewed calls for Australia to get serious about e-waste controls. Under current laws any such waste should have been sent to an approved recycler which recycles e-waste safely to avoid serious toxic effects on humans and the environment.

Politics and Society

Brazil: murder of indigenous leader highlights threat to way of life | The Guardian
BRAZIL – Indigenous people in the Brazilian Amazon are mourning the murder of a community leader who campaigned to protect the forest from logging amid escalating violence in the region. Jorginho Guajajara, a cacique, or leader, of the Guajajara people, was found dead near a river in the city of Arame, Maranhão state, at the weekend. Members of the tribe say his death was the result of a fierce conflict provoked by the incursion of loggers into their land. Up to 80 Guajajaras have been killed in the area since 2000.

Members of the Kanela, Gaviao and Guajajara indigenous groups protest against the encroachment of ranchers on their traditional lands Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Members of the Kanela, Gaviao and Guajajara indigenous groups protest against the encroachment of ranchers on their traditional lands Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

How Cambodia’s prime minister rigged an election | The Conversation
CAMBODIA – Hun Sen and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won a recent landslide victory in the Southeast Asian country. After outlawing the main opposition party that challenged the ruling CPP, Hun Sen secured more than 80 per cent of the popular vote and well over 100 of the 125 contested seats in the National Assembly. Despite calls to boycott the election, voter turnout was around 82 per cent, or about 6.88 million people. The response from the international community has been split.


U.S. judge orders review of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline route | Reuters
USA – A federal judge in Montana has ordered the U.S. State Department to do a full environmental review of a revised route for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, possibly delaying its construction and dealing another setback to TransCanada Corp (TRP.TO).

Built Environment

India’s Boom Pushed Cities to Their Limits. Here’s How Pune Coped. | World Resources Institute
INDIA – Like many Indian cities, Pune’s population exploded over the last three decades. Between 1981 and 2011 it more than doubled as thousands came to work in manufacturing and IT. And like other cities, Pune expanded, eventually engulfing 23 previously separate villages. This strained basic services, especially in the slums at the edge of town, where 36 percent of the population lives. But unlike other Indian cities, Pune took new approaches to waste management and urban mobility. In a new case study of the World Resources Report, “Towards a More Equal City,” Lalitha Kamath, Himanshu Burte, Avinash Madhale and Robin King explain the conditions that led to new tactics, as well as the limitations that slowed them down.

Australia’s tallest building to be an exemplar of sustainability | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – A joint submission from Cox Architecture and Dutch practice UNStudio has taken out developer Beulah International’s design competition for a $2 billion mixed-use skyscraper on the BMW site at Southbank in Melbourne. The proposed twin-building development – for which approval will still need to be sought – will feature Australia’s tallest tower yet, a residential skyscraper reaching 356.2 metres. Named Green Spine, the two twisting wood-heavy buildings feature green-studded balconies and publicly accessible garden terraces. Apart from the residential tower, the second 252-metre tower will feature a hotel and commercial space, and there will be a connecting podium containing a retail and entertainment precinct.

Proposed Melbourne eco-skyscraper, Australia's tallest, dubbed the Green Spine

Proposed Melbourne eco-skyscraper, Australia’s tallest, dubbed the Green Spine

Flow Systems looks to demonstrate the future of communities | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – Terry Leckie’s Flow Systems has entered into a partnership with Norsk Hydro and a number of other developers to redevelop 2000 hectares of land at a former aluminium smelter at Kurri Kurri in NSW’s Hunter Valley. The plans, which Leckie will discuss at The Fifth Estate’s Tomorrowland 2018 event on 6 September, are to develop a residential, commercial, business park and rural project that will act a display of next-generation energy, water and telecommunications provision.

Solar-powered ‘smart benches’ come to south London | Climate Action Programme
UK – A new set of clean tech benches are being installed in the London borough of Southwark. The smart benches allow people to charge phones, use free WiFi, and track levels of air pollution, all powered by a solar panel.

Food Systems

Wheat gene map to help ‘feed the world’ | BBC News
The starting pistol has been fired in a race to develop “climate change resistant” wheat with the publication of a map of the crop’s genes. An international team of scientists has identified the location of more than 100,000 wheat genes. The researchers say the map will accelerate the development of new strains to cope with the increased heat waves expected from climate change. The research has been published in the journal Science.

Sydney rock oysters getting smaller as oceans become more acidic | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – The famous Sydney rock oyster is shrinking as oceans become more acidic, new research has found. In news that will rock seafood lovers, a study released overnight by academics in the UK found oysters in New South Wales have become smaller and fewer in number because of coastal acidification. It’s part of what researchers fear is a worldwide trend driven by climate change and coastal runoff.