Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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One of the notable developments in sustainability thinking recently has been the acknowledgement, based on research, that natural ecosystems are best managed by their indigenous peoples. Today’s top story reveals the extensive range of land that could be under this type of active conservation. In other news, reports and opinions on how to best transition to a renewable energy system (from Australia and the UK); on bandicoots gardening and soil improvement services; noises from the CSIRO that lithium battery recycling might be an option for Australia; and some good articles on food systems, their problems and solutions being implemented that are more sustainable.

Top Story

Indigenous peoples are crucial for conservation – a quarter of all land is in their hands | The Conversation
Indigenous peoples have a deep and unique connection to the lands they inhabit. This connection has persisted throughout the world, despite centuries of colonisation, displacement and suppression of their cultural identities. What has never been appreciated is the contemporary spatial extent of Indigenous influence – just how much of Earth’s surface do Indigenous peoples still own or manage? Given that Indigenous peoples now make up less than 5% of the global population, you might imagine the answer to be “very little”. But you would be wrong. In our new research, published in Nature Sustainability, we mapped Indigenous lands throughout the world, country by country. We found that these covered 38 million square kilometres – about a quarter of all land outside Antarctica.

See also: Indigenous peoples control one-quarter of world’s land surface, two-thirds of that land is ‘essentially natural’ | Mongabay

Maasai women on a conservation project in Kenya. Joan de la Malla, Author provided

Maasai women on a conservation project in Kenya. Joan de la Malla, Author provided

Climate Change and Energy

Our phones and gadgets are now endangering the planet | The Guardian (Opinion)
The energy used in our digital consumption is set to have a bigger impact on global warming than the entire aviation industry.

AEMO’s new electricity plan is neither a death knell nor a shot in the arm for coal | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Beholders of the Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO) Integrated System Plan (ISP) see different futures for coal-fired generation: it’s either on the way out; or it’s going to be needed for decades; or perhaps even new coal plants should be built. The report does have important implications for the future of all electricity technologies, including coal. But none of these simplistic perspectives captures the full flavour of the plan.

Read more:

Incentivise grid flexibility to drive deep decarbonisation, UK energy firms urge | BusinessGreen
UK – Companies from across the UK’s green energy sector have today called on the government to better incentivise flexibility services on the power grid if it wants to “have any chance of a renewable future”. In an open letter to Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry, the group of green energy, battery, and grid flexibility providers outline what they describe as a ‘flexibility first’ approach to grid management in order to aid decarbonisation of power, heat and transport. As more intermittent renewables, energy storage and electric vehicles come online in the UK, services and technologies which can improve the grid’s ability to respond to peaks and troughs in power demand are seen as an increasingly important part of the energy transition.

Environment and Biodiversity

Google boils down water data for new U.N. environment site | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Vast quantities of raw satellite imagery and data will be distilled into an online platform showing how water ecosystems have changed, and how countries can manage them to prevent further loss, said Google and the United Nations. Focussing initially on fresh water ecosystems such as rivers and forests, Google will produce geospatial maps and data for a publicly available platform to be launched in October in partnership with the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP).

Common cranes ‘here to stay’ after recolonising eastern England | The Guardian
UK – Common cranes which recolonised eastern England less than 40 years ago after a 400-year absence are now here to stay, research has found. There could be as many as 275 breeding pairs of the UK’s tallest bird within 50 years, scientists at the University of Exeter, the RSPB and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) predict. Cranes were lost from the UK as a breeding bird in the 16th century as a result of hunting and the drainage of large areas of wetlands, but some returned to the east of England in 1979.

Scientists predict that there could be as many as 275 breeding pairs of common cranes within 50 years. Photograph: Mark Hughes/WWT/PA

Scientists predict that there could be as many as 275 breeding pairs of common cranes within 50 years. Photograph: Mark Hughes/WWT/PA

How bandicoot digging grows bigger seedlings | CEED
AUSTRALIA – Many digging mammals, including the Australian marsupial quenda (Isoodon fusciventer) forage for food by digging small pits and creating spoil heaps with the discarded soil. This small-scale bioturbation could potentially alter soil nutrients and subsequently influence growth of plants.

Local Focus: Exclusive five-star hotel for weta in Manawatu/Whanganui | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – Nestled in the heart of the Tōtara Reserve in the Pohangina Valley is an unlikely five-star hotel. But this hotel’s rooms aren’t for human guests – they’re for wētā. It’s part of a project by Horizons Regional Council to measure the number of predators in the park, Horizon’s biodiversity advisor Neil Gallagher said. “Part of the reason for the wētā box project is that we can monitor rat numbers.”

Stop Maui dolphin miner access ‘immediately’ | newsroom
NEW ZEALAND – An array of environmental groups has written to the Government, asking it to immediately put a halt to mining exploration inside a marine sanctuary for endangered Māui dolphins. Last week, Newsroom revealed a mining exploration permit had been quietly granted inside the West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary, set up in 2008 with the express purpose of protecting the critically endangered Māui dolphins. The decision shocked conservation groups who were unaware of the move, while the Department of Conversation said in an official briefing it had “significant concerns” about the risk posed to the dolphins.

Economy and Business

EU-Japan trade deal first to carry Paris climate clause | Climate Home News
Europe’s massive free trade deal with Japan is the first the EU has struck with a specific provision on the Paris climate agreement. The deal, finalised at a meeting of leaders in Tokyo on Tuesday, will create the world’s largest open trade zone. In a first for EU trade deals, the world’s second and fourth largest economies agreed to work together to uphold the Paris climate deal. Trade could make a “positive contribution” to the fight to stop global warming, the agreement noted.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Australia to lead lithium-ion battery recycling charge | CSIRO
AUSTRALIA – A new battery recycling industry to tackle Australia’s annual 3300 tonnes of lithium-ion battery waste could be on the cards, according to a new report. The report, ‘Lithium battery recycling in Australia’, says Australia could lead the world in the re-use and recycling of lithium-ion batteries, addressing this waste which is growing by 20 per cent each year.

Council investigation failed to find conclusive proof around methyl bromide incident |
NEW ZEALAND – Warnings have been issued to a fumigation company over its methyl bromide operations after an incident in which four workers at the Port of Tauranga ended up in hospital. Stuff has obtained a report by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council into the March 8 incident involving four stevedores who had been working about 100m away from where Genera staff were fumigating log stacks with methyl bromide. Methyl bromide is a toxic gas which is damaging to the ozone layer and can be lethal to humans in high doses.

IKEA targets 2018 to remove plastic straws in UK stores | Climate Action Programme
Ikea has announced that all its 26 stores in the UK and Ireland will no longer serve single-use plastic straws. The furniture giant is looking to make the change by October this year and forms part of a wider global transition to ban the straws by 2020.

Politics and Society

In the era of Brexit and fake news, scientists need to embrace social media | The Conversation
Researchers are employed to win bids, publish research and get cited. Since most of this happens behind closed doors or within circles exclusive to the academic community, the open forum of social media can seem like a distraction from the real work. However, for those willing to make the leap, research suggests that once academics surpass 1,000 followers on Twitter there is an appreciable increase in the diversity of the audiences they reach with their work.

Related: Going viral: what social media activists need to know | The Conversation

EPA proposal to limit role of science in decision-making met with alarm | The Guardian
USA – Democratic lawmakers joined scientists, health and environmental officials and activists on Tuesday in denouncing a proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), backed by industry, that could limit dramatically what kind of science the agency considers when making regulations.

UK under dangerous pressure to lower its sustainability commitments | The Conversation
UK – It’s not surprising that the government’s recent white paper was controversial. “Taking back control” of UK regulation was one of the main objectives of the Leave campaign. But the white paper suggests that the UK will maintain the EU’s approach to a huge range of environmental, consumer protection and food safety regulation, by maintaining a “common rule book” with the EU for trade in goods. Or does it?

Large parts of the world are growing more fragile. Here are 5 steps to reverse course | World Economic Forum
There are ominous signs of growing turbulence around the world. The number of civil wars has doubled since 2001 – ​jumping ​from 30 to 70. The number of people killed in these armed conflicts has increased tenfold since 2005. And there are more refugees and internally displaced people around the world than at any time since the Second World War. According to a new report, States of Fragility, the rising prevalence of conflict, crime, terrorism and deepening geopolitical volatility are also contributing to ripples of fragility.

Food Systems

Pushing Vietnam’s shrimp industry toward sustainability | Mongabay
VIETNAM – Shrimp farming is one of the biggest industries in Vietnam, and the government is pushing to expand it, having announced plans last year to boost exports from $3 billion in 2016 to $10 billion by 2025. But there are significant environmental problems associated with current farming methods, which contribute to deforestation, erosion, land subsidence and rising salinity levels that are threatening the stability of the entire Mekong region.

How Cocoa Farming Can Preserve Forests and Peace in Colombia | World Resources Institute
COLOMBIA – Victor Combita is a cocoa farmer and community leader from San José del Guaviare in the heart of the Colombian Amazon. For many years, his region was the epicenter of Colombia’s civil conflict. It is also among the states with the highest deforestation rates, as a result of livestock, coca production and illegal timber clearing. Combita, however, seeks a different path. Alongside several hundred farmers, he runs a sustainable cocoa co-operative, providing high-quality Fino de Aroma cocoa while also protecting and restoring forests.

Salmon return to destocked Macquarie Harbour Franklin lease after environmental tick | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Salmon are being allowed back into a fish farm lease in Macquarie Harbour in Tasmania, which was destocked last year because of environmental degradation. Lease operator Tassal was ordered to remove fish from the Franklin lease, the closest to the World Heritage Area (WHA) border, after testing found there had been a significant decline in the number and range of organisms.