Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Today’s top story explains the complexities of our supply chains and how common it is to find slavery permeates. Supply chains are rarely transparent so it is hard to make good choices. You can help by calling for and backing good policies, researching brands, and looking for reputable certification on products is one way you can help. In other news, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year photographs are stunning and emotive; on understanding and protecting wetlands; how the world’s largest organism is dying due to a fractured ecosystem; impact investing is profitable for your soul and your pocket; and microplastics are shown to be found in over 90% of salt brands.

Top Story

Slavery was never abolished – it affects millions, and you may be funding it | The Conversation
When we think of slavery, many of us think of historical or so-called “traditional forms” of slavery – and of the 12m people ripped from their West African homes and shipped across the Atlantic for a lifetime in the plantations of the Americas. But slavery is not just something that happened in the past –- the modern day estimate for the number of men, women and children forced into labour worldwide exceeds 40m. Today’s global slave trade is so lucrative that it nets traffickers more than US$150 billion each year.

Research has found children as young as seven mining cobalt used in smartphones. Shutterstock

Research has found children as young as seven mining cobalt used in smartphones. Shutterstock

Climate Change

Could carbon-capture technology be a silver bullet to stop climate change? | The Guardian
Peter Fiekowsky, a physicist and entrepreneur, hates silver bullets. But at a climate summit in California last month he found himself pitching one. In partnership with the company Blue Planet, he was demonstrating a low-tech-looking machine that can pull carbon dioxide from the air and store it in construction materials.

Republican lawmakers react to the IPCC report – ‘we have scientists’ too! | Dana Nuccitelli | The Guardian
Major climate science reports usually pass by largely unnoticed, but in the wake of the latest IPCC report a number of journalists laudably grilled Republican lawmakers about its findings. While their responses were predictably terrible, it’s nevertheless crucial for journalists to hold GOP politicians accountable for their climate denial and policy inaction. Donald Trump’s answers were particularly ignorant and nonsensical in his 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl.

Environment and Biodiversity

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018 – the winners | The Guardian
Dutch photographer Marsel van Oosten’s stunning portrait of two endangered golden snub-nosed monkeys in China’s Qinling mountains has won this year’s prestigious prize. The winners were announced on Tuesday at London’s Natural History Museum.

The golden couple by Marsel van Oosten, The Netherlands – grand title winner, Animal portraits

The golden couple by Marsel van Oosten, The Netherlands – grand title winner, Animal portraits
A male Qinling golden snub-nosed monkey rests on a stone, joined by a female from his group. Both are watching an altercation down the valley between the lead males of two other groups in the 50-strong troop. It’s spring in the temperate forest of China’s Qinling mountains, the only place where these endangered monkeys live. To show both a male’s beautiful pelage and striking blue face, Marsel had to shoot at an angle from the back. It took many days observing the group to achieve his goal.
Photograph: Marsel van Oosten/2018 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Why a wetland might not be wet | The Conversation
Lake Eyre is one of Australia’s most iconic wetlands, home to thousands of waterbirds that migrate from all over Australia and the world. But it is often dry for decades between floods. Many people think wetlands are swamps or ponds that die when dry. But unlike many places worldwide, most Australian wetlands have natural wet-dry cycles, with dry spells that can last for decades. Dry phases are necessary for the life cycle of the wetland itself, as well as for many of the plants and animals that live there. So, if wetlands are still wetlands when they’re dry, how do you spot one? And what do we need to know about these unique places to protect their wonderful and unique biodiversity?

The Pando aspen clone or ‘trembling giant’, the world’s largest organism, is collapsing | ABC News
The largest living organism in the world isn’t a blue whale or a giant California redwood. It’s a huge underground singular root system that sends up tens of thousands of clone aspen trees, each one genetically identical to the next, over an area of more than 100 acres. Pando aspen clone, also known as “the trembling giant”, lives on a hillside in the Fishlake National Forest in central Utah. Literally translating from Latin as “I spread out”, Pando is collapsing; the forest is ageing, but there aren’t enough new recruits to replace the dying trees. Now research published in PLOS ONE today has found that browsing animals, such as deer and cattle, are most likely to blame, according to lead author Paul Rogers from Utah State University and the Western Aspen Alliance.

Every tree in the Pando is genetically identical. (Supplied: Paul C. Rogers)

Every tree in the Pando is genetically identical. (Supplied: Paul C. Rogers)

DOC shuts 21 tracks over kauri dieback spread risk | RNZ News
NEW ZEALAND – Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage announced the closures in addition to partial closures of another 10 tracks. The closures will affect tracks in Kaitaia, the Kauri Coast, Whangārei, on Aotea/Great Barrier Island, in Hauraki, Waikato, and Tauranga, and will be monitored. For the 10 partially closed tracks, a section will be permanently closed while the rest of the track is upgraded to eliminate wet and muddy sections.


India: why collecting water turns millions of women into second-class citizens | The Conversation
A family in India needs fresh water. But this family can’t just turn on a tap. Instead, the women in the household must walk to fetch it, sometimes travelling miles carrying plastic or earthenware pots, possibly with a child or two in tow, to the nearest safe source – regularly repeating the journey up to three times a day. In the scorching summer months of April and May, when temperatures regularly exceed 40C, it is a particularly gruelling daily ritual – and when they get home they must complete their other household chores: cooking, washing, bringing up the children, even helping on the family farm.

The reality for many women in India. Shutterstock

The reality for many women in India. Shutterstock

Economy and Business

Impact investors win 13 per cent growth rate as the sector rapidly develops | The Fifth Estate
Investors who put their money into social and environmentally worthwhile projects aren’t looking back. They’ve enjoyed excellent returns – 13 per cent annually on a compound basis. Globally, their assets grew from US$30.8 billion (AU$55 billon) in 2013 to US$50.8 billion (AU$71 billion) in 2017 at a time when there are calls to accelerate adoption of impact measurement and management.

Beer crisis: how we discovered climate change could cause a global barley shortage | The Conversation
The price of beer could double under unchecked climate change, as droughts and extreme temperatures cause barley yields to drop. That’s one conclusion of research we recently published in Nature Plants. We first became curious about barley, and the beer it produces, as this relatively minor crop was clearly affected by climate extremes yet had never caught the attention of climate scientists. And, unlike many other food crops, barley grown for beer is required to meet very specific quality parameters. Malted barley gives beer much of its flavour, yet if it is too hot or there isn’t enough water during critical growing stages, the malt cannot be extracted.

Bahrain applies to Green Climate Fund to help clean up waste from fossil fuels | The Guardian
Bahrain – one of the world’s most oil-rich nations – has applied to the international Green Climate Fund for $9.8m for its National Oil and Gas Authority, raising questions over whether taxpayer-funded assistance for poor countries is reaching its intended targets. The kingdom has requested the funding to clean up wastewater from the oil and gas industry, which it says is necessary to protect against water scarcity in future – a problem that is likely to grow worse around the world as a consequence of climate change.

Waste and the Circular Economy

How microplastics salted the Earth: Over 90 per cent of salt brands studied found to contain microplastics | Business Green
The extent to which microplastic pollution is contaminating food chains was hammered home again today, as a new study suggested over 90 per cent of salt brands could contain microplastics. The research, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology, analysed 39 salt brands globally and revealed microplastic contamination was widespread.

Paper waste collected by Visy Industries proving to be landfill problem for Gundagai community | ABC News
The inability of Sydneysiders to follow guidelines when recycling is having an impact in a regional New South Wales town, and may result in job losses. Up to 20 per cent of paper waste sent from Sydney to paper maker Visy in the southern NSW town of Tumut is ending up in landfill because of contamination.

Politics and Society

Ian Kiernan: The man who wanted to clean up the world | BBC News
Prominent environmentalist Ian Kiernan, the founder of an iconic Australian anti-litter campaign that expanded into a global success, has died aged 78. The round-the-world yachtsman began the Clean Up Australia and Clean Up the World campaigns after being appalled by levels of ocean rubbish in the 1980s.

See also:

The UK’s green discoveries: plastic-eating enzymes and seawater biofuels | The Guardian
We don’t have long to get our act together on climate change, according to a UN report released earlier this month. In the next 12 years, we need to reverse the trend of Earth’s increasing temperature or face drought, floods and extreme heat – and devastating knock-on effects felt by all life on the planet. But what can we do? And can we do it quickly enough? Researchers in universities across the UK are working on answers to these huge questions. Here are some of their most exciting recent sustainability findings.

‘No more hiding’: Morrison government set emissions data deadlines | SMH
AUSTRALIA – The federal government will be less able to delay the release of embarrassing national carbon pollution figures after the Senate approved rolling deadlines for the quarterly data. The Greens secured Labor and crossbench support of a so-called order of continuing effect that requires the government to table the Greenhouse Gas Inventory figures within five months of the end of each quarter, or provide an explanation for any delay.


Back-up power stations to be privatised by SA Government after report questions usefulness | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – The South Australian Government will privatise operation of two emergency back-up power stations built by its Labor predecessor, declaring the turbines will deliver little benefit for a cost of more than $600 million over their 25-year life.

Built Environment

Google is adding EV charging maps to iPhone and Android app | The Driven
Internet giant Google has announced the addition of EV charging stations to smart phone apps that are designed to make recharging electric vehicles when traveling in an unfamiliar location easier, bringing EV charging maps to a mainstream platform. Users of the Google Maps app on both iPhones and Android phones will be able to use the functionality to find their nearest EV charging station, starting today.