Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Our top story today tells why it is a bad idea to give environmental water from the Murray-Darling to farmers in drought. In contrast to Australian politics, it is pleasing to see some businesses making better decisions, with a massive Japanese energy company divesting from coal, Google partnering with Aclima to map air pollution, Bunnings and Office work will no longer sell dodgy VicFoerst products/paper by 2020, and an EV charging point at every Maccas in the Netherlands. Lots of other great news on the future with research suggesting we could increase rainfall by replanting forests, Australia reached 25% energy production from renewables for a moment in a historical first, and Germany launches the world’s first hydrogen powered train. Also, an opportunity to get involved in a Guardian podcast on extinction (and if you need some motivation see the pics of endangered species that could (almost) fit in a single train carriage).

Top Story

Giving environmental water to drought-stricken farmers sounds straightforward, but it’s a bad idea | The Conversation
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack last week suggested the government would look at changing the law to allow water to be taken from the environment and given to farmers struggling with the drought. This is a bad idea for several reasons. First, the environment needs water in dry years as well as wet ones. Second, unilaterally intervening in the way water is distributed between users undermines the water market, which is now worth billions of dollars. And, third, in dry years the environment gets a smaller allocation too, so there simply isn’t enough water to make this worthwhile.

Environmental water is not a luxury – it’s vital for river ecosystems and everyone who depends on them. AAP Image/Dean Lewins

Environmental water is not a luxury – it’s vital for river ecosystems and everyone who depends on them. AAP Image/Dean Lewins

Climate Change

California plans to show the world how to meet the Paris climate target | Dana Nuccitelli | The Guardian
USA – Last week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed State Senator and US Senate candidate Kevin de León’s SB 100, which mandates that the state obtain all of its electricity from zero-carbon sources by 2045. That in itself was a big deal, but Brown didn’t stop there; he also issued an executive order calling for the entire California economy to become carbon-neutral by 2045. That’s a huge deal.

Tropical Depression Florence and Typhoon Mangkhut Cut Deadly Paths a World Apart | The New York Times
Two powerful storms are wreaking havoc on lives and livelihoods after making landfall on opposite ends of the earth: Tropical Depression Florence, which is battering the Carolinas with persistent rain and dangerous flooding, and Typhoon Mangkhut, which slammed the northern Philippines and Hong Kong before moving to menace mainland China. Dozens of Times journalists around the world are covering the two storms, and we are providing open and unlimited access to our coverage.

ICESat: Space will get unprecedented view of Earth’s ice | BBC News
The American space agency has launched a laser into orbit to measure the condition of Earth’s ice cover. The satellite mission, called ICESat-2, should provide more precise information on how these frozen surfaces are being affected by global warming. Antarctica, Greenland and the ice floating on the Arctic Ocean have all lost volume in recent decades. ICESat-2 will track ongoing change in unprecedented detail from its vantage point some 500km above the planet.

Environment and Biodiversity

When trees make rain: Could restoring forests help ease drought in Australia? | ABC News
If you’ve ever walked in a rainforest or even a greenhouse, you’ll know that the air inside is heavy with moisture. This phenomenon is caused by trees releasing water vapour through pores in their leaves called stomata. We also know that many big forests, and rainforests in particular, tend to get more rain than surrounding areas — hence the name. Although people have guessed that forests could help make rain, it’s always been a chicken-or-egg scenario: do forests make rain or do areas with high rainfall grow forests? An expanding body of evidence supports the idea that forests, in the right conditions, not only make rain locally but also hundreds of kilometres away.

Research has shown regrowing forests could have "significant benefit" on rainfall. (Supplied: CO2)

Research has shown regrowing forests could have “significant benefit” on rainfall. (Supplied: CO2)

NSW Government scraps ‘no fishing’ zones for proposed Sydney Marine Park | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – A month after unveiling a plan to further protect sea life, the NSW Government has axed “no fishing” zones in a future Sydney marine park. However the Berejiklian Government denies the move is a backflip aimed at trying to shore up coastal votes. The proposal to boost marine life protection in 25 zones from Newcastle to Wollongong would have imposed restrictions on line and spear fishing in some zones, and banned fishing completely in others.

See also: Abandoning fishing lockouts from NSW marine parks is ‘gutless tragedy’ | The Guardian (Opinion)

Magpies can form friendships with people – here’s how | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Can one form a friendship with a magpie – even when adult males are protecting their nests during the swooping season? The short answer is: “Yes, one can” – although science has just begun to provide feasible explanations for friendship in animals, let alone for cross-species friendships between humans and wild birds.

Kea may be smarter than we thought: Researchers uncover evidence of tool use in the wild |
NEW ZEALAND – The intellect of the kea may have surpassed their natural abilities, researchers say, after proving the birds can use sticks to open stoat traps. Footage of one of the alpine parrots opening a trap in Fiordland’s Murchison Mountains – and more than 200 sticks found in traps in the takahē conservation area over a two year period – are strong evidence of the first tool use by non-human animals in New Zealand’s natural environment. The finding could open doors for further study on the cognitive limitations, or lack thereof, of other animals, the researchers said.

Kea, smarter than your average bird. Photo: Rob Pine

Kea, smarter than your average bird. Photo: Rob Pine

Contribute to a podcast on extinction | The Guardian
We want Guardian supporters to help us better understand the changes taking place in the natural world, and how we might combat the demise of some of the plants and creatures with whom we share the planet. Which local species of fauna and flora are disappearing from your local area? What is being done to preserve and protect them – and with how much success? Perhaps you work in conservation and would like to tell us about the work you’re doing, or are simply a nature enthusiast who cares about protecting a particular species.

Please do get in touch, wherever you are in the world: we would like to hear your questions, views and experiences. To get involved, send an email to, including your question or comment, your name, and a phone number so we can call you to make a recording.

Seven endangered species that could (almost) fit in a single train carriage | The Guardian
Some species are so close to extinction, that every remaining member can fit on a New York subway carriage (if they squeeze). All estimates come from the IUCN Red List, 2018.

There are approximately 63 Javan Rhinos left in the world. Illustration: Mona Chalabi

There are approximately 63 Javan Rhinos left in the world. Illustration: Mona Chalabi

Economy and Business

Bunnings, Officeworks will dump Victorian native timber in two years unless sustainability proven | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Victorians will be unable to buy native timber from their own state at major retailers within two years because the local product is environmentally unsustainable, throwing the future of the industry into further doubt. Bunnings and Officeworks have both announced they will only stock Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified products by 2020, ruling out timber and paper from the state-owned logging company VicForests.

Netherlands McDonald’s to have an EV charging station at every Drive-in | Climate Action Programme
NETHERLANDS – McDonald’s have announced their partnership with Dutch company Nuon to implement EV charging stations at their Drive-in sites in the Netherlands. Nuon is an energy company who have implemented over 7,000 electric vehicle charging points across the Netherlands. The Dutch electric vehicle market is expanding and there is an increased demand for places to charge them.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Weed killer wreaking havoc on New Zealand’s grass cuttings |
The Sunday afternoon rumble of mowers might be the sound of spring, but a toxic element lurks in the Kiwi lawn. Our addiction to weedkillers is the dark side to the manicured greenery that has been a corner of Kiwiana ever since settlers converted bush to meadows and rural dwellers moving to cities tried to recreate a piece of the countryside in the suburbs. The lingering effects of herbicides mean tonnes of grass clippings are an unloved by-product of lawn mowing, destined for landfill instead of returning to nature as compost.

Marlborough District Council solid waste manager Alec McNeil with lawn clippings, which are later sent to landfill.

Marlborough District Council solid waste manager Alec McNeil with lawn clippings, which are later sent to landfill.

Google announce global expansion of Street View cars that map air pollution | Climate Action Programme
Google, in partnership with Aclima, have announced their new Street View global launch to map air pollution. The global expansion will start with 50 cars in Houston, Mexico City and Sydney, Australia. The Google Maps Street View cars will be equipped with Aclima’s sensor node which will generate snapshots of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, among others, which can be used by scientists to combine with other data to develop air quality models.

Politics and Society

Young Australians’ prospects still come down to where they grow up | The Conversation
Australia as a nation has never been richer. But it is now also more unequal than at any time since the early 1980s. This inequality takes many forms, not least between suburbs and neighbourhoods. And our research suggests the few celebrated examples of famous Australians who emerged from disadvantaged neighbourhoods are the exceptions to the rule for children who grow up in them.

Integrated understanding to better address global sustainability challenges | CEED (Research)
People and nature are inextricably linked… To overcome global sustainability challenges, social and ecological sciences need to be integrated into research to provide a better understanding of systems involving people and natural resources as a whole, rather than looking at it as a one-way model. Researchers from CEED and 19 other institutions conducted a systematic literature review to examine the conceptual, methodological, disciplinary, and functional aspects of social-ecological integration.

The public is ready for environmental change. Now we need a lead from politicians | (Opinion)
NEW ZEALAND – Scientists talk of “tipping points”, the point at which the environment changes from one stable state to another, often abruptly, causing significant disruption. I believe New Zealand may be on the cusp of a tipping point – not in the state of its environment, but rather in terms of people’s awareness of the gravity of the environmental issues we face.


‘Tsunami’ of new wind and solar projects drives renewables output to a record | SMH
AUSTRALIA – Renewable energy supplied more than a quarter of the National Electricity Market last month amid windy weather and a “tsunami of new wind and solar projects” completion, The Australia Institute said. The progressive think tank’s latest energy and emission audit found renewables including hydro and rooftop solar generated a record 25.6 per cent of electricity supplied to the market that serves about four in five Australians.

Victoria rooftop solar rebate opens for applications, after “flood” of interest | One Step Off The Grid
AUSTRALIA – Applications have officially opened for the Victoria Labor government’s 50 per cent rooftop solar rebate, a scheme that has attracted more than 10,000 registrations of interest and a “flood of inquiries” since it was announced just three weeks ago. Minister for Energy Lily D’Ambrosio said on Friday that eligible Victorian households who had installed solar on or after August 19 could now apply for a rebate to cover half of the cost, up to a maximum of $2225.

Japan’s Marubeni deals “body blow” to coal, in pivot to renewables | RenewEconomy
Japanese energy giant Marubeni Corp has revealed plans to halve its ownership of coal-fired power plants by 2030, and withdraw completely from the coal plant building business, in what industry watchers are describing as the latest and strongest confirmation of a global transition to renewables.

Built Environment

NovaSAR: UK radar satellite launches to track illegal shipping activity | BBC News
The first all-British radar satellite has launched to orbit on an Indian rocket. Called NovaSAR, it has the ability to take pictures of the surface of the Earth in every kind of weather, day or night. The spacecraft will assume a number of roles but its designers specifically want to see if it can help monitor suspicious shipping activity.

Luis Gomes: "Nobody currently is monitoring vast areas of ocean"

Luis Gomes: “Nobody currently is monitoring vast areas of ocean”

Rising cyclist death toll is mainly due to drivers, so change the road laws and culture | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Recent reporting paints a picture of surging road deaths and failing safety strategies for cyclists. The Australian Automobile Association’s Benchmarking report records 1,222 road deaths in the year ending June 2018. And cyclist deaths in particular remain stubbornly high, even as average speeds, which affect road deaths, continue to decline. If cars are much safer than 25 years ago, why are cyclist deaths increasing, from 25 the previous year to 45 this past year?

Germany launches world’s first hydrogen-powered train | The Guardian
Germany has rolled out the world’s first hydrogen-powered train, signalling the start of a push to challenge the might of polluting diesel trains with costlier but more eco-friendly technology. Two bright blue Coradia iLint trains, built by French TGV-maker Alstom, on Monday began running a 62 mile (100km) route between the towns and cities of Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervoerde and Buxtehude in northern Germany – a stretch normally plied by diesel trains.

Food Systems

What grows the grass thick can turn our streams toxic and green |
NEW ZEALAND – Few countries have fallen in love with the life-giving power of nitrogen as much as New Zealand. But our overindulgence has not been without consequence. National correspondent Charlie Mitchell reports as part of ‘Growing Pain’, a Stuff series examining our dangerous addiction to fertiliser.