Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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The lead story today questions the use of wood pellets for biofuel, its carbon footprint and the pressure to log native forests. Elsewhere we have the University of Queensland study questioning the effectiveness of responsible/sustainable palm oil (recall yesterday’s news); Dana Nuccitelli gives her opinion on the acceleration of Antarctic sea ice melt and sea level rise; researchers discover work stress is bad for bees; and advice on whether you should eat probiotic products if you’re already healthy.

Top Story

As biomass energy gains traction, southern US forests feel the burn | Mongabay
USA – An estimated 50 to 80 percent of southern wetland forest is now gone, and that which remains provides ecosystem services totaling $500 billion as well as important wildlife habitat. Logging is considered one of the biggest threats to the 35 million acres of remaining wetland forest in the southern U.S., and conservation organizations are saying this threat is coming largely from the wood pellet biomass industry.

Climate Change and Energy

Should we be worried about surging Antarctic ice melt and sea level rise? | Dana Nuccitelli | The Guardian
There’s recently been a spate of sea level rise denial in the conservative media, but in reality, sea level rise is accelerating and melting ice is playing an increasingly large role. In the first half of the 20th Century, average global sea level rose by about 1.4 millimeters per year (mm/yr). Since 1993, that rate has more than doubled to 3.2 mm/yr. And since 2012, it’s jumped to 4.5 mm/yr.

Global mean sea level data from the Colorado University Sea Level Research Group, with 4-to-5-year linear trends shown in black and red. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

Global mean sea level data from the Colorado University Sea Level Research Group, with 4-to-5-year linear trends shown in black and red. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

Environment and Biodiversity

Sustainable certified palm oil scheme failing to achieve goals | UQ News
There is little evidence that a certification scheme for palm oil plantations is improving protection of critically endangered orangutans in Borneo, researchers say. A study by The University of Queensland, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and Borneo Futures found vague targets, concepts and terminology left too much to interpretation. The research is published in Environmental Research Letters.

Bees get stressed at work too (and it might be causing colony collapse) | The Conversation
Ever been overworked, tired and felt muddle-headed? Research now shows honey bees suffer from the same thing – and we understand why. A honey bee’s life is hardly relaxing. Every day forager bees make many trips, travelling long distances, to gather vital resources of pollen and nectar from flowers. They have to deal with predators, challenging weather conditions and the very real risk of getting lost. Just as chronic stress affects mental abilities in humans, our recent study suggests these stressful foraging activities reduce bees’ ability to solve problems, by changing the connectivity between specific neurons in the brain.

Fisheries all at sea with climate change | NZ Herald
Fish don’t follow international boundaries or understand economic trade agreements. Different species live in regions all over the globe. If that wasn’t complicated enough, they also migrate as they age. “It’s like trying to raise cattle when you’ve taken down all the fences,” says Karrigan Bork of the McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific, whose background includes a PhD in ecology. “Except you can’t even brand the fish. There’s no way to know which fish is yours.” And in response to climate change, vital fisheries stocks such as salmon and mackerel are migrating without paperwork.

Phil Seddon: Predator Free NZ is just half the story | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – The Endangered Species Foundation of New Zealand (ESF) completely supports Predator Free 2050 and its vision to protect our natural heritage, but we also want people to understand that there are hundreds of endemic species that will not benefit from the control of possums, rodents and mustelids, such as many unique plants, insects, and marine and freshwater species.

Health Check: should healthy people take probiotic supplements? | The Conversation
A visit to the supermarket these days can feel more like walking through a pharmacy, with an ever-expanding range of milks, yoghurts, pills, powders and speciality foods promoting their “probiotic” prowess. Advocates of probiotics have hailed them as the answer to all sorts of health issues and conditions. But what exactly are probiotics? And, more importantly, should you be taking them?

Economy and Business

NAB helps institutional investors access $200 million renewables portfolio | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – Institutional investors can now buy into a $200 million pool of loans to renewable projects, in what is being touted as a new, game-changing clean energy investment model in the Australian market. NAB’s Low Carbon Shared Portfolio provides fund managers access to eight loans that fund seven wind and large-scale solar farms, which have been unavailable to invest in through the public debt market. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation has provided a $90 million cornerstone investment into the portfolio, with insurance company IAG also investing.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Ningaloo Reef: Researchers find low amounts of rubbish and waste at World Heritage listed marine park | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Scientists have found that a World Heritage listed site on Western Australia’s north coast is largely untouched when it comes to the threat of marine debris. Researchers from the CSIRO have been surveying the Ningaloo Reef and coastline near Exmouth to assess the amount of rubbish being found in the ocean and on the shore. Leader of the Ningaloo Outlook Shallow Reefs program, Damian Thomson, said volumes of debris in the sea and on land are both ‘incredibly low’. Mr Thomson attributed a factor for the low pollution levels was the local community and visitors to the region being environmentally conscious.

Photo: The World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef has recorded incredibly low levels of marine debris. (ABC Rural: Michelle Stanley)

Photo: The World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef has recorded incredibly low levels of marine debris. (ABC Rural: Michelle Stanley)

Politics and Society

4 Ways We Can Step Up Adaptation and Protect Vulnerable Communities from Climate Change Impacts | World Resources Institute
While we must continue stepping up efforts to limit global temperature rise, we must also rapidly scale up adaptation action. This is the challenge that over 1,000 policymakers, business leaders, experts and practitioners will take on next week as they gather in Cape Town – a city grappling with its own climate-related water crisis – for the biannual Adaptation Futures conference. What solutions will they come up with? Here’s a preview of four changes that must happen to prepare the world, especially the poorest and most vulnerable communities, for the intensifying climate impacts that lie ahead.

Adani plans to protect desert springs are worthless, water experts say | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Adani’s proposed protections for some of the world’s last unspoiled desert oases near its proposed coal mine in Queensland won’t work at all and are “all about protecting Adani from prosecution”, according to the authors of two reports.

‘Fraud’: SA royal commission takes aim at Murray-Darling mismanagement | SMH
AUSTRALIA – The $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin plan is “a fraud on the environment” that may be unlawful, the South Australian royal commission into the basin has heard on its first day of hearings. Richard Beasley, SC, the counsel assisting Commissioner Bret Walker, said the plan and its related water act had been set up “to fix a dying system that has had too much water taken from it and … has suffered environmental degradation”.

Endangered Australian parrot relies on government deal with German charity | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – The Turnbull government helped broker a $200,000 agreement for a German not-for-profit to fund conservation work for a critically endangered Australian parrot, bolstering criticism it is shifting the cost of protecting threatened species to community and philanthropic organisations. The western ground parrot is one of only three ground nesting parrots found in Australia and is one of 20 birds the government has committed to helping as part of its threatened species strategy.

The western ground parrot is an endangered species of parrot found only in one bushfire-prone part of Western Australia. Photograph: Brent Barrett

The western ground parrot is an endangered species of parrot found only in one bushfire-prone part of Western Australia. Photograph: Brent Barrett

What if autonomous vehicles actually make us more dependent on cars? | The Conversation
Cities across Europe are taking steps to become increasingly car free… But car makers and tech giants are looking to a very different type of future, where private car ownership, human control and petrol and diesel engines are replaced by shared, electric and autonomous – or self-driving – vehicles.

Built Environment

KiwiBuild: Govt advised to ‘break cycle’ and build sustainably | Radio New Zealand News
NEW ZEALAND – The government’s flagship KiwiBuild housing project could save millions of dollars if homes are built sustainably, a report says. Commissioned by not-for-profit building organisation, the Green Building Council, the report says all 100,000 KiwiBuild homes should be built sustainably. That would include factors such as energy efficiency, warmth, and the amount of building waste. The report’s author, economist Shamubeel Eaqub, estimated that if KiwiBuild homes were built to the ‘Homestar 6’ standard, New Zealanders could benefit by up to $330 million in the next 30 years.

Australia starts slow on EVs, but could overtake global market | RenewEconomy
Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts Australia’s slow start to the uptake of electric vehicles will quickly morph into a “fast finish” – particularly after the key financial tipping point is reached in 2025. In the release of Australia-specific forecasts to add to its global predictions released last month, BNEF analysts say that by 2040, some 40 per cent of all vehicles on the road in Australia will have a plug, and 60 per cent of new car sales will be electric.