Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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The world’s carbon stores are going up in smoke with vanishing wilderness
The Earth’s last intact wilderness areas are shrinking dramatically. In a recently published paper we showed that the world has lost 3.3 million square kilometres of wilderness (around 10% of the total wilderness area) since 1993. Hardest hit were South America, which has experienced a 30% wilderness loss, and Africa, which has lost 14%. These areas are the final strongholds for endangered biodiversity. They are also essential for sustaining complex ecosystem processes at a regional and planetary scale. Finally, wilderness areas are home to, and provide livelihoods for, indigenous peoples, including many of the world’s most politically and economically marginalised communities.
See also: ‘Catastrophic’ loss of 10pc of wilderness across the world over past two decades

Energy and Climate Change

Second lowest minimum for Arctic ice
Arctic ice cover in 2016 reached the second lowest minimum on record, tied with 2007. The sea-ice extent on 10 September stood at 4.14 million sq km, some way short of the 3.39 million sq km record low in 2012. Arctic sea-ice cover grows each autumn and winter, and shrinks each spring and summer.  It has long been regarded as a sensitive indicator of change to the Earth’s climatic system.

Despite the funding cut, ARENA’s glass is still half full – here’s how to spend the money
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) will suffer a A$500 million funding cut, after being saved from a far worse fate during negotiations over the government’s proposed budget savings package. So does this mean the ARENA funding glass is half full, or half empty?

Kangaroo Is: 100% renewables cheaper than sticking with grid
Kangaroo Island, the iconic tourist attraction off the South Australian coast near Adelaide, would likely find it cheaper to go 100 per cent renewable, with its own resources, rather than stay connected to the main grid, according to a detailed study led by the Institute of Sustainable Futures. The study, released on Thursday, shows that the direct and indirect costs of going it alone with the island’s wind, solar and biomass resources, along with battery storage, would be about the same as the cost of upgrading the link to the mainland and paying for fuel.

Energy storage: how an abandoned goldmine will be converted into a world first
AUSTRALIA – Gold was discovered on the Copperfield river in north-western Queensland in 1907. As men flocked to find their fortune, a small township was established and named for the state’s then premier, William Kidston. For close to 100 years, Kidston was a mining town. But, in 2001, the largest operation – a Canadian-owned goldmine – shut down. The site became another of the roughly 50,000 “orphaned” mines littered across Australia.  Photographs of the disused site show the prominent scars of human activity: two adjacent craters, 300m deep. But in those voids lies an opportunity.

Environment and Biodiversity

Obama: Nature is very resilient if we “just stop actively destroying it”
Speaking to representatives from dozens of countries gathered in Washington for the third annual Our Ocean conference, President Obama said Thursday that it was urgent that leaders take swift, bold action to safeguard oceans around the globe. “We cannot truly protect our planet without protecting our ocean,” the president said, adding that the U.S. and others had begun to address threats such as climate change and overfishing. “But it’s no secret that we’re going to have to do a lot more, and we’re going to have to do it fast.”


Humanity driving ‘unprecedented’ marine extinction
A new analysis of the five mass extinction events millions of years ago discovered there was either no pattern to which marine species were lost, or smaller species were the ones that disappeared. But today’s “sixth extinction” is unique in the way that the largest species, such as great white sharks, blue whales and southern bluefin tuna, are being pushed to the brink, due to humans’ tendency to fish for larger species more often than smaller ones.
See also: What the ‘sixth extinction’ will look like in the oceans: The largest species die off first

The NASA jet taking ‘naked’ pictures of Great Barrier Reef to help save it
The US space agency is taking images of the Great Barrier Reef from 8.5 kilometres up in a specially equipped jet to gain a better understanding of what humans are doing to the largest living thing on Earth. Using a state-of-the-art sensor that allows scientists to effectively build a naked map of the reef, with the atmosphere and water removed, the NASA-led project is part of the biggest survey ever conducted of the world’s coral reefs.

Fresh hope for Carnaby’s black cockatoo as numbers ‘increase dramatically’ with artificial hollows
Artificial nesting hollows are helping revive the numbers of the critically endangered Carnaby’s black cockatoo, after it lost part of its breeding heartland to bushfire in Western Australia. The largest known nestling ground for the Australian bird species is in woodlands at a farm in Coomallo near Badgingarra, about 200 kilometres north of Perth. In late 2009, a bushfire swept through part of the site, killing young birds and destroying nesting hollows, which can take more than a century to form.

Forest & Bird ‘representing nature’ in Unitary Plan appeal
Forest & Bird are appealing three sections of the Auckland Unitary Plan [AUP] to the High Court. The appeals are being lodged today and relate to how Significant Ecological Areas [SEAs] on land and in Auckland’s marine areas are identified and the policies that will be used by the AUP to protect them. Forest & Bird’s lawyer Sally Gepp says one point of appeal concerns the council’s decision to exclude important native habitats from protection, even if they meet the SEA criteria, if they are in locations that have been identified as suitable for quarrying or have “economic or strategic importance”.

Iwi bracing for another fight against seabed mining
NEW ZEALAND – Iwi [tribe] members will arrive in their busloads on Parliament’s front steps tomorrow to protest a mining company’s latest bid to scour the seabed off the coast of the North Island for iron ore. A hikoi [protest march] led by Taranaki iwi Ngati Ruanui and environmental advocates will deliver a 6000-signature petition to MPs, calling for a moratorium on all seabed mining in New Zealand.

Curious kea in trouble
New Zealand conservationists are worried at the rapid decline in the number of kea, the world’s only alpine parrot. Kea Conservation Trust volunteer Mark Brabyn told Nine to Noon that predators such as stoats and possums were linked to their rapid decline… The trust has started a citizen science project to encourage the public to help monitor the birds, and to help support a tagging project. And a Givealittle page set up to raise funds attracted $6000 in its first week, and currently sits at over $10,000. The trust has set a target of $30,000.

Ban on new dolphin tourism ventures in Akaroa Harbour
NEW ZEALAND – A 10-year ban on new dolphin tourism ventures in Akaroa Harbour will protect the animals from “over exposure” to humans, the Department of Conservation (DOC) says. Permits will be denied to any new business allowing people to view or swim with dolphins, seals or whales in the harbour. The moratorium came into effect on Friday and will last until 2026. A similar ban was in place between 2008 and 2012. It is an attempt to protect the endangered Hector’s dolphin, which is heavily affected by the increasing number of visitors to the harbour.

No longer swimmable: A community mourns its lost river
NEW ZEALAND – A tiny, century-old community built around a river can no longer swim in it because it has become too polluted. A rope swing dangling uselessly by Canterbury’s Selwyn River is a reminder of a better time in the tiny community of Selwyn Huts – when families spent long summers in the river, before it became too polluted for swimming. The lower stretches of the river have become toxic and shallow. The water is so green it glows in the sun.

Economy and Business

5 great GreenBiz videos about biomimicry
The term biomimicry was coined by Janine Benyus about 20 years ago with her book “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature,” and has been gaining traction in sustainable design communities since. The premise is that humans can look to the geometry, physics and chemistry found in nature to influence decisions about product design, archiecture, engineering, energy systems, carbon capture, city planning and more. Mimicking natural systems and forms isn’t just about design for design’s sake; it’s also about mimicking the dynamics of individual organisms and processes as they function within larger ecosystems. The ultimate goal of biomimetic design: Create efficient, resilient and sustainable systems. These five videos from recent GreenBiz events show how this concept can be put into action.

Coal’s death would not kill economy: Australia Institute
Australia’s economy would not be hurt by a gradual phasing out of coal production across the country, research suggests. The Australia Institute-commissioned study found there would be minimal economic impact if the Government imposed a moratorium on new coal mines or the expansion of existing ones. It also concluded that the managed winding back of coal production as existing mines are depleted would be an economic blip, given the industry’s share of employment which represents 0.04 per cent of the Australian workforce.

One quarter of Australian businesses generates solar power, survey says
According to the survey, published on Monday by energy management company Energy Action, 23 per cent of businesses generate some portion of their electricity supply using solar PV, up from just 14 per cent just two years ago. Another 37 per cent said they had “implemented solar PV measures in their business,” up from 23 per cent in 2014. Meanwhile, the proportion of businesses who said they were seriously considering investing in technologies like solar PV and even battery storage and smart energy management systems was 84 per cent. Another 43 per cent reported they now had a formal energy management strategy in place.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Leading ocean advocacy groups join forces to tackle microfiber pollution
Two leading clean ocean advocacy groups have joined forces to stop tiny synthetic clothing fibers from polluting the world’s waterways and poisoning the food chain. Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF), a Dutch nonprofit, and New York-based Parley for the Oceans announced Tuesday a partnership to tackle the issue of microfiber pollution and to create a global alliance of companies, governments, NGOs and scientists. Microfibers – tiny, often synthetic threads shed from laundry, industrial clothing manufacturing and fishing nets – have been found in alarming numbers in recent studies of microplastic pollution.

Here’s the clever chemistry that can stop your food rotting
A hotel in Reykjavík has on display a McDonald’s burger and fries, seemingly undecomposed after 2,512 days – and counting. It was bought on October 30, 2009, the day that the last McDonald’s in Iceland closed. But you don’t have to go to Reykjavík to see it: it has its own webcam so you can watch it from your armchair. What makes this meal so long-lived? Well, I haven’t examined this particular burger myself, but chemical reactions cause food to decay – and understanding them can help us to keep food better and for longer.

Rio’s favelas to Brighton’s North Laine: the entrepreneurs tackling food waste
Situated in the run-down district of Lapa, Rio de Janeiro, Refettorio Gastromotiva is the latest venture from three Michelin-starred Italian chef Massimo Bottura, who has partnered with a social enterprise which trains chefs from disadvantaged neighbourhoods across Brazil.

Politics and Society

Community wellbeing best measured from the ground up: a Yawuru example
AUSTRALIA – At some point in our lives, we have asked ourselves one or all of these questions. What matters most in life? What makes life worth living? What makes you happy? What makes you feel good? What makes you flourish? Wellbeing can mean many things to many different people. For Yawuru people, mabu liyan is at the heart of what it is to have and to know a good life.

Marlborough schools most eco-friendly in the country
NEW ZEALAND – Marlborough schools are leading the country with their clean, green attitude, with more than 6000 students involved in an environmental programme.  Nearly 90 per cent of the region’s schools are taking part in the government-funded Enviroschools sustainability programme, the highest participation rate in New Zealand.

Norway plans to cull more than two-thirds of its wolf population
Norway is planning to cull more than two-thirds of its remaining wolves in a step that environmental groups say will be disastrous for the dwindling members of the species in the wild. There are estimated to be about 68 wolves remaining in the wilderness areas of Norway, concentrated in the south-east of the country, but under controversial plans approved on Friday as many as 47 of these will be shot.

Decriminalise use of medical marijuana and legalise small-scale cultivation
A large number of people in Britain are committing crime to alleviate pain and suffering. They do this by growing cannabis for medicinal use. But cannabis cultivation is a criminal offence that can carry a substantial prison sentence, even in these circumstances. Some sick people grow cannabis for themselves, but often growers provide cannabis for others – which means committing the more serious offence of drug supply. The law labels these people as drug dealers, despite their altruistic motivations.

Hemp food, hemp bricks, hemp medicine, hemp clothes, hemp could be everywhere
Campaigners are hoping to raise awareness of New Zealand’s potential multi-million dollar hemp industry in a special week of events starting tomorrow. The Hemp Industries Association will be meeting with the Ministry of Health, farmers and the public in a push to advertise the plant’s 50,000 practical uses and benefits, said the organisation’s treasurer, Richard Barge.

Built Environment

The eco guide to noise pollution
Anti-noise campaigners suggest we have a “sliding baseline” in terms of our expectation of quiet time. This ecological term refers to an incremental lowering of standards as each generation progresses. Meanwhile the World Health Organisation has reported that 40% of Europe’s population is exposed to noise levels in excess of 55dB at night and ranks noise pollution second to air pollution in terms of affecting many aspects of our health and wellbeing, including diabetes, tinnitus and risk of heart disease. This all screams major environmental emergency, and also suggests that we need to re-assert quiet time.

Public domain will be key to a successful Parramatta CBD
The state government’s plan to transform Parramatta into Sydney’s second CBD is coming to fruition, with developer dollars and white-collar jobs pouring into the city. But while the private sector is keen to go green, the public domain is lagging behind. According to former City of Parramatta Lord Mayor and current Western Sydney director of the Sydney Business Chamber, David Borger, a greater emphasis on green space and street trees is crucial to deliver a sustainable CBD.

Food Systems

North Canterbury dairy farmer coming to the aid of mother nature
A North Canterbury dairy farmer reckons being “sustainable” isn’t enough and she’s striving to do better than that by putting more into her land than she takes out.
NEW ZEALAND – During her career as a school teacher Althea MacLean dreamed of being a dairy farmer but the closest she could get was half a dozen house cows on her 0.6ha property in Hunterville, where she was self-sufficient in meat, dairy products, vegetables, fruit, wine and firewood…  But then she had a phone call from a friend down in Canterbury who’d spotted a 25ha run-down dairy farm near Oxford for sale and thought she should come down for a look.

A new organic era for New Zealand?
It is estimated that $217 million worth of organic produce was bought and sold in New Zealand last year. Organics earned a further $250 million in exports. The global organic market is set to hit NZ$100 billion this year. New Zealand is experiencing instability in conventional milk prices. A national water pollution crisis is pointing to the limits of intensive livestock farming. Organic production cuts pollution and adds value. It’s an obvious alternative. But it’s still strange for some to accept. How can what many consider an eccentric hobby become a mainstay of the NZ economy

Illegal fishing targeted by crowdsourcing thanks to new Global Fishing Watch website
A free technology will allow users to spy on global fishing practices, in a bid to curb illegal activity in the oceans and rebuild imperilled fish stocks. The technology, known as Global Fishing Watch, was officially released to the public during the Our Oceans Conference in Washington. Available at, the technology aims to offer a crowdsourced solution to the problem of illegal fishing, which accounts for up to 35 per cent of the global wild marine catch and causes yearly losses of $31 billion, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

MPI admits fish dumping widespread
NEW ZEALAND – The Ministry for Primary Industries has admitted that illegal fish dumping is so widespread that if the rules were properly enforced over half of inshore fishers would go out of business. The suggestion is made in an email between two top MPI managers, which forms part of a damning report, released on Friday, into its failure to prosecute fish dumping. The email was sent as MPI debated whether to prosecute the illegal dumping of tonnes of fish by five of six boats it was monitoring in 2012.

Footage of rare dolphin deaths released
NEW ZEALAND – Video footage has been released of a commercial fishing boat hauling in endangered dolphins. The footage was released under the Official Information Act today by the Ministry for Primary Industries, following the publication of a high-level inquiry on the illegal dumping of fish. Cameras were installed on six fishing boats operating off the eastern coast of the South Island in December 2012 to monitor the accidental capture of hector dolphins, a relative of the Maui’s dolphin.


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