Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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It is interesting the themes that sometimes appear in the news.  Today the theme is over-reach, with a wide range of articles reinforcing the need to take action on a degraded planet, including use of artificial nitrogen in food production, a report on the state of NZ’s land, and, our top story on melting glacial ice.

Scientists have discovered an apparently new but completely logical phenomenon that speeds up melting of ice in Antarctica.  This is known as a negative feedback loop and is what may exacerbate failure in systems around the world once they reach a tipping point. Ecosystems operate within naturally restrictive parameters and we are pushing them way beyond these boundaries. Every choice we make is part of a much larger web, it creates ripples and has an effect, especially when lots of people make the same choice.

Top Story

Scientists discover new melting process in Antarctica | NZ Herald
Scientists have discovered a worrying process that speeds up the melting of Antarctica’s ice – and the rate of resulting sea level rise. A just-published Australian study found how melting glacial ice sheets make the ocean’s surface layer less salty and more buoyant. That effectively stopped deep mixing in winter and allowed warm water at depth to retain its heat and further melt glaciers from below.

Environment and Biodiversity

Major report: What we’ve done to NZ’s landscape | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – Nearly 200 million tonnes of soil are being lost in New Zealand every year – an out-of-sight problem that could pose far-reaching consequences for our environment and economy. A major Government report out this morning also found nearly half of that loss was coming from pastures, at a time when dairy intensification was packing more cows into paddocks. The quality and quantity of soil is crucial to the overall health of our land and wider environment, storing water, carbon and nutrients, growing food, breaking down contaminants and hosting an abundance of species.

More coverage:

[Ed: …but good things are also happening in NZ (perhaps need to be on a much larger scale):]

Te Kowhai farmer fined $35,000 for mishandled dairy waste |
NEW ZEALAND – A dairy farmer has been served a hefty fine for letting large amounts of dairy waste overflow into the environment.  The Te Kowhai farmer – Edward Smith – has been convicted and fined $35,625 in the Hamilton District Court.  Contamination was found during a routine inspection as part of its compliance monitoring programme in March 2017, the Waikato Regional Council said in a statement

Taranaki’s kokako population continues to grow |
Taranaki’s kōkako population is slowing climbing, with four more of the endangered birds making the region home over the past week. Released into the Parininihi Forest, near Urenui, the new residents are a part of a catch and release operation in which 20 kōkako will be taken from the Rangitoto Ranges, on the northern edge of Pureora Forest Park, King Country, and relocated to the area this month.

Taranaki's kōkako population is slowing climbing. Photo: Supplied

Taranaki’s kōkako population is slowing climbing. Photo: Supplied

In Cambodia, payments to protect an endangered bird are no simple matter | Devex
CAMBODIA — At the tip of a small sandbar jutting into the Mekong, four fishermen unfurl a net, half an eye on the old man lecturing them. In a gravelly voice, 64-year-old Meak Phoeurn informs the group that this is a conservation area, that there is a rare bird nearby and they better stay away from her eggs. He spins around and points to the rolling dunes and high grass and, in a flash of inspiration, warns them there are cameras everywhere.

To Regreen Rwanda, Empower Farmers. Here Are 5 Ways to Begin | World Resources Institute
RWANDA – Native plants are disappearing from the district of Gatsibo where Nyirabahinzi lives. Droughts, unsustainable practices and overharvesting are ruining the land and depleting the supply of seeds for native species. Additionally, many NGOs in Rwanda give free, non-native seedlings to farmers, weighing the gain of more immediate income from timber and charcoal over the long-term benefits of tree diversity. Bucking this trend, Nyirabahinzi continues to cultivate native trees from which she derives her living wage.

Economy and Business

Rare bee offers hope of clean alternative to toxic chemicals | Thomson Reuters Foundation
When Veronica Harwood-Stevenson gambled her life savings on research into a rare species of bee, she had no way of knowing whether it would pay off. The 33-year-old New Zealander, a trained reproductive biologist, had a hunch that the cellophane-like substance in which the Hylaeus bee breeds its larvae could replace toxic chemicals used in plastics. The idea, inspired by a chance reading of an academic paper while trying to distract herself from a job in film distribution, set her on a completely new life path.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Giant plastic ‘berg blocks Indonesian river | BBC News
INDONESIA – A crisis of plastic waste in Indonesia has become so acute that the army has been called in to help.  Rivers and canals are clogged with dense masses of bottles, bags and other plastic packaging.  Officials say they are engaged in a “battle” against waste that accumulates as quickly as they clear it.

Like other developing countries, Indonesia is wrestling with an acute plastic waste problem. Photo: David Shukman

Like other developing countries, Indonesia is wrestling with an acute plastic waste problem. Photo: David Shukman

Cotton buds and plastic straws could be banned in England next year | The Guardian
CHOGM – Cotton buds, plastic drinking straws and other single-use plastics could be banned from sale in England next year in the next phase of the campaign to try to halt the pollution of the world’s rivers and oceans. Theresa May hopes to use the announcement to encourage the Commonwealth heads of government to join the fight as the meeting opens formally on Thursday. “The Commonwealth is a unique organisation with a huge diversity of wildlife, and environments – so it is vital we act now,” the prime minister will say, urging all Commonwealth countries to participate.

The recycling crisis in Australia: easy solutions to a hard problem | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Ipswich residents have been told their recycling waste will now be dumped into landfill because it is too expensive for the local council to recycle. This is a result of Australia’s recycling industry crisis. China’s recent ban on imported solid waste means that most of our waste has been stockpiled domestically and is not being recycled. Unfortunately, the case of Ipswich Council is likely to be repeated around Australia. Many local councils will be feeling the strain and considering their options as they face their own recycling mess.

The clear bins are intended to get people thinking about how much they put in the bin. Supplied: Mindarie Regional Council

The clear bins are intended to get people thinking about how much they put in the bin. Supplied: Mindarie Regional Council


Transparent wheelie bins are latest effort to bring clarity to how much waste we create | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – For most people, once they lift the lid and throw their rubbish in the wheelie bin, their household waste is out of sight, out of mind. It’s a mindset the Mindarie Regional Council in Western Australia is hoping to challenge by putting wheelie bin contents on display.

Politics and Society

What might appear to be common sense is not always based on scientific evidence | The Conversation
The term “evidence” has a fascinating linguistic and social history – and it’s a good reminder that even today the truth of scientific evidence depends on it being presented in a convincing way. As recent climate change scepticism shows, the fortunes of scientific evidence can be swayed by something as fleeting as a tweet. But what does it even mean to speak of “scientific evidence”?

We cannot rely morally on ‘deterrence’ to justify our harsh refugee policies | The Conversation
When debate about refugees ascends from slogan swapping (“stop the boats”, “bring them here”) to specific reasoning, there seems only one argument worth considering for the ignominious detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru and the refusal to ever settle any in Australia. That argument, advanced by both the government and the opposition (occasionally in a less strident form), stems from deterrence.

Please explain: CHOGM to focus on Turnbull’s weak emissions policy | RenewEconomy
CHOGM – Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull might be enjoying a break from domestic (read: energy) politics at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London this week, but he is unlikely to escape scrutiny of his government’s feeble efforts on cutting emissions. Alongside the important business of anointing a successor to the Crown, emissions targets have been thrust high on the CHOGM agenda for 2018, by none other than the meeting’s host.

Related NEG coverage:

Built Environment

UK drives into e-vehicle fast lane with 11% sales rise | The Guardian
Sales of electric cars in the UK have risen 11% on last year, putting the country in the premier league of those ditching petrol and diesel engines, though it is still miles behind Norway and China.

Food Systems

Will rising carbon dioxide levels really boost plant growth? | The Conversation
Plants have become an unlikely subject of political debate. Many projections suggest that burning fossil fuels and the resulting climate change will make it harder to grow enough food for everyone in the coming decades. But some groups opposed to limiting our emissions claim that higher levels of carbon dioxide (CO₂) will boost plants’ photosynthesis and so increase food production.  New research published in Science suggests that predicting the effects of increasing CO₂ levels on plant growth may actually be more complicated than anyone had expected.

Liquid fertiliser study finds less harmful nitrogen run-off to Great Barrier Reef | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Efforts to keep nitrogen fertilisers on farm and away from the fragile Great Barrier Reef can be boosted by use of liquid fertilisers, a study has found. Research conducted in the north Queensland town of Ingham has proven the use of molasses, a sugar milling by-product, can slow the rate at which nitrogen leaches from soil. Pam Pittaway from the National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture at the University of Southern Queensland said the blended fertiliser considerably reduces nitrogen run-off from paddocks.

A future where food is off the menu | newsroom
A hungry future awaits unless we give up meat, change how we produce food, and legislatively ensure all New Zealanders have a right to food. The Future of Food Symposium held at the University of Auckland discussed the issues facing future food supply such as a declining amount of fossil fuels and ways we can ensure we can sustainably feed the world’s growing population. Problems facing the supply of food outnumbered solutions.


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