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 highlights the interdependency of ecosystems in our world.  Brazil is suffering from water shortages and drought, a direct result of reduced forest cover and climate change.  The forest is at a tipping point where it no longer produces enough of its own rainfall.

In other news,

  • warmer waters in northern Australia are having devasating consequences, not only on reef but seagrass, an important ecosystem support and carbon sink;
  • two stories remind us of the damage that can be caused by not looking after our waste, in this case, mining;
  • societal articles about climate refugees and a homeless revolt in London; and
  • a novel method that addresses a person’s sense of belonging and community is being trialled to address Maori with mental health issues, apparently with spectacular results.

Top Story

Forests Will Protect Brazil, but Only If Brazil Protects Them | World Resources Institute
Brazil faces a multi-dimensional water challenge. Severe water crises- such as floods and droughts- have hit a quarter of Brazil’s municipalities in the last year, including major cities such as Brasilia, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Vitória. These same communities have also suffered from threats to safety and water quality, as floods, landslides and insufficient wastewater treatment have endangered residents and polluted water sources with sediment and sewage. As these trends have intensified, Brazil has also lost its first line of defense against these natural disasters: its forests.

Climate Change and Energy

Journey to zero emissions electricity: What happens when sun don’t shine, wind don’t blow? | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – In the first paper of this series we looked at the decarbonisation of electricity generation in Australia and the clear, compelling economics in support of renewable sources. What we see is that ‘business as usual’ will result in the replacement of retiring coal fired assets with low cost renewable alternatives. However recent concerns about the reliability of Australia’s electricity system given the ever higher penetration of solar and wind generation has led to calls for support for traditional ‘dispatchable’ generation – namely coal- and gas-fired power stations – to ‘firm’ the renewable generators.

Watch: Ardern clarifies oil exploration remarks | Radio New Zealand News
NEW ZEALAND – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says her comments on oil and gas exploration relate to the current permit process, but says it’s linked to the wider issue of the industry’s future. National Party leader Simon Bridges called on the Prime Minister to be clear about exactly what her plans were. Ms Ardern yesterday accepted a Greenpeace petition signed by 45,000 people wanting an end to oil exploration, telling protesters she was “actively considering” the issue.
See also: Jacinda Ardern says she needs more time to consider oil exploration ban | NZ Herald 

Environment and Biodiversity

‘Unprecedented’ marine heatwave triggered huge carbon-dioxide release | SMH
AUSTRALIA – A severe heatwave off north-western Western Australia hammered the world’s largest region of seagrass, triggering the release of as much as nine million tonnes of carbon dioxide, a paper by international researchers has found. Two months of temperatures 2-4 degrees above average in the summer of 2010-11 resulted in the loss of about 1000 square-kilometres of seagrass in Shark Bay by 2014, or about a fifth of its extent, according to the paper which was published on Tuesday in Nature Climate Change.

New coral bleaching outbreak in NT a worrying sign of our warming oceans | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – An outbreak of coral bleaching has been reported over the summer in Gang Gurak Barlu National Park on the Cobourg Peninsula, 60km northeast of Darwin, homeland of several clans of the Iwaidja-speaking Aboriginal people of Western Arnhem Land.  As no formal monitoring or assessment program is in place for these reefs, it’s impossible to gauge the full severity and extent of the bleaching. However, [a] video from Black Point on the Cobourg Peninsula contrasts the healthy reef in 2015 and the bleached reef in 2018.

After 20 years of uneasy peace, the forest wars are back | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Agreements meant to protect forests and create a sustainable timber industry are about to expire, and both sides are preparing for new conflict. The RFA agreements were intended to be the scientific response to the so-called “forest wars” that raged for two decades. In the 1980s and 1990s forests were front-page news. Premiers fought over forests with prime ministers, cabinets agonised over timber resources and votes, and official inquiries failed to find a square metre of common ground.

Economy and Business

5 takeaways from the 2018 World Economic Forum on Latin America | Devex
Discussions at the summit, which often included the perspectives of the host country Brazil, delved into the region’s corruption problems, what can be done to address them, and what leadership is needed today. Attendees also gathered for working sessions on issues such as financing and implementing the SDGs, and to learn more about the impacts of the growing crisis in Venezuela. Now that the summit has ended, here are some of the key takeaways

Waste and the Circular Economy

Obama official: Trump cuts will leave coal clean-up agency unable to function | Climate Home News
USA – Donald Trump’s administration has proposed to slash $130 million from the annual discretionary budget for the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE). Savings are to come from axing a pilot programme that couples reclamation of abandoned sites with economic development projects and cutting staff numbers 12% to 381 full-time employees.

There were nearly 6,500 reports of water pollution from mines in the past decade

There were nearly 6,500 reports of water pollution from mines in the past decade

Glover Prize entrant Nicholas Blowers wins second People’s Choice Award | ABC News
A painting of mine tailing ponds in Tasmania’s north-west has won the public vote in this year’s Glover art prize. Savage Entropy by Hobart-based artist Nicholas Blowers won the People’s Choice Award as well as the Children’s Choice Award. His painting depicts the landscape at Savage River, where an open-cut iron ore mine was established in 1965.

Photo: Savage Entropy by Nicholas Blowers won both the People's Choice and the Children's Choice awards. (Instagram: Nicholas Blowers)

Photo: Savage Entropy by Nicholas Blowers won both the People’s Choice and the Children’s Choice awards. (Instagram: Nicholas Blowers)

Politics and Society

Climate change soon to cause mass movement, World Bank warns | The Guardian
Climate change will result in a massive movement of people inside countries and across borders, creating “hotspots” where tens of millions pour into already crowded slums, according to the World Bank. More than 140 million people in just three regions of the developing world are likely to migrate within their native countries between now and 2050, the first report on the subject has found.

Squatters in upmarket London property spark debate over homeless | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Outside a multi-million pound property in central London a small black sign reading “The homeless are revolting, join them” is the only indication this building is involved in a dispute over how the homeless are treated in the British capital. When snow blasted London in early March, a group of about 160 homeless people moved into the disused 17.5 million pound ($24 million) eight-storey building in Great Portland Street, making it the biggest single shelter in the capital. The occupation – due to end on Monday with a court ordering their eviction – has sparked a citywide debate involving London Mayor Sadiq Khan about the treatment of growing numbers of homeless people.

Marshall’s first promise as SA premier: Kill Tesla battery plan | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – The newly elected South Australia premier, the Liberal Steven Marshall, has made his first promise – his government intends to kill the Tesla plan for the world’s biggest “virtual power plant” that would install batteries in low income households for no cost.
See also: SA Premier Steven Marshall tight-lipped on Elon Musk battery storage plan after election win | ABC News 

Maori narratives an alternative to western mental health system | Radio New Zealand News
NEW ZEALAND – Patients at Te Kūwatawata clinic are told stories about Māori gods or atua, re-connected to their whakapapa and facilitated through wānanga before they’re offered traditional medicine. The health clinic in Gisborne uses Māori myths and legends to help their patients and researchers say there has been a dramatic drop in the number of people referred to psychiatric care… since the Mahi a Atua program launched six months ago, referrals to the DHB’s psychiatric team have dropped from an average of 80 people a month to between five and 10.

Built Environment

More affordable housing a step closer with Greater Sydney Commission plan | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – An inclusionary zoning target for affordable housing on rezoned land is another step closer following the release of the Greater Sydney Commission’s final region plan. The plan envisages the development of three separate cities, and has been prepared alongside a new Future Transport 2056 strategy and Infrastructure NSW’s State Infrastructure Strategy.

How tree bonds can help preserve the urban forest | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Great cities need trees to be great places, but urban changes put pressure on the existing trees as cities develop. As a result, our rapidly growing cities are losing trees at a worrying rate. So how can we grow our cities and save our city trees?

Norway’s electric car demand is outstripping supply – with lessons for the EU | Climate Home News
Norway is the country with the highest number of electric cars per capita in the world. One out of every five new cars sold is electric, and more than 50% of new cars sold in 2017 were electric or plug-in hybrids. Driven by generous tax breaks (carrot) and increasing road tolls (stick), demand for EVs has been rising rapidly. Because of these tax breaks, electric cars can be sold at the same price as fossil fuel vehicles. EVs, however, are considerably cheaper to run.

Food Systems

Kiwi science could help world curb ag emissions | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – Kiwi-led research has led the world a step closer to tackling what’s been a headache for New Zealand and other nations: developing low-emission sheep and cattle. Today, major scientific journal Nature Biotechnology published new insights from a New Zealand-steered global project called the Hungate1000. The effort has produced a reference set of genome sequences of microbes found in the stomachs of sheep and cattle – ruminant animals that greatly contribute to our greenhouse gas emissions by belching methane.


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