Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Today’s top news is chosen purely because it is celebrating success in conservation. Sometimes it’s nice to recall that things aren’t all bad. International Day for Biological Diversity was yesterday (a new but welcome one for me). We need to preserve as much diversity on this planet as we can to protect our ecosystems from adverse events in times of shock, and times of shock will become more frequent with climate change. The stories often involved protecting an area of habitat, which means conserving a whole ecosystem in the name of one species. However, the joy in this article is contrasted by a story in Cambodia where traps intended to catch bush food have led to a major decline in forest animals. In Politics and Society, however, there are several articles on the benefits of having a more inclusive and cohesive society.

Top Story

12 conservation success stories – in pictures | The Guardian
On international day for biological diversity, the IUCN celebrates successful conservation action with images and stories of 12 species and the efforts underway to improve their status.

The vulnerable Lebanese cedar ( Cedrus libani) is culturally important, featuring on the national flag, currency and government logos. Conservation measures include extensive planting projects and education projects about the protected area. This photograph was taken in the Al-Shouf cedar nature reserve, which accounts for a quarter of the remaining cedar forest in Lebanon. The reserve is part of an IUCN programme to encourage, achieve and promote protected areas all over the world and improve the conservation status of the species that dwell within them. Photograph: James Hardcastle/IUCN

Climate Change and Energy

Drying rivers can help drive climate change – study | NZ Herald
Dry rivers like those that snake through Canterbury’s countryside could be making a hidden contribution to climate change. “People might feel that a pile of plant litter accumulating in a dry river bed couldn’t possibly contribute to global climate warming, but the surprising reality is it very likely is,” said University of Canterbury Professor Angus McIntosh. The effect has been described in a study published today in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Environment and Biodiversity

Shark net figures show massive amount of marine bycatch compared to smart drumlines | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Data from a controversial two-stage trial of shark nets off the New South Wales north coast shows that 420 marine animals were caught, but only 11 were target species. The latest figures from a second meshing trial in the area have just been released by the Department of Primary Industries.

Gamers find new species, prevent biosecurity disasters and collect data for research through mobile apps | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Gamers are driving citizen science by mapping biodiversity, discovering new species and averting biosecurity risks using apps that collate data for researchers. Mobile apps that challenge players to photograph and identify plants and animals are increasingly appealing to children, families and retirees. Australian start-up QuestaGame has been growing by 25 per cent each month and has become the most popular app for uploading biodiversity data across all species.

Photo: A new species of spider was discovered by QuestaGamer Ben Revell and has been named Ornodolmedes benrevelli after the gamer. (Supplied: QuestaGamer Ben Revelli)

Photo: A new species of spider was discovered by QuestaGamer Ben Revell and has been named Ornodolmedes benrevelli after the gamer. (Supplied: QuestaGamer Ben Revelli)

‘Living fossil’ giant salamander heading for extinction | BBC News
CHINA – The world’s largest amphibian is in “catastrophic” decline, with possibly only a handful left in the wild. Field surveys carried out over four years suggest the Chinese giant salamander has all but disappeared from its natural habitat. In contrast, millions of the animals live in commercial farms, where they are sold to luxury restaurants. Remaining largely unchanged for 170 million years, this “living fossil” is seen as a global conservation priority.

Rangers find 109,217 snares in a single park in Cambodia | The Guardian
A simple brake cable for motorbikes can kill a tiger, a bear, even a young elephant in Southeast Asia. Local hunters use these ubiquitous wires to create snares – indiscriminate forest bombs – that are crippling and killing Southeast Asia’s most charismatic species and many lesser-known animals as well. A fact from a new paper in Biodiversity Conservation highlights the scale of this epidemic: in Cambodia’s Southern Cardamom National Park rangers with the Wildlife Alliance removed 109,217 snares over just six years.

Young Asian elephant caught in a snare in Mondulkiri Province, Cambodia. The snare was likely set to catch a wild pig, the elephant juvenile perished before vets could get to the scene. Photograph: Wildlife Conservation Society – Cambodia

Young Asian elephant caught in a snare in Mondulkiri Province, Cambodia. The snare was likely set to catch a wild pig, the elephant juvenile perished before vets could get to the scene. Photograph: Wildlife Conservation Society – Cambodia

Economy and Business

Carbon markets back from the brink of collapse, says World Bank | The Guardian
Global carbon markets have been revived from the brink of collapse as, after years in the doldrums, recent developments have provided a much-needed boost, according to a new report from the World Bank. China has made strong progress on its new carbon markets, which when complete will be the biggest in the world, while the EU initiated reforms of its carbon trading system which have already had an effect on prices. Though these fledgling efforts need to be confirmed in the coming few years, more carbon markets are also likely to come forward: 88 of the countries that have completed the first stage of the Paris agreement, representing more than half of global emissions, have said they are using or plan to use carbon pricing as a tool.
See also: Global carbon market increases by 56% in one year, says World Bank | Climate Action Programme

Forests and Wetlands Are Water Infrastructure. New Green Bond Helps Finance Their Protection | World Resources Institute
East Africa’s Kariba Dam is almost empty due to diminishing rains. In Brazil, Sao Paulo’s reservoirs were reduced to dried mud three years ago, and experts say the city is heading toward another dry spell. Catastrophic floods recently wreaked havoc in southern England, Texas and Bangkok. These are not simply one-off events; they represent systemic failures in water infrastructure development—failures that are increasing in frequency and severity as Earth’s climate shifts. A new financial mechanism—“green bonds” that pay for using ecosystems as “natural infrastructure” for clean, ample water—can help.

Shell investors revolt over pay and maintain pressure over climate change | The Guardian
Shell investors have rebelled over the company’s executive pay, as the Anglo-Dutch oil company came under pressure to take stronger action on climate change. The rebellion is the latest in a series of revolts against corporate pay, including 37% of shareholders voting against or abstaining on AstroZenca’s remuneration report last week. Melrose, Inmarsat and Unilever have been hit this year with significant votes against pay packages, though Shell’s fellow oil major BP avoided one on Monday.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Trust doubts benefit of retailers’ compost bag switch | Radio New Zealand News
NEW ZEALAND – More and more retailers are swapping plastic bags for compostable ones – but is it actually better for the environment? Envirofert is an industrial composter in Tuakau, which collects green waste and compostable packaging from the Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions. Site manager Paul Yearbury said poor labelling and the lack of a national standard, made it hard to know what products could be broken down. “There is biodegradable films and then there is true compostable packaging, generally cornstarch based.

Politics and Society

The next big climate challenges are social | newsroom
Bronwyn Hayward is researching some of the biggest issues facing humanity – how governments respond to climate change, sustainable development, what cities can do about the influx of people and the issues facing young people today… On a recent sabbatical to England’s Oxford University, she met several chief executives of high-powered boards (who she wouldn’t name). She was impressed by how much sway their children and grandchildren had on their thinking. “And you think, gosh, there is a culture change happening, even when we don’t see it.”

Amnesty for drug traffickers? That’s one Mexican presidential candidate’s pitch to voters | the Conversation
MEXICO – With over 29,000 murders, 2017 was the deadliest year in Mexico since modern record-keeping began. Nearly two-thirds of Mexicans say crime and violence are the biggest problems facing their country. A main cause of the bloodshed, studies show, is the Mexican government’s violent crackdown on drug trafficking. Launched in 2006 under President Felipe Calderón, this military assault on cartels has left 234,966 people dead in 11 years. While numerous drug kingpins have been jailed, cartels fractured under law enforcement pressure, competing for territory and diversifying their business. Kidnapping and extortion have surged. Mexico is now one of the world’s most violent places.

Can urban infrastructure projects damage our democracy?
By “democratic system” we are referring here to the inherited systems of governance defined by individual mutual recognition and rights, universal participation, and law-based dispute resolution and exchange that have evolved over centuries. Within this system and subject to the idea of reciprocity – of not causing harm to others – we regard ourselves as being “free”. Because they are so pervasive and apparently unchanging, to the point that they are now almost invisible, we now assume these freedoms to be irreversible and permanent. However, two recent examples caution against this kind of complacency.

Brumby cull backflip divides communities across New South Wales and Victoria | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – The New South Wales Government’s decision to reverse a planned cull of brumbies in the Snowy Mountains has split communities across Victoria and NSW. Conservation groups believe sensitive alpine environments and native species will continue to be destroyed by the wild horses.

Built Environment

Gove takes aim at wood burning stoves and farming emissions in latest Clean Air Strategy | BusinessGreen
UK – The government has unveiled its latest Clean Air Strategy, with Environment Secretary Michael Gove promising to take action on a range of pollution sources including wood burning stoves, ammonia emissions from farming and dust particles from car tyres and brakes. Launched for consultation today, the draft plan will additionally be backed by new primary legislation, Gove announced – either through a new Clean Air Act or Environment Act – to give councils and city mayors new powers to improve local air quality.

Ditching the car may reduce your risk of dying from heart disease and stroke by almost a third | The Conversation
Swapping your car for more physically active forms of travel may reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and premature death, our latest research shows. Walking, cycling and even using public transport are all more physically active than using the car, so switching to one of these modes of transport can help you be more active and healthy.

Why car dealers don’t want to sell electric vehicles | RenewEconomy
A team of researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark visited 82 car dealerships across Scandinavia posing as potential shoppers, and found that sales personnel were dismissive of electric vehicles, misinformed consumers about them, and encouraged the purchase of petrol and diesel vehicles instead.
Related: Electric vehicle sales will top 10 million by 2025 | Climate Action Programme