Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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I couldn’t choose a top story today but there is plenty of interesting news to read. Thinking about waste, articles on the extent of the plastic problem from arguments over collecting large or small pieces, confusion over complex recycling schemes, to exporting the problem to poorer countries. On water, Adani comes under fire for its generous extraction rights while 58% of Queensland is in drought and a damning report from freshwater ecologist, Mike Joy, on the rapidly declining state of NZ’s rivers. Why aren’t we doing more? Let’s hope the government steps up in its Zero Carbon Act to deal with nitrous oxide. Analysis of politics in Australia says risk factors are present for corruption while Tim Flannery says its already under the thrall of large donors. Finally, a harrowing tale of the complex fight to save Africa’s wildlife.

Climate Change

Climate study ‘pulls punches’ to keep polluters on board | The Guardian
Warnings about the dangers of global warming are being watered down in the final version of a key climate report for a major international meeting next month, according to reviewers who have studied earlier versions of the report and its summary. They say scientists working on the final draft of the summary are censoring their own warnings and “pulling their punches” to make policy recommendations seem more palatable to countries – such as the US, Saudi Arabia and Australia – that are reluctant to cut fossil-fuel emissions, a key cause of global warming.

Nitrous oxide no laughing matter | Newsroom
NEW ZEALAND – Once a fashionable party drug, a gas produced by cow’s urine is a growing climate problem… Each molecule of nitrous oxide is about 300 times as powerful as a molecule of CO2 at warming the planet, and, unlike methane (the other major greenhouse gas created by farming), it sticks around in the atmosphere for a very long time. That makes it both potent (like methane) and annoyingly persistent (like CO2).

Environment and Biodiversity

Warmer Arctic waters attract surprising visitors: clams, fish and whales |
On a ship near the top of the planet, a 54-kilogram steel claw dumps out mud freshly scooped from the bottom of the sea. Jackie Grebmeier gets to work with a pair of tweezers, picking shrimplike critters called amphipods out of the muck… As scientists debate whether ice-free Arctic waters might someday support more total life, they are beginning to puzzle out which species will be losers and which will be winners.

Sparrows in mining towns Broken Hill and Mount Isa have evolved to avoid lead poisoning, geneticists find | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Sparrows in the mining towns of Broken Hill and Mount Isa have adapted to avoid the uptake of lead, according to a new genetic study of the birds. Researchers from Macquarie University compared the genomic data of sparrows from the mining towns in New South Wales and Queensland respectively, with sparrows from nine other regional and urban centres. Professor Simon Griffith from Macquarie University said it was the first evidence of animals adapting to lead contamination in heavily polluted areas of Australia.

Dr Mike Joy: Clean, green New Zealand? Yeah, nah! | NZ Herald
Congratulations, New Zealand, we’re number one. No country in the developed world is trashing its rivers as fast or as thoroughly as we are. When we first assessed the threat status of our native freshwater fish in the early 1990s (before that we just assumed they were fine because we’re a clean, green nation, right?), it turned out 22 per cent were either threatened or at risk. That’s one species in five. An appalling figure, but old news. In 2018 the figure is 74 per cent. We’ve gone from one species out of every five being in trouble to a situation where three species out of four are staring extinction in the face, and we’ve done it in a generation.

Adani coalmine: most Queenslanders want water licence revoked, poll finds | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Queenslanders overwhelmingly want the state government to cancel the Adani mining company’s 60-year unlimited water extraction licence amid growing concern about the severity of the drought. Polling conducted by ReachTel for the environmental group Lock the Gate shows concern about water extraction by Adani, and the impact on agriculture, is strong among conservative voters. Almost 70% of all voters agreed the licence, to extract groundwater for the Carmichael coalmine, should be revoked to safeguard water for farmers.

Killing season: Crisis time for Africa’s famed wildlife | SMH (Warning: Graphic content)
It’s early 2009, and the battle-hardened Mander – a former Australian soldier who is 190 centimetres of solid brawn – is travelling through South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe as a volunteer with anti-poaching units and national park rangers in those countries. But he has swiftly recognised that the good guys are being out-gunned by the bad guys. The poachers are no longer subsistence farmers picking off stray beasts who raid their crops; these are gangs armed with AK-47 assault rifles, semi-automatics, machetes, steel traps, night-vision goggles and helicopters, doing the bidding of their Asian overlords cashing in on a voracious black-market demand for ivory, rhino horn and lion bone. These poachers will stop at nothing.

Damien Mander trains wildlife rangers in military tactics in Zimbabwe. Photo: International Anti-Poaching Foundation

Damien Mander trains wildlife rangers in military tactics in Zimbabwe. Photo: International Anti-Poaching Foundation

Waste and the Circular Economy

Great Pacific Garbage Patch: Experts unsure if Ocean Cleanup is going to rid the seas of plastic | ABC News
How do you clear 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing 80,000 tonnes, from the surface of the Pacific Ocean? That’s the challenge Dutch not-for-profit The Ocean Cleanup is facing as it attempts to clean a vast area between the coasts of California and Hawaii, using a unique 600-metre-long floating boom and a three-metre impenetrable skirt that hangs in the water beneath it to collect the plastic. But despite the optimism from the group, many in the science community are not sold on the idea. Environmental scientist and founder of the 5 Gyres Institute, Dr Marcus Eriksen, said The Ocean Cleanup did not understand the problem or how to tackle it effectively. “I think people still perceive that there are islands of trash out there and it’s just the opposite … it’s mostly small particles,” he told Pacific Beat.

NZ’s role in the Malaysian plastics dumping ground | RNZ
Thousands of tonnes of plastic that New Zealand used to send to China for recycling is now going to Malaysia, where illegal factories are burning and dumping the waste they can’t process. Nita Blake-Persen travelled to Malaysia for Insight to investigate how the lives of local people and the environment are being affected.

Koo Ze Quan (left) and Tan Siew Hoon stand on a mountain of plastic waste at an illegal factory in Jenjarom, Malaysia. Photo: RNZ / Nita Blake-Persen

Koo Ze Quan (left) and Tan Siew Hoon stand on a mountain of plastic waste at an illegal factory in Jenjarom, Malaysia. Photo: RNZ / Nita Blake-Persen

Litter by Little: Aim for at least one less piece of plastic daily, Sustainable Coastlines say | (Including ten ways to use less plastic)
One in three turtles recovered in New Zealand has died or is sick from eating plastic, so how can we change it? Those who are cleaning our beaches and pulling trash out of waterways say everyone needs to reduce their waste – and clean up after themselves. Sustainable Coastlines co-founder and lead Camden Howitt said if everyone picked up a piece of rubbish each day, it would make a difference. But on top of that, people also needed to be using or buying at least one less piece of plastic daily, he said.

How to use Queensland’s new container recycling scheme | SMH
AUSTRALIA – There are doubts within the waste industry that Queensland’s new recycling scheme can be ready for launch at the start of next month. From November 1, Queenslanders can claim a 10-cent refund for most plastic drink containers, beer bottles and aluminium cans at one of 232 collection points from Coen to Coolangatta.

All the plastic you can and cannot recycle | BBC News
UK – Most people are trying their best to recycle plastic – but the many different ways in which recycling is collected by different councils across the UK has left them confused. What can be recycled and what can’t? We are putting more plastic in the recycling than ever before – but pictures of sea life tangled in all manner of waste plastic mean the pressure is on to do more. The government is now considering changing the way plastic is recycled in England. In the rest of the UK the strategy for recycling is a devolved issue.

UK Parliament to eliminate their single-use plastic by 2019 with compostable items | Climate Action Programme
UK – In a bid to encourage the public to reduce their plastic pollution, Parliament will eliminate all single-use plastic from their catering services by 2019. The House of Lords and House of Commons will ensure that plastic waste is reduced by trialling a 25p charge on hot drinks in disposable cups. They have already sold over 1,000 reusable cups. But by 2019 they aim to be single-use plastic free. They are introducing compostable cutlery, cups and straws to ensure they meet this target.

Politics and Society

Why business should do more for employees looking after elderly relatives | The Conversation
The word’s population of elderly people – aged 70 or over – is expected to increase sharply in the coming decades. Many of these people will need some kind of care – and much of that care will come from family members who already have time-consuming jobs. Studies show that caregiving is widely considered to be a mentally and physically taxing activity. It takes time, energy and focus. It can also have a negative effect on a person’s approach to their paid work, with a detrimental impact on performance and commitment. So how can we – and the places where we work – transform this perception of caregiving into a positive, psychologically fulfilling and motivating experience?

Social Network Analysis Is Helping Us Regreen Rwanda. It Can Inform Your Environmental Work, Too. | World Resources Institute
At World Resources Institute, we are using social network analysis to find the organizations and individuals that can best enable landscape restoration, which restores vital ecological functions through activities like introducing trees and shrubs to degraded land. Our newest guidebook, Mapping Social Landscapes, demonstrates how social network analysis improved our work in Brazil, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, and Rwanda.

What you need to know about the World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit | World Economic Forum
The second annual Sustainable Development Impact Summit takes place in New York on 24-25 September to drive solutions for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Paris Agreement on climate change. More than 750 participants are attending the SDI Summit and include entrepreneurs and leaders from business, civil society, non-profit and international organizations, government, policy, science and technology. SDI’s thematic pillars are: building sustainable markets; mobilizing development finance; environmental sustainability; and harnessing science and technology for the global commons.

Influence in Australian politics needs an urgent overhaul – here’s how to do it | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Public policy should be made for all Australians – not just those with the resources or connections to lobby and influence politicians. And mostly it is. But sometimes bad policy is made or good policy is dropped because powerful groups have more say and sway than they should. Australia’s political institutions are generally robust, but many of the “risk factors” for policy capture by special interests are present in our system.

Energy policy captive to lobbyists and ‘mad ideologues’, Tim Flannery says | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Five years since the Abbott government scrapped the Climate Commission, the environmentalist Tim Flannery says our energy policy remains hostage to lobbyists, political self-interest and “mad ideologues”. But the organisation Flannery helped start from the ashes of Abbott’s climate bonfire, the Climate Council, says that attitudes have shifted substantially since 2013 – at least those outside federal parliament. “We’re being held hostage at a federal level,” Flannery told Guardian Australia. “It has been a disgrace. Our failures are the failures of a small group of politicians who are supposed to be acting in the national interest. Instead, they’re using energy policy as a cudgel, they’re listening to paid lobbyists and doing their bidding.”


Solar panels replaced tarmac on a motorway — here are the results | The Conversation
Four years ago a viral campaign wooed the world with a promise of fighting climate change and jump-starting the economy by replacing tarmac on the world’s roads with solar panels. The bold idea has undergone some road testing since then. The first results from preliminary studies have recently come out, and they’re a bit underwhelming.

Built Environment

Gardening Australia’s Costa Georgiadis offers advice on how to drought-proof your garden | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – While the drought continues to hurt farmers across large swathes of eastern Australia, the big dry is also taking its toll on our gardens. With all of New South Wales and almost 60 per cent of Queensland drought-declared, and parts of Victoria experiencing a one-in-20-year rainfall deficiency, the lack of water is widespread. And while gardens may not be atop the priority list for some, there’s a strong argument that cultivating a green space can help to nurture mental health. When seeking to drought-proof your garden, Gardening Australia host Costa Georgiadis said we must look at the big picture.

Opera House goes carbon neutral five years ahead of schedule | SMH
The Sydney Opera House was notoriously behind schedule on most things during the 14 years it took to build but on Monday it will be five years ahead of schedule when it meets its target to reduce emissions and become carbon neutral. This move puts it up there with New York’s Empire State building and Paris’s Eiffel Tower as global architectural icons which are actively working to become world symbols of energy efficiency, its Environmental Sustainability Manager Emma Bombonato said.

The Opera House goes green, Monday night at 6pm. Photo: Fiora Sacco

The Opera House goes green, Monday night at 6pm. Photo: Fiora Sacco