Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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It’s been 30 years since NASA scientist James Hanson warned of global warming and more than 25 years since I learned about it at university. Action to reduce emissions has been slow and now climate change is accelerating with all sorts of feedback loops. It’s a challenging time and we all need to learn about the facts, so we can take appropriate action. And there are other serious global problems to think about too. Two themes in today’s news include preventing biodiversity loss by eradicating predators (thought impossible when I was at university) and stopping plastic waste (not thought about at all when I was at university). Here’s a thought, Plastic Free July is coming up, why not have a go? Look for the article with some basic tips on how to reduce plastic in your life.

Top Story

It’s been 30 years since the first alarm on global warming was sounded | SMH
After leading NASA climate scientist James Hansen told the US Congress 30 years ago this week global warming was already worsening heatwaves, many of his colleagues figured politicians would heed the warning. With “99 per cent confidence”, the 0.4 degree spike in temperatures over the preceding three decades could be ascribed to increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions, he said, adding the trend would have “implications other than for creature comforts”.… What was not so accurate was the expectation that politicians would listen to scientists, and act.

Climate Change and Energy

New NT gasfields would put Paris commitment in doubt | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – A gas boom in the Northern Territory would contribute as much as 6.6% to Australia’s annual emissions, according to data in a report from an inquiry examining the risks associated with fracking. The final report by the inquiry’s committee assessed the emissions from exploration, producing gas from the planned new gasfields and from burning that proportion of the gas destined for the domestic market.

For once, scientists found good news about West Antarctica |
At least since 2014, the news has been dire: The West Antarctic ice sheet is losing ice, and its retreat may be unstoppable. It may be only a matter of time (granted, maybe a very long time) before it adds as much as 3 metres to global sea-level rise. Already, ice loss in the region is accelerating, nearly tripling in the past 10 years alone. But on Thursday, scientists reported they may have discovered a possible mitigating factor, one that could slow or even prevent the ice sheet’s full collapse into the ocean.

Environment and Biodiversity

Coral reefs ‘will be overwhelmed by rising oceans’ | The Guardian
Scientists have uncovered a new threat to the world’s endangered coral reefs. They have found that most are incapable of growing quickly enough to compensate for rising sea levels triggered by global warming. The study suggests that reefs – which are already suffering serious degradation because the world’s seas are warming and becoming more acidic – could also become overwhelmed by rising oceans.

Last Glimpses of a Cambodian Paradise? Documenting an area on the eve of its likely destruction | Mongabay (Commentary)
First came the damning reports from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA): one last year titled “Repeat Offenders,” which described the massive logging operations taking place in Cambodia’s Virachey National Park, O Yadav National Park, and Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary. And then another earlier this year, published as a follow-up piece focusing almost squarely on Virachey National Park and titled “Serial Offenders,” which detailed the almost unfathomable scale of illegal logging operations in the Park to feed Vietnam’s rapacious desire for timber for its multi-billion dollar furniture industry — products that, when carved and polished in their final forms, end up in furniture stores in the United States, China, and the EU.

Gene drives: Feral science or feral solution? | ABC News
A new genetic technology bankrolled by the United States military has the potential to wipe out feral mice and malaria — but scientists are treading carefully, warning it could have unintended consequences.

Gut-wrenching study shows cats’ threat to native reptiles | SMH
AUSTRALIA – Semi-digested bodies are strewn across the table. Amid the blood and bile lie a knife and the killer – a feral cat. The blade has been used to spill the contents of the cat’s stomach. The dozens of small mammals, lizards and snakes have all been eaten within the past 24 hours. That is roughly how long it takes a cat to digest its food, which it mainly eats whole. Both factors make doing the sums on feral cat predation fairly straightforward – provided you know how many cats are out there, and you can access enough of their stomachs.

$2 million funding announcement first step towards making sub-Antarctic island Auckland Island predator-free | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – Funding has been pledged to investigate making Auckland Island the country’s largest predator-free island – an effort that could eventually cost up to $50 million… “This is an ambitious project on the 46,000ha Auckland Island and a major step towards the goal of New Zealand being predator free by 2050,” Sage said in a speech to Forest and Bird’s annual conference, held today. The initial funding will help conservationists get an idea of the scale and complexity of eradicating pigs, cats and mice from the island.

Teamwork gets 10,000th native tree planted at Palmerston North reserve |
NEW ZEALAND – A mission to create corridors of native plants from the Tararua Range to the Manawatū River has chalked up a milestone, but volunteers still have a lot of work to do. Nearly 100 people were at the Lower Titoki Reserve on Sunday to take part in a Green Corridors tree planting day.

Economy and Business

Why is the world’s newest development bank investing in coal despite its green promise? | Climate home News
As the world’s newest multilateral development bank, the AIIB has made big efforts to brand itself as a “green” bank, with President Jin Liqun saying its “sacred mission” is to invest “without leaving an environmental footprint”. He told last year’s annual meeting that the AIIB “will not consider any proposals if we are concerned about their environmental and reputational impact”, and proudly proclaimed “there are no coal projects in our pipeline”. But a year later, the AIIB has already invested in coal.

Zero carbon will have ‘confronting economic costs’ | newsroom
NEW ZEALAND – The Government’s proposed Zero Carbon Bill lays out three options for transitioning New Zealand to a low-emissions economy. But while the bill itself is a good idea, people haven’t absorbed the “confronting” economic costs they’ll face, lawyer Simon Watt tells Eloise Gibson.

City-as-a-service: 1 out of 3 Dutch consumers believes ‘city-as-a-service’ to become a reality | ABN AMRO
NETHERLANDS – The City-as-a-service report was made in the run up to the city festival WeMakeTheCity in Amsterdam. In this report ABN AMRO looks at on one of the five circular business models: product-as-a-service. At the heart of this is the question: What are the consequences if the residents of a city shift from ownership to access.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Why does India’s air look different from space? | BBC News
There is something very distinct about the air over India and the surrounding countries in South Asia. It is the presence of formaldehyde – a colourless gas that is naturally released by vegetation but also from a number of polluting activities. The elevated concentrations have been observed by Europe’s new Sentinel-5P satellite, which was launched last October to track air quality worldwide. It is information that will inform policies to clean up the atmosphere.

Formaldehyde concentrations across the globe, Nov-2017 to June-2018: The information will help develop policies to improve air quality

Formaldehyde concentrations across the globe, Nov-2017 to June-2018: The information will help develop policies to improve air quality

Consumer products giant Unilever calls on Australia to step up its battle against plastic pollution | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Multinational Unilever, one of the world’s biggest consumer products companies says it is being held back in the push to deliver more sustainable packaging. While the Government has pledged to make all plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, Unilever is calling for “stronger co-ordination around how targets are delivered”.

Recycled packaging to replace ‘virgin plastic’ in Countdown stores |
NEW ZEALAND – Countdown will start using recycled plastic in its bakeries and delis, eliminating more than 177 tonnes of “virgin plastic” from New Zealand. From August, the supermarket will use recycled PET (rPET) packaging, made by Lower Hutt firm Flight Plastics, for dozens of its baked goods, cold meats, and salads.

Marine plastic: Hundreds of fragments in dead seabirds | BBC News
New footage of the devastating impact of plastic pollution on wildlife has been captured by a BBC team. Seabirds are starving to death on the remote Lord Howe Island, a crew filming for the BBC One documentary Drowning in Plastic has revealed. Their stomachs were so full of plastic there was no room for food. The documentary is part of a BBC initiative called Plastics Watch, tracking the impact of plastic on the environment.

Researchers use seawater to flush out a bird's stomach

Researchers use seawater to flush out a bird’s stomach

You don’t use so much plastic, do you? How to ditch plastics for July – and beyond | The Guardian
My first Plastic Free July was in 2013. At the time most of my friends were signing up for Dry July, the month where participants go alcohol free and raise funds for cancer support organisations across Australia. Plastic Free July is now in its sixth year, and millions will be signing up again to try to live without single-use plastics for a month. There are many additional benefits, including saving money and cutting down on overall waste, but there are some challenges too. So here are some alternatives for the most commonly over-used single-use plastic items, most of which are likely to be found at home.

This problem is urgent, dangerous and widespread – why we need to act on PFAS chemicals | The Fifth Estate
One of Australia’s leading experts on the chemicals used in firefighting foam and Scotchguard, suspected of causing cancer, says the action of Australia’s government on the issue “incomprehensible”. With three class actions in progress on the health impacts of airport and Defence sites contaminated with the now-banned chemicals previously used in firefighting foams but also present in fabric protectors such as Scotchguard, the issue of dangerous contaminants is in the spotlight.

Related: Toxic chemical PFAS found in livestock no cause for alarm, Victoria’s chief vet says | ABC News

Politics and Society

MPs to examine environmental footprint of UK fashion industry | The Guardian
UK – MPs are to investigate the environmental impact of throwaway “fast fashion” in the UK amid growing concerns that the multi-billion pound industry is wasting valuable resources and contributing to climate change. The inquiry, launched on Friday by the House of Commons environmental audit committee, will explore the carbon impact, resource use and water footprint of clothing throughout its lifecycle and supply chain.

Abdon Nababan: ‘North Sumatran land mafia offered me $21m to win election — and then hand over control of government’ | Mongabay
When Abdon Nababan, one of Indonesia’s foremost indigenous rights activists, sought election for governor in his home province, he was provided an unprecedented insight into the corrupt inner workings of the nation’s electoral system. In an exclusive interview with Mongabay and The Gecko Project, he explained how the odds are stacked against candidates who seek to turn their back on corruption and “money politics.”

Coalition climate deniers play havoc again with energy | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – You’d think they’d be grateful: Malcolm Turnbull and Josh Frydenberg have gone to all the effort of designing a climate and energy policy that does nothing, and Tony Abbott and allies are still complaining that it does too much… Abbott this week was in the party room, and on the air at 2GB, threatening to “cross the floor” because the proposed National Energy Guarantee would not result in the construction of a new coal-fired generator.

‘Inherent flaw’: ACT threatens to block energy plan | SMH
AUSTRALIA – The Turnbull government’s signature energy plan fails to anticipate sudden exits of ailing coal-fired power plants and could lock in targets for a decade – two key design flaws that incline the ACT government to block it, Shane Rattenbury, the territory’s energy minister said. “It’s very difficult for us to sign up [to the National Energy Guarantee] in the current form,” Mr Rattenbury told Fairfax Media. His support will be crucial for the NEG to succeed because it requires all states and territories to sign up.

Feeding frenzy: public accuse the media of deliberately fuelling shark fear | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Are you scared of sharks? If you never read or watched the news, would you still be? Last year’s Senate inquiry on shark mitigation and deterrent measures heard evidence that media coverage has contributed to “disproportionately high fear of sharks among the public compared to the actual degree of risk involved”. That report highlighted the misrepresentation of sharks by sensationalised media coverage, even in cases where shark encounters did not result in injury.

Built Environment

Australian cities are lagging behind in greening up their buildings | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Covering roofs and walls of buildings with vegetation is a good way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And these green roofs and walls make cities look nicer. Toronto’s central business district adopted a policy of establishing green roofs on around half of all city buildings in 2009. Research shows this could reduce maximum city temperatures by up to 5℃. We spent the past 12 months analysing the case for more greenery on Australian city buildings, drawing on international comparisons. We’ve shown that a mandatory policy, coupled with incentives to encourage new and retrofitted green roofs and walls, will provide environmental, social and business benefits.

Green wall adds vegetation to an aged care home in Sydney.

Green wall adds vegetation to an aged care home in Sydney.

Food Systems

Government suspends licence of biggest live sheep exporter | The Conversation
The live sheep trade has been dealt a massive blow, with the government suspending the export licence of Emanuel Exports, the biggest exporter and the company responsible for the 2017 Awassi Express shipment that triggered the furore around the industry. The Agriculture Department announced late Friday that the licence would remain suspended “pending a full review of the company’s response to a show-cause notice” as to why its licence should not be cancelled. It did not name Emanuel in its statement.