Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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I nearly always find Monday morning news a bit depressing with the world still on the same trajectory towards planetary disaster. Today we hear about how emissions are increasing after a three year lull and not only that, but a study confirms our overuse of natural resources is threatening our very existence.  But then I realise there are pockets of hope with people around the world pushing tirelessly for change.  Like stories on the impressive rally in Sydney against fracking and coal mining or the beautiful essay on why birds matter.  Be sure to check out tips on how you help and live a life less plastic.

Top Story

Destruction of nature as dangerous as climate change, scientists warn | The Guardian
Human destruction of nature is rapidly eroding the world’s capacity to provide food, water and security to billions of people, according to the most comprehensive biodiversity study in more than a decade. Such is the rate of decline that the risks posed by biodiversity loss should be considered on the same scale as those of climate change, noted the authors of the UN-backed report, which was released in Medellin, Colombia on Friday. Among the standout findings are that exploitable fisheries in the world’s most populous region – the Asia-Pacific – are on course to decline to zero by 2048; that freshwater availability in the Americas has halved since the 1950s and that 42% of land species in Europe have declined in the past decade.

Climate Change and Energy

Good news about renewables: but the heat is still on to cut fossil fuel use | The Guardian
Data from the International Energy Agency shows we still have much to do when it comes to stopping global warming. Three years ago experts cautioned that 2015’s near standstill in emissions might be only a temporary pause before resuming the upward march as India and China developed. Those warnings were prophetic. Global energy demand last year grew by 2.1%, more than double the rate in 2016, driven largely by Asia. The problem for the climate is that more than 70% of the growth came from fossil fuels. Gas was the fastest-growing fossil fuel. But even coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel, reversed two years of declines and was up by 1%, as coal burning in China, India and South Korea grew.

Environment and Biodiversity

Exclusive: sawmillers call for access to Victorian parks and water catchments | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Victoria’s national parks and water catchments should be opened up for sustainable logging, according to a group of six Victorian sawmillers.  The sawmillers – who call themselves the G6 – say the Victorian timber industry is in crisis. They want access to either more timber or exit packages. “At the moment, everyone is in denial but we’re in wind-down mode. We’re about to fall over a ‘resource cliff’ in two years time,” says Brian Donchi, resource manager for Fenning Timbers in Bairnsdale and member of G6. “There won’t be enough wood for all the mills.”

Conservationists and foresters at loggerheads over Poland’s ancient forest | Thomson Reuters Foundation
POLAND – It’s a grey, overcast day in late February, and the town of Białowieża, a small settlement in northeastern Poland, looks undisturbed – almost uninhabited.But until a few weeks ago, it wasn’t unusual to see protests here featuring banner-wielding demonstrators and government officials arriving in black sedans, escorted by the police.At issue is a series of large-scale logging operations in the nearby forest, which shares a name with the town. Białowieża, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the largest remaining part of the primeval forest that once stretched across much of Europe.

Losing Nemo? Wider effects of mass Great Barrier Reef bleaching emerge | SMH
AUSTRALIA – While as much as half the corals of the Great Barrier Reef died during the marine heatwaves of 2016 and 2017, researchers are only now beginning to assess the toll on the many species that rely on corals for food and shelter. “A lot of the attention is on the corals,” Marian Wong, a marine biologist from the University of Wollongong, said. “The public’s perception is that the fish are mobile enough to just swim away.” In fact, clownfish – made famous by the Finding Nemo film  – and other species such as coral goby fish “are just terrible swimmers, designed to sit in their little spot their whole lives”, she said.

Abundance of coral goby fish has dropped away markedly around Lizard Island. Photo: Catheline Froehlich

Abundance of coral goby fish has dropped away markedly around Lizard Island. Photo: Catheline Froehlich

Urban development threat to critically endangered bat |
NEW ZEALAND – [Hamilton] city’s critically endangered bat population could disappear altogether if a new development goes ahead unplanned. The Department of Conservation recently elevated the threat status of the North Island long tailed bat from vulnerable to critically endangered.

And they’re off: Scientist’s quirky hihi sperm race | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – A Kiwi scientist has just launched what might be one of the weirdest campaigns New Zealand has ever seen: The Great Hihi Sperm Race. And while that does indeed involve a race between sperm of the threatened native songbird, organiser Dr Helen Taylor says it’s all for a rather serious cause.

Economy and Business

First of London’s new drinking fountain locations revealed | The Guardian
UK – The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has revealed the locations of the first four drinking fountains to be installed in the capital under a new pilot scheme in an effort to combat single-use plastic. The first fountain was installed last week in Carnaby Street in the West End, while in the coming weeks two will be set up in Liverpool Street station and another in Flat Iron Square in Southwark. “We want to make sure that it becomes the norm that people can not use single-use plastic bottles,” said Shirley Rodrigues, deputy mayor for environment and energy.

Not getting a social licence to operate can be a costly mistake, as coal seam gas firms have found | The Conversation
In a wide-ranging recent speech, Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques said there was: “…an opportunity for all of us to turn our social licence into a stronger social bond or contract. I believe this is a “make or break” for companies and it’s especially important for those of us in the extractive sectors.” He’s right. His comments serve as a useful reminder of the importance of obtaining a social licence to operate – meaning ongoing local community acceptance of a company’s business. My research on coal seam gas firms and social licence reveals what’s at stake if they get it wrong, and how they might get it right in the future.

Battery storage booming, but even Tesla struggling to cash in | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – Grid-scale battery storage is taking off in Australia, but it is still a struggle for investors to get value from their services. The contracts for the new Victoria big batteries explain why… The big test for investors and developers for battery storage is how to get their money back. Despite the speed and flexibility and versatility of the technology, there is actually no market for many of its service.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Going plastics-free is as easy as calico bags and reusable coffee cups | The Guardian
Over the past half a century, plastic has infiltrated modern life to such an extent that our oceans may have more of the stuff than fish by 2050. Once hailed as an innovation, it’s now clear that plastic is very bad news. Non-renewable fossil fuels are needed for production, belching out greenhouse gases in the process. Once tossed – often after mere minutes of use – plastic then takes hundreds of years to break down, emitting toxic methane gas as it gradually breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. The end point is too often our waterways and an estimated one million seabirds and 100,000 mammals are killed every year by marine rubbish, much of it plastics. Recycling helps, but a far more powerful solution is reducing and even eliminating single-use plastics altogether. That’s actually easier than one might think – read on for a life with less plastic.

The optician who charges nothing for Gucci and Versace frames |
NEW ZEALAND – A Taranaki optician is offering top of the line glasses for free. But there’s one catch: they’re people’s cast-offs.  Andrew Judd, of Judd’s Opticians in New Plymouth, has created The Green Wall – a display of recycled glasses frames featuring brands such as Gucci and Versace.

Pop-up wants people to bring in their food scraps for clothing |
NEW ZEALAND – Save your spud skins from the bin – they could help keep you warm this winter. A social enterprise aimed at sustainability has opened a pop-up shop where people can trade food scraps for clothing. For every kilogram of organic food waste brought into the Clothing for Compost shop in Upper Hutt, customers will be given the equivalent of $1 credit, which can be used to offset the cost of donated second-hand clothing and household items at the store.

Politics and Society

‘We want to repower NSW’: thousands rally against coal in Sydney | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Exactly a year out from the state election, thousands of people from across New South Wales – including some on horseback – have marched through Sydney, calling for an end to coal seam gas and coal mining and a renewed focus on renewables. The “Time to Choose” rally, which began at Martin Place, marched to Prince Alfred Park in the city’s south stretching almost 2km along a partially closed Elizabeth Street.

Janine Barratt leading the rally, which began at Martin Place in Sydney, stretched almost 2km. Photograph: Helen Davidson for the Guardian

Janine Barratt leading the rally, which began at Martin Place in Sydney, stretched almost 2km. Photograph: Helen Davidson for the Guardian

The radical otherness of birds: Jonathan Franzen on why they matter | The Guardian
For most of my life, I didn’t pay attention to birds. Only in my 40s did I become a person whose heart lifts whenever he hears a grosbeak singing or a towhee calling, and who hurries out to see a golden plover that’s been reported in the neighbourhood, just because it’s a beautiful bird, with truly golden plumage, and has flown all the way from Alaska. When someone asks me why birds are so important to me, all I can do is sigh and shake my head, as if I’ve been asked to explain why I love my brothers. And yet the question is a fair one: why do birds matter?

US 2018 Budget and Climate Finance: It’s Bad, but Not As Bad As You Might Think | World Resources Institute
USA – Last year, we looked at the extreme cuts to international climate finance the Trump administration put forward in their fiscal year 2018 budget proposal. Based on Trump’s announcements, one might assume that U.S. climate finance has fallen to zero. Luckily, this is not the case. It is Congress that sets funding priorities in annual appropriations bills. Six months overdue, Congress has finally agreed an omnibus spending package to fund the entire government for FY18 (covering October 2017-September 2018). For climate finance the budget is a mixed bag: some international climate funding has been preserved, some cut, and much left to the discretion of government agencies.

Congress again rejects steep cuts to US foreign assistance in new budget | Devex
USA – Congress released a budget on Wednesday night that largely maintained U.S. foreign aid funding at fiscal year 2017 levels, and once again rejected the steep cuts proposed by the Trump administration.

Built Environment

The Dark Side of Light: How light pollution is damaging our world | ABC News
Earth’s nights are getting brighter, and that has scientists concerned. It is an environmental nuisance that kills our wildlife, costs taxpayers and makes it increasingly difficult to see and study the stars. Little wonder then, that rising levels of light pollution have now sparked an international movement of scientists and environmental activists to campaign to make the world a darker place.  One of them has built a smartphone app so we can all help map light pollution in our own backyards and feed that information to researchers across the globe.

Sydney’s big corporate achievers making more money by turning green | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Sydney’s skyline is greening and the city’s big end of town has emerged as a global leader in emissions reductions. The biggest portfolio of commercial buildings, representing half of the city’s office spaces, has reduced emissions by 52 per cent in just seven years. “It’s just fantastic and they are saving $33 million annually,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore told the ABC.

Food Systems

Pesticides killing prawn larvae in early warning for $80m industry | SMH
Pesticides from farms and cane fields washing into Queensland’s six main river systems could severely damage the state’s $80 million prawn industry, according to CSIRO research. Pesticide run-off from farms was affecting crustaceans’ nervous systems and, in Bribie Island laboratory tests from 2017, tiger prawn larvae exposed to the level of pesticides found in the waterways would die.


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