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 finds a correlation between societal equality and how much the top 1% of the population earns. In other news, inequality affects the ability of people to adapt to climate change; a Senate enquiry hears from the Law Council that more needs to be done to legislate protection for Australia’s native species; New Zealand looks about to implement incentives for electric vehicles; and the Hunter Valley considers a systems thinking approach to development. Oooh, we have a quiz too: How much do you know about evolution?

Top Story

Three reasons some countries are far more unequal than others | The Conversation
Why do the richest 1% of Americans take 20% of national income, but the richest 1% of Danes only 6%? Why have affluent British people seen their share of national income double since 1980, while over the same period, the income share of wealthy Dutch hasn’t budged? To explain why some advanced capitalist countries are more unequal than others, we need to look beyond the market and explore the role of politics and power in shaping distributive outcomes.

Inequality is linked to how much the top 1% of the population earn as a proportion of national income

Climate Change

Marshall Islands commit to going carbon-neutral by 2050 | Climate Home News
MARSHALL ISLANDS – The low-lying Marshall Islands released a comprehensive climate strategy to go carbon-neutral by 2050 on Monday, becoming the first island nation to do so. Located close to the equator in the Pacific, the Marshall Islands consist of 1,156 islands and islets strewn across two million square kilometres in the ocean. They are one of the world’s most exposed nations to sea level rise, with an average elevation of just six feet above sea level.

Watery limbo for flood-prone bay | Newsroom
NEW ZEALAND – The birthday party guests couldn’t see the rising harbour from inside the bowling club at Little Shoal Bay, so it came as a surprise when a passer-by, Kyle Aitken, popped in and told them their cars were flooding. Men stripped to their underwear to move their vehicles, but a few cars’ electronics had already been ruined by seawater. The flood was one of a few recent, watery incidents at Northcote Bowling Club, which is nestled in a low-lying crook of the Waitemata Harbour on Auckland’s North Shore.

What does the Chinese public think about climate change? | Climate Home News
CHINA – China has had an eventful summer marked by record-setting heatwaves, deadly flash floods, and typhoons. The impacts of climate change have been felt in cities and the countryside alike, and seem to have triggered greater public interest in discussing climate change. But will this outburst of curiosity be short-lived? In other words, do Chinese people really care about climate change?

Survey: What do Chinese people think about climate change

What do Chinese people think about climate change?

Environment and Biodiversity

Australia’s native species’ future remains vulnerable, law council says | The Guardian
The Law Council of Australia is concerned Australia’s system of environment laws was failing to meet international obligations to protect its biodiversity. In a submission to the Senate inquiry into the high rate of fauna extinctions, the council’s environment and planning law committee has called for reforms to reverse the decline in native species.

Quiz: Test your knowledge of evolution | BBC News
Even spelling the word, evolution, can be tricky when you’re seven, but Sophia tells me confidently that evolution “basically means engineering”. And Jack says that sharks are lighter underneath so that “when the sun is on the sea, you can’t really see the sharks”. He’s talking about the fact that sharks have evolved a form of camouflage that helps them sneak up on their prey… Their comments reveal a budding interest and knowledge of evolution – at even a tender age. How much do you know about evolution? Test your knowledge here.

Antarctica’s ‘moss forests’ are drying and dying | The Conversation
Visitors to Antarctica expect to see a stark landscape of white and blue: ice, water, and sky. But in some places summer brings a surprisingly verdant green, as lush mosses emerge from under their winter snow blanket. Because it contains the best moss beds on continental Antarctica, Casey Station is dubbed the Daintree of the Antarctic. Individual plants have been growing here for at least 100 years; fertilised by ancient penguin poo.

Lush moss beds in East Antarctica’s Windmill Islands. Sharon Robinson, Author provided

Lush moss beds in East Antarctica’s Windmill Islands. Sharon Robinson, Author provided

Specieswatch: basking sharks still a mystery despite being largest fish in British waters | The Guardian
Surprisingly little is known about the largest fish in British waters, the basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus; for example, where does it go in winter? Even its name is misleading. When this 10-metre (33ft) giant is on the surface, it is not sunbathing but swimming gently along with its metre-wide mouth open, filtering tons of water to harvest the plankton.

Basking sharks in Mull, Scotland. Efforts are being made to track them and help their populations recover. Photograph: Sá/Getty Images/Nature Picture Library

Basking sharks in Mull, Scotland. Efforts are being made to track them and help their populations recover. Photograph: Sá/Getty Images/Nature Picture Library

How did the fish cross the road? Our invention helps them get to the other side of a culvert | The Conversation (Research)
Fish need to move to find food, escape predators and reach suitable habitat for reproduction. Too often, however, human activities get in the way. Dams, weirs and culverts (the tunnels and drains often found under roads) can create barriers that fragment habitats, isolating fish populations. An Australian innovation, however, promises to help dwindling fish populations in Australia and worldwide. Our solution, recently described in Ecological Engineering, tackles one of the greatest impediments to fish migration in Australia: culverts.

Moreton Bay development risk assessment sparks major environmental concerns | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – A $1.3 billion development at the gateway to Stradbroke Island off Brisbane has sparked major environmental concerns after internal department briefings reveal dredging will threaten dozens of species, including loggerhead turtles and dolphins.

Economy and Business

Greenwashing: corporate tree planting generates goodwill but may sometimes harm the planet | The Conversation
While some may argue that tree planting is a win-win for the environment whoever does it, offsetting is just another way of corporate greenwashing. Environmental damage in one place cannot somehow be fixed by repairing habitats elsewhere, sometimes on the other side of the world. Here are some of the ways in which indiscriminate tree planting can cause more harm than good.

Politics and Society

Climate gentrification: the rich can afford to move – what about the poor? | The Guardian
USA – Only half-jokingly, some residents of a progressive city 300 miles north of the Mexican border have adopted the “build the wall” slogan in the face of a wave of newcomers. But these perceived interlopers are starkly different from Donald Trump’s imagination. They are American, mainly white and are fleeing the unlivable heat.

The lasting impact of Sir Peter Blake’s last log entry | Newsroom
NEW ZEALAND – In his final log entry onboard Seamaster, anchored in the mouth of the Amazon, Sir Peter Blake wrote what would become very prophetic words. “We want to restart people caring for the environment… through adventure, through participation, through education and through enjoyment,” he wrote… Now the Trust is embarking on a renewed strategy – to focus on environmental leadership, especially with the country’s youth.

Students’ dream of marine guardians in Marlborough gets council backing |
NEW ZEALAND – The Marlborough District Council has backed the “marine team” at one of Blenheim’s colleges in their bid to set up marine guardians in Marlborough to better protect the region’s “jewel in the crown”. Marlborough Mayor John Leggett has written to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asking for a “collaborative approach” to marine protection in the Marlborough Sounds. The letter comes after a group of Marlborough Girls’ College students wrote to the prime minister in June asking for special legislation to set up a Marine Guardian body, similar to the marian guardians set up in Kaikōura.

Kiwi farm worker jailed for poisoning 406 wedge-tailed eagles in Australia | NZ Herald
AUSTRALIA – A New Zealand man working in a farm in Australia has been jailed for 14 days and fined AU$2,500 for poisoning 406 wedge-tailed eagles. Murray James Silvester, 59, pleaded guilty to killing the protected birds in east Gippsland, Victoria, between October 2016 and April 2018. The Kiwi’s sentence is the first time in history that someone in the state of Victoria is jailed for wildlife destruction.


PPAs drive where policy fails to steer – how corporates are driving renewables in Oz | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – Australia’s transition to low-carbon energy is being driven by technology and finance, according to Tim Buckley, director of energy finance studies, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. And while it is not an optimal, easy or cheap solution, it is an “acceptable one” in terms of the current federal policy void, he says. Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) by corporates is one of the factors stimulating growth in large-scale renewable investment and it’s rapidly gaining traction in sectors including the listed property funds, universities and corporates. Big players signing up in recent months include Telstra, Carlton United Breweries, University of Queensland, UNSW, Monash and BlueScope.

Vicinity adds blockchain trial to $75 million solar and storage plans | One Step Off The Grid
AUSTRALIA – ASX-listed retail asset manager Vicinity Centres has turned its $75 million solar and storage plans up a notch with the announcement of a trial of energy sharing blockchain technology, in partnership with local Australian start-up, Power Ledger.

Big Oil pledges to slash potent greenhouse gas emission | Reuters
A group of the world’s top oil and gas companies pledged on Monday to slash emissions of a potent greenhouse gas by a fifth by 2025 in an effort to battle climate change.

Built Environment

Peter Head on systems-thinking for planning resilience in the Hunter | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – The Hunter Region in NSW is exploring a major transformation of how it might handle future development, using a comprehensive strategic planning tool based on complex systems thinking… The idea is to create a positive reinforcing system that can solve the kinds of problems posed by climate and social inequity in a way that is economically, socially and financially rewarding. The aim, according to Mr Head, is to transform the “entire kit and caboodle” – water systems, waste systems, building infrastructure, and more – into an integrated, resilient ecosystem that puts human and ecological needs at the centre.

NZ to offer more electric vehicle incentives, as EV registrations reach 10,000 | The Driven
NEW ZEALAND – The New Zealand government is putting together a package of incentives to encourage more people to with to electric vehicles, even as the number of EV registrations reach 10,000. “Countries who are dragging the chain need to get their act together,” minister for climate change James Shaw said this week. And this apparently includes New Zealand.

Why trackless trams are ready to replace light rail | The Conversation
I began my life as an activist academic in 1979 when the Western Australian government closed the Fremantle railway, saying buses would be better. Patronage immediately fell by 30% and I ran a four-year campaign to save the railway. We won. I have been writing books and running campaigns ever since on why trains and trams are better than buses. But I have changed my mind. The technology has changed, and I think it will end the need for new light rail. “Trackless trams” are based on technology created in Europe and China by taking innovations from high-speed rail and putting them in a bus.

The battery-powered trackless tram, or ART, in operation in Zhuzhou, showing the trackless autonomous guidance system. CRRC Zhuzhou Institute, Author provided

The battery-powered trackless tram, or ART, in operation in Zhuzhou, showing the trackless autonomous guidance system. CRRC Zhuzhou Institute, Author provided

Food Systems

Making Food Production and Land Use More Sustainable Could Yield $2.3 Trillion in Economic Benefits | World Resources Institute
There’s a “forgotten solution” for achieving major economic, development and climate gains—transforming the way the world feeds itself and manages its land. At this week’s UN General Assembly, members of the Food and Land Use Coalition will meet with heads of state and CEOs to raise the profile of this issue and encourage greater action. They have new research to support their case. The food and land use chapter of the New Climate Economy’s Global Opportunities Report sets out how decisive action on food and land use is at the heart of the inclusive growth story of the 21st century. The report finds that more sustainable food and land use business models could be worth up to $2.3 trillion, and that they’re critical to delivering a more climate-secure and resilient world. Five areas offer the most opportunity for action.