Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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I’ve said previously that we don’t think enough about our soil ecosystems so today the top story presents a report that predicts millions of people may be forced to migrate due to land degradation, reinforcing the need for a whole of system approach to looking after the planet.  Meanwhile, the EU appears to be considering an Australian style policy of rejecting asylum seekers where the author argues is not sustainable.  More human-environment interactions in Africa with the wrong kind of fences stopping migration and in Sweden where humans have unwittingly influenced the evolution of brown bears, to the animal’s benefit for a change.

Top Story

Land degradation could threaten 700 million people by 2050 | Climate Action Programme
A recent report by the Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has revealed that land degradation could force millions of people to migrate over the next 30 years. Land degradation threatens 20% of the world’s population and can have a damaging impact on the global economy. It is primarily caused by rapid expansion and unsustainable management of croplands and grazing lands. Often, degradation results in a loss of biodiversity, food security, water purification and energy.

Climate Change and Energy

This ancient climate catastrophe is our best clue about Earth’s future | NZ Herald
The PETM is the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum – an ungainly name for the time that’s considered one of Earth’s best analogues to this era of modern, human-caused global warming. The rapid climate change [in this era] disrupted weather, transformed landscapes, acidified oceans and triggered extinctions. It took more than 150,000 years for the world to recover… the pace at which we are changing the climate outstrips anything in the geologic record. The carbon surge that set off the PETM unfolded over the course of as long as 5,000 years. At our current rate, humans will produce a comparable surge in a matter of a few centuries.

This is how baseload gets replaced by renewables and storage | RenewEconomy
Deconstructing baseload. It is the title of a chapter in a recent report from REN21, the global renewable energy agency, highlighting just how dramatic the energy transition will be as the cost of wind and solar continue to fall, and storage continues its rapid adoption. In this “conceptual progression” from the Baseload Paradigm to a New Paradigm of 100% Renewable Electricity, REN21 outlines the key steps that are taking place and will take place.

The end is nigh for oil exploration | newsroom
NEW ZEALAND – Inside Wellington’s TSB Arena, there was a definitive hint of nervousness as members of the petroleum industry quizzed the energy and resources minister on the future of their industry. Perhaps it was due to having just run the gauntlet of protestors outside, with many needing a phalanx of police to ensure their safe entry. But more likely it was the looming prospect that the future of oil and gas exploration could be limited under the new Government.

Marine heatwave recorded in Tasman Sea breaks records, prompts joint climate report | ABC News
The Tasman Sea experienced a “marine heatwave” over summer that pushed the surface temperature to a record high, climate scientists say. Following a particularly hot summer on both sides of the Tasman and in between, the Bureau of Meteorology and New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research teamed up to release a “special climate statement”.

China has already hit its 2020 target to cut carbon emissions | Climate Action Programme
China’s lead climate change official has told a forum in Shanghai that the country has met its targets to reduce the carbon intensity of the economy two years ahead of schedule. Xie Zhenhua relayed to the Green Carbon Summit on Monday that by the end of 2017 China had managed to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 46 percent per unit of economic growth from 2005 levels, according to reports from Xinhua, the country’s official press agency.

Plans to mine 6.2bn tonne Queensland coal deposit quietly revived | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Plans to mine a vast coal deposit in north Queensland have been quietly revived, despite the failed sale of the project last year and the collapse of an associated company. Guardian Australia understands that Wilton Coking Coal made two applications to the Queensland government for coal production permits in the Bowen basin in January.

NT Government told risks can be mitigated if fracking moratorium is lifted | ABC News
The Northern Territory Government is expected to soon decide if it will lift a fracking moratorium, after an 15-month inquiry concluded the risks associated with the industry could be managed.  The Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory chair, Rachel Pepper, handed a final report to the NT Government on Tuesday.  If all 135 recommendations it contained were implemented, the inquiry determined that “the challenges and risks associated with any onshore shake gas industry in the NT can be appropriately managed”.

Environment and Biodiversity

Africa’s great migrations are failing but there is a solution – and you can eat it too | The Conversation
Until I went to southern Africa last year, I couldn’t imagine an African savanna without its awe-inspiring migrations. But Africa’s plains are increasingly empty of wildlife. My subsequent investigation showed that fences are marching across the savannas instead.  An audit of 24 large mammal species, which used to migrate regularly, showed that many migrations are already extinct. Fences stopped animals in their tracks, often within sight of the food and water that would sustain them. These fences had severed historically massive migrations.

Why bear cubs are spending longer with their mothers | BBC News
SWEDEN – Brown bear cubs living in the forests of Sweden are spending longer with their mothers. Baby bears stay by their mother’s side until they are aged two-and-a-half – an extra year compared with a few decades ago, according to a study. Although the size of the bear population remains stable, hunting pressures appear to be altering the bear’s life history, say scientists. Bears can be legally hunted in Sweden, except when they have cubs. The shift towards extended care may be due to hunting regulations that protect females with dependent cubs, said Joanie Van de Walle of the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada.

Victoria calls on federal government to fund fresh reviews of forestry agreements | The Guardian
The future of long-term native forest logging agreements in Victoria is uncertain because of a row with the federal government over the need to carry out fresh scientific assessments. Three of Victoria’s regional forest agreements (RFAs) – in east Gippsland, the central highlands and the north east regions – were extended on Monday on a short-term basis, to 31 March 2020.
See also: Forestry agreements extended in Victoria but big trees get protection | SMH 

Economy and Business

In order to be truly innovative, we need to learn lessons from nature | World Economic Forum
As the kingfisher dives into the water in search of its meal, the Shinkansen bullet train emerges out of a tunnel travelling at a speed of 320 km/hr—both going about their business without barely creating a ripple. One may wonder how the two are related, but the Shinkansen owes its noiseless badge to the kingfisher’s beak.

Nature knows best ... Japan's bullet train imitates the beak of a kingfisher. Image: REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

Nature knows best … Japan’s bullet train imitates the beak of a kingfisher. Image: REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

To Supercharge Chinese Renewables, Fix Their Financing | World Resources Institute
CHINA – 40 percent of the renewable energy installed last year was in China, which now receives about ten percent of its electricity from renewables. But despite their surge, renewables remain hard to finance in China. Existing financing mechanisms can hardly meet the thirst for investments in the sector. The average cost of capital for renewable projects remains 20-30 percent higher than for conventional energy projects, putting the brakes on growth at a time when sustainability is becoming paramount. And despite the ongoing success of the sector, investors retain some skepticism. To open the tap and get more capital flowing, four key stakeholders in the Chinese renewable economy have banded together to create a new platform, the China New Energy Assets Financing and Investment Platform, designed to increase the supply of investment.

Marketing a property’s sustainability boosts value, study finds | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – Houses marketed with sustainability features such as solar panels and water tanks sell for at least 10 per cent more than properties that do not market sustainability, and sell on average 13 days more quickly. These are the findings from a three-year study led by PRD Nationwide’s national research manager Dr Asti Mardiasmo, which has culminated in a 37-question online scorecard that can be used by anyone to assess the sustainability of a house at purchase.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Proposed pyrolysis plant not just for vineyard posts |
NEW ZEALAND – A controversial pyrolysis plant tipped to solve a viticulture industry issue will also be disposing of a large amount of treated wood from construction and public waste. The Marlborough District Council has been negotiating with Waste Transformation Ltd to open a plant, which turns wood into charcoal in an oxygen-free thermo-chemical furnace, near Blenheim. The plant was proposed as a solution for thousands of old or broken vineyard posts, stockpiled across the region and potentially leaching chemicals into the ground, and millions more posts still in the ground.

Politics and Society

EU leaders order long-term climate strategy by early 2019 | Climate Home News
EU leaders have directed the European Commission to produce a long-term climate strategy “by the first quarter of 2019”. They set the deadline for a 2050 greenhouse gas emissions cutting plan at a European Council meeting finishing on Friday. It will update the 2050 low-carbon economy roadmap drafted in 2011.

Why Europe shouldn’t follow Australia’s lead on asylum seekers | The Conversation
Australia’s harsh asylum policies have been touted as a possible solution to Europe’s so-called refugee crisis. Politicians in the UK, France, Holland, Denmark, Austria and Belgium have advocated for an Australian-style approach aimed at blocking asylum seekers from accessing Europe. But there are a few reasons Europe should be wary of following this lead.

Food Systems

Cuts to crayfish catch expected to have serious industry consequences | Radio New Zealand News
NEW ZEALAND – The rock lobster industry is bracing itself for huge cuts to its crayfish catch in the Hauraki Gulf and Bay of Plenty. It forecasts this, and other reductions, will reduce its earnings in the area from $17 million to approximately $7m a year. The comments came after the Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash cut the allowable rock lobster catch from 200 tonnes to 80 tonnes for the year starting next month. The aim was to restore a fishery deemed to be seriously depleted.


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