Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
If you like what you see, you are welcome to sign up (on the right) for free sustainable development news delivered direct to your inbox each weekday morning.

Sustained funding and clear policies over 20 years in New Zealand, have led to native bird numbers doubling in an area managed with pest control measures, giving hope for the future. In other news, supposedly well managed great rivers of the USA and Australia are running dry with changes in climate patterns and flaunting of laws; and Bloomberg predicts a massive uptake in electric vehicles, while RenewEconomy reports on the potential use of all that energy storage. And don’t miss the story on the Bornean school for baby orangutan orphaned by habitat destruction including coal and palm oil industries.

Top Story

Native bird numbers double during 20-year Department of Conservation pest control study | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – A 20-year effort at the Department of Conservation’s longest-studied area for pest control has led to native bird numbers doubling – an encouraging sign for New Zealand’s bold predator-free 2050 mission. A programme in South Westland’s Landsborough valley is DoC’s longest study charting the response of birds to pest control, giving conservation scientists insights into what approaches work in beating back predators.

Kākāriki (yellow-crowned parakeet) numbers in the South Westland's Landsborough valley steadily increased over the last 20 years. Photo / Nir Ketraru

Kākāriki (yellow-crowned parakeet) numbers in the South Westland’s Landsborough valley steadily increased over the last 20 years. Photo / Nir Ketraru

Climate Change and Energy

E-Buses to Surge Even Faster Than EVs as Conventional Vehicles Fade | Bloomberg New Energy Finance
The electrification of road transport will move into top gear in the second half of the 2020s, thanks to tumbling battery costs and larger-scale manufacturing, with sales of electric cars racing to 28%, and those of electric buses to 84%, of their respective global markets by 2030. The latest long-term forecast from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) shows sales of electric vehicles (EVs), increasing from a record 1.1 million worldwide last year to 11 million in 2025, and then surging to 30 million in 2030 as they establish cost advantage over internal combustion engine (ICE) cars. China will lead this transition, with sales there accounting for almost 50% of the global EV market in 2025 and 39% in 2030.

How EVs will fast-track Australia’s shift to 100% renewables | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – Just imagine if a politician would be so silly to suggest that a Tesla big battery was not much use because it could only power the nation for a few minutes, or a portion of South Australia for less than an episode of Ninja Warriors. Or that you would need thousands more such batteries to have enough storage to provide electricity for the country when the sun don’t shine or the wind don’t blow. Sound familiar? Well, just imagine this. Put those batteries on wheels. Inside electric vehicles.

Melbourne apartment complex switches on shared solar system | One Step Off The Grid
AUSTRALIA – One solar system, five apartments, a baker, a hair salon, and an occupational therapist. Allume Energy has switched on its first suburban shared solar system that allows PV electricity to be distributed and billed to individual tenants, for 30% less than grid costs.

Environment and Biodiversity

Orphaned baby orangutans learn to climb, forage at Borneo’s new forest school | ABC News
The school year has just begun for a very special school deep in the Borneo rainforest. The Orangutan Forest School is a new rehabilitation project for orphaned orangutans, the victims of Indonesia’s palm oil and coal industries. The school’s eight “students”, aged between 11 months and nine years old, will learn how to survive in the wild in preparation for their eventual release back into the rainforest.

Photo: The youngest orangutans learn from their human surrogate mothers at the school. (Supplied: Four Paws/James Mepham)

Photo: The youngest orangutans learn from their human surrogate mothers at the school. (Supplied: Four Paws/James Mepham)

Premature Birth Rates Drop in California After Coal and Oil Plants Shut Down | InsideClimate News
USA – Shutting down power plants that burn fossil fuels can almost immediately reduce the risk of premature birth in pregnant women living nearby, according to research published Tuesday. Researchers scrutinized records of more than 57,000 births by mothers who lived close to eight coal- and oil-fired plants across California in the year before the facilities were shut down, and in the year after, when the air was cleaner. The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that the rate of premature births dropped from 7 to 5.1 percent after the plants were shuttered, between 2001 and 2011.


In a Warming West, the Rio Grande Is Drying Up | The New York Times
USA – Mario Rosales, who farms 365 acres along the Rio Grande, knows the river is in bad shape this year. It has already dried to a dusty ribbon of sand in some parts, and most of the water that does flow is diverted to irrigate crops, including Mr. Rosales’s fields of wheat, oats, alfalfa and New Mexico’s beloved chiles. Because last winter’s mountain snowpack was the second-lowest on record, even that irrigation water may run out at the end of July, three months earlier than usual. But Mr. Rosales isn’t worried. He is sure that the summer thunderstorms, known here as the monsoon, will come.

The Rio Grande south of Socorro, N.M.

The Rio Grande south of Socorro, N.M.

Murray-Darling: State plan to give irrigators water ‘free-for-all’ could threaten wetlands | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Irrigators in New South Wales are set to receive vast new licences to take water from the Murray-Darling Basin, handed out for free under a state proposal that some say will undermine the national $13 billion plan to save the country’s most important river system. Upstream irrigators who would receive lucrative licences have broadly welcomed the plan, but ecologists say it could doom some of the country’s most important wetlands.

Our role in the death of a river | Elizabeth Farrelly | SMH
AUSTRALIA – “Darling. (Yes darling.) Nothing darling. Just darling, darling.” Crossing the mighty Darling River always reminds me of this little ditty deployed, back in the day, by punk rocker Ian Dury. This time, though, we’re just outside Louth, a hundred clicks west-south-west of Bourke, and as our ancient Land Cruiser lumbers across the old box-girder bridge it’s another voice that murmurs “as he died to make things holy, let us die to make things cheap”. Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker seeps from the sound-system like coal tar from a wound.

But the cheapness is illusory. Because this right here is the cost. We’re buying this cotton with our river, our grandchildren’s future. Illustration: Dionne Gain

But the cheapness is illusory. Because this right here is the cost. We’re buying this cotton with our river, our grandchildren’s future. Illustration: Dionne Gain

Economy and Business

Global insurance industry making slow progress on climate risk | Climate Action Programme
A new report has highlighted the global insurance industry’s continued failure to recognise the existential threats posed by climate change. The Asset Owners Disclosure Project, an independent, non-profit analysed the performance of the world’s top 80 insurance companies in adapting to a low-carbon economy. They looked at whether insurer’s had a climate strategy, targets and any risk management policies in place using both publicly available information and private surveying.

UK pension funds are ‘worryingly complacent’ on climate change | Climate Action Programme
UK – A government survey of the top pension funds in the UK has found mixed results on the group’s approach to climate change. The Environmental Audit Committee requested information from the leading 25 funds on how they are responding to climate risk and whether it is changing investment decisions.

Politics and Society

Scientists tackling conservation problems turn to artificial intelligence | Mongabay
Grantees of Microsoft’s AI for Earth, a program aimed at helping groups address complex environmental problems, met at Microsoft headquarters recently to learn new ways to apply artificial intelligence and cloud computing to their respective projects. The program awards grants of access to and training in the company’s cloud-based data storage, management, and analysis to address challenges in four thematic areas: addressing climate change, protecting biodiversity, improving agricultural yields, and lessening water scarcity.

Classification of animal images uses pattern recognition software and machine learning to recognize patterns of spots, stripes, whiskers, and other natural markings. Image credit: Sue Palminteri

Classification of animal images uses pattern recognition software and machine learning to recognize patterns of spots, stripes, whiskers, and other natural markings. Image credit: Sue Palminteri

GDPR: ground zero for a more trusted, secure internet | The Conversation
Most of us have been bombarded recently by a barrage of emails from companies begging us to “stay in touch” or “opt in” or informing us of a “policy update”. On May 25, an historic date for the internet, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force. For some, it is the start of a more citizen-focused world, for others it will see the collapse of their digital marketing strategy.

‘What is good for Africa is good for the world’ says UN chief on International Day | UN News
“Peace and sustainable development are two sides of the same coin – one cannot be achieved without the other,” said Mr. Guterres marking Africa Day. “To promote peace, the UN will continue to support prevention,” he added. Commemorated annually on 25 May, Africa Day marks the founding in 1963 of the Organization of African Unity, now known as the African Union (AU). In his message, the UN chief applauded the continent’s leaders for reaching agreement on the African Continental Free Trade Area just a few months ago, thereby creating one of the world’s largest trading blocs, comprising more than 50 countries.

Government advisers call for emissions fund to end investment in ‘junk credits’ | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Independent experts advising the Turnbull government have called for changes to the Coalition’s Direct Action climate policy to prevent tens of millions of dollars of public money going to projects that would have gone ahead anyway.

Labour shortage could create ‘significant issue’ for Govt’s 1 billion tree target |
NEW ZEALAND – A shortage of labour and land could result in growing pains for the Government’s ambitious 1 billion trees programme. Shortly after the Government was formed last year, it set itself the lofty goal of planting 1 billion trees by 2027 as a way to grow the regions, create jobs, offset carbon emissions, enhance biodiversity and reinvigorate New Zealand’s forestry industry.

Penny Hulse: Michael Barnett’s comments miss the mark on zero-waste goal | NZ Herald (Commentary)
NEW ZEALAND – Michael Barnett’s comments about Auckland Council staying out of the waste industry missed the mark. Yes, Auckland Council has an ambitious goal – to engage every Aucklander to help our city become zero-waste by 2040. But we know that reducing waste isn’t easy; it involves many moving parts, behaviour change and most importantly; working closely with everyone in the waste industry.

Built Environment

Developers fund $2.5 million project to return concrete culvert to stream in reserve on Auckland’s North Shore |
NEW ZEALAND – Within the next six months, the sound of earthworks will rumble above the sounds of ducks quacking and children playing at a reserve on Auckland’s North Shore. Taiaotea Creek, in Sherwood Reserve in Browns Bay, is set to be daylighted as part of a $2.5 million project, funded by developers, which will rip up a concrete-lined channel and return it to a stream, and turn a pond into a wetland. “We want to encourage more ecology in the area and not just fish, but bird life as well,” said project manager Mel Mullaney, a specialist with Auckland Council’s Healthy Waters team.

Food Systems

Palm oil certification? No silver bullet, but essential for sustainability | Mongabay (Commentary)
As one of the world’s most widely traded food and beverage commodities, palm oil is used in everything from baked goods to biofuels. It is produced in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America and sold to customers around the globe. Because no single jurisdiction governs this trade, it is extremely difficult to drive the broad-scale reform needed to counteract the negative impacts of the palm oil industry on forests, climate, biodiversity, and people living in the areas where this crop is produced. So how do we make sustainable palm oil a reality?

New Zealand’s hoki fishery under scrutiny after claims of fish dumping, misreporting | The Conversation
Hoki is one of New Zealand’s most valuable export fish. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has certified hoki, ling and southern blue whiting fisheries as sustainable, and it is currently undertaking a regular review of the hoki certification. We consider that it may be rubberstamping flawed information from the Ministry for Primary Industries and the fishing industry itself. Fish dumping in the hoki fishery has long been investigated and documented in government reports and scientific journals, but the MSC appears to have ignored this evidence.

The Taiaotea project hopes to attract fish species, such as native banded kōkopu, to spawn in the stream.

The Taiaotea project hopes to attract fish species, such as native banded kōkopu, to spawn in the stream.

Rebooting food: Finding new ways to feed the future | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Banana trees that fit in a test tube. Burgers made without a cow in sight. Fish farmed in the desert. Robots picking fruit. Welcome to the brave new world of food, where scientists are battling a global time-bomb of climate change, water scarcity, population growth and soaring obesity rates to find new ways to feed the future. With one in nine people already short of enough food to lead a healthy, active life, supporters pushing for a Second Green Revolution argue without major changes hunger will become one of the biggest threats to national security and human health