Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Big brands are still buying from unsustainable palm oil sources, as found by Greenpeace in our top story today. The best thing you can do is to not buy products with palm oil. Check the ingredients list, palm oil has more than 200 names. In other news, our chances of keeping global warming to 1.5C are pretty slim but more nations consider a net zero emissions goal by 2050; Nepal has nearly doubled its wild tiger population while the NSW government ignores advice on protecting koala habitat; and a wakeup call for persistent pollutants in the environment with killer whales in a dire situation from accumulating PCBs.

Top Story

Deforestation-linked palm oil still finding its way into top consumer brands: report | Mongabay
A new report by Greenpeace finds that palm oil suppliers to the world’s largest brands have cleared more than 1,300 square kilometers (500 square miles) of rainforest — an area the size of the city of Los Angeles — since the end of 2015. Greenpeace says palm oil-fueled deforestation remains rampant in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia because global consumer brands like Unilever, Nestlé and PepsiCo continue to buy from rogue producers. These brands have failed to commit to their zero-deforestation pledges and are poised to fall short of their own 2020 deadlines of cleaning up their entire supply chain from deforestation, Greenpeace says.

Climate Change

World ‘nowhere near on track’ to avoid warming beyond 1.5C target | The Guardian
The world’s governments are “nowhere near on track” to meet their commitment to avoid global warming of more than 1.5C above the pre-industrial period, according to an author of a key UN report that will outline the dangers of breaching this limit. A massive, immediate transformation in the way the world’s population generates energy, uses transportation and grows food will be required to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5C and the forthcoming analysis is set to lay bare how remote this possibility is.

Will 2018 be the year of climate action? Victorian London’s ‘Great Stink’ sewer crisis might tell us | The Conversation
In the late 19th century, the irrepressible Mark Twain is reputed to have said in a speech: “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.” He’s said to have borrowed that quote from a friend, but if Twain were alive today he would no doubt have more to say on the subject. In a time when we are becoming increasingly accustomed to extremes in the climate system, the events of this year have risen above the background noise of political turmoil to dominate the global headlines. While global leadership in dealing with climate change may be depressingly limited, I can’t help but wonder if 2018 will be the year our global tribe feels threatened enough to act.

Net zero emissions by 2050 is ‘within reach’ for Europe | Business Green
Europe can transition to net zero emissions by the middle of this century if work to accelerate carbon cuts begins in earnest immediately, a major new report released today has suggested. Not only is net zero emissions a “feasible” goal for Europe, it is also a desirable one, the study concludes, bringing benefits such as greater efficiency, cleaner air and water and new development opportunities. The study, released today by the European Climate Foundation, appears as the European Commission prepares its long-term strategy for greenhouse gas reductions for submission to the UN in November.

Related: Net Zero: UK joins global ‘carbon neutral’ drive | Business Green

Five things to know about the future of farming | Newsroom
NEW ZEALAND – Don’t be fooled by anyone implying that methane doesn’t matter much in the scheme of things – cutting methane is crucial to New Zealand’s efforts to slow climate change. That, in essence, was one of the key messages from Gluckman’s final report to Jacinda Ardern. As Gluckman points out, our proposed bill is modelled on a British law that mostly only had to deal with fossil fuels. Here in New Zealand, our emissions are skewed to harder-to-cut sources like animal burps and urine.

Environment and Biodiversity

New survey results show Nepal is on track to double its tiger population by 2022 | Mongabay
A census led by the government of Nepal has found that the tiger population in the country nearly doubled over the past ten years. Data gathered from camera trap surveys conducted across most of Nepal’s tiger habitats between 2017 and 2018 show that there are now 235 of the big cats who call the South Asian country home. That represents a 19 percent increase over the 198 tigers found during a nationwide study completed in 2014. Nepal’s first census, in 2009, found 121 tigers.

Taller plants moving into warmer Arctic | BBC News
The low-lying shrubs, grasses and other plants growing in the Arctic are getting taller. The finding comes from scientists who have analysed three decades of measurements. This data, gathered across Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia, indicates that a warming climate is driving the change. The team of 180 researchers says the increase in height could ultimately work to push up temperatures further. The international group reports its work in the journal Nature.

Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic: Salix arctica is the dominant shrub species. Copyright Anne D. Bjorkman.

Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic: Salix arctica is the dominant shrub species. Copyright Anne D. Bjorkman.

‘Alarming’: State ignoring koala data as icon heads towards extinction | SMH
AUSTRALIA – The Berejiklian government is ignoring its own advice on the best regions to project koalas as numbers of the much-loved marsupial plummet towards extinction in the state by mid-century, reports show. Documents obtained under freedom of information laws by the North Coast Environment Council and the National Parks Association – and released on Save the Koala Day on Friday – found state reserves cover just 0.2 per cent of so-called “koala hubs” that are home to key colonies of the animal.

Koalas are in strife across eastern Australia, including in NSW where the WWF estimates the animal faces extinction in the state by 2050. Photo: WWF

Koalas are in strife across eastern Australia, including in NSW where the WWF estimates the animal faces extinction in the state by 2050. Photo: WWF

Scientists and volunteers discover new spider species in biodiverse Queensland national park | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Dozens of new creepy crawlies have been discovered on Queensland’s Cooloola Coast in the space of one weekend, and scientists believe there are many more out there waiting to be found. The thought of 37 new spider species might send shivers down most people’s spines, but for spider expert Robert Whyte, it is exciting. “People might be alarmed, but these aren’t big hairy spiders. These are tiny little things that look like jewels,” he said. Mr Whyte said the most interesting was a spider with a body length of just 1.14mm, which was named the Baalzebub after the god of darkness.

Related: Gecko discovery: researchers hail new ‘spectacular’ species as significant find | ABC News

Economy and Business

Social cost of carbon: why climate change is a global injustice | Vox
All efforts to fight climate change face the money test: Are the benefits of stopping global warming — and avoiding sea level rise, heat waves, and wildfires — greater than the costs? The dollar balance we arrive at should be one of the biggest factors in deciding what we’re willing to do to tackle the problem, whether that’s shuttering all coal plants or building thousands of nuclear reactors. Some groups have taken a stab at calculating what climate change will cost the world, or conversely, how much humanity would save by becoming more sustainable. Earlier this month, the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate tallied the number at a truly massive $26 trillion in savings by 2030.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Killer whale populations with high PCB pollutant levels could collapse, study finds | ABC News
More than 30 years since global bans on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were implemented, scientists fear the pollutants could cause a number of killer whale populations around the world to collapse entirely. PCBs are a group of chemicals once used in electrical equipment, paints and various industrial applications. Until the 1970s, they were prized for their chemical stability and their insulating and non-flammable properties. But they persist for a long time in the environment, and are accumulating in the bodies of cetaceans, especially killer whales, according to researcher Jean-Pierre Desforges.

Killer whales feeding on large animals are most at threat from PCB contamination. (Supplied: Aarhus University)

Killer whales feeding on large animals are most at threat from PCB contamination. (Supplied: Aarhus University)


Gov on how to make waste sexy while industry and states ask for incentives | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – New national waste targets, including the phasing out of “problematic and unnecessary” single-use plastic packaging sound right on cue with the current mood among voters and consumer. But key industry players and some state government leaders are wondering who will foot the bill? As well as phasing out of needless single-use plastic packaging items, such as takeaway coffee cups, federal minister for the environment Melissa Price on Wednesday announced an industry-led commitment to recycle or compost 70 per cent of Australia’s plastic packaging by 2025. The industry is also aiming for all packaging to have 30 per cent average recycled content by 2025.

Litter by Little: Cigarette butts are toxic trash, but few people call it litter |
Cigarette butts are all over New Zealand streets – but most wouldn’t consider them litter at all. Instead they’re flicked on the ground and don’t break down, and end up washing to sea. People might not know that they’re full of plastic and harmful toxins, said Keep NZ Beautiful chief executive Heather Saunderson.

Politics and Society

Parents and children living in poverty have the same aspirations as those who are better off | The Conversation
Much is written and said about families living in poverty, but accounts rarely draw on the experiences of these families themselves. Read the newspapers or listen to politicians, and you’d think that these “troubled families” are fundamentally different to better off people. They are presented as living in “cultures of dependency”, where no one has had a job for generations. People claiming social security benefits are portrayed as feckless scroungers. That’s why my colleagues and I spent two years with eight families in Leeds and York, developing an in-depth understanding of how they thought, talked and acted in relation to their resources.

Built Environment

Ten lessons from cities that have risen to the affordable housing challenge | The Conversation
In July, the lead author returned to three cities comparable to Melbourne that she visited in 2015 – Vancouver, Portland and Toronto – to re-interview key housing actors and review investment and policy changes over the past three years. All have big housing affordability problems, caused by a strong economy and 30 years of largely unregulated speculative housing. A lack of federal government involvement has exacerbated these problems. But these four cities have recently developed very different approaches to housing systems planning, with increasingly divergent results.