Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Top Story

How amphetamine use may be affecting our waterways
New research has added to the growing body of evidence that the chemicals we put in our bodies often end up in our waterways — with noticeable consequences. A new study, published Thursday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, explores what happens when amphetamine ends up in the ecosystems encompassing streams and it finds the drug can have a significant impact on the bacteria, algae and insects who call them home.

Energy and Climate Change

Greenland’s ice sheet is in danger. Here’s what we’re seeing on the frozen landscape
Greenland is melting — and has been for quite some time. The arctic island has already lost 1 trillion tons of ice between the years of 2011 and 2014, according to a recent satellite study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Earlier this year, Greenland logged its highest June and April temperatures ever recorded. The melt continues to be a problem for the frozen landscape. So, our energy and environment reporter Chris Mooney and senior video journalist Whitney Shefte headed out to document the changes firsthand, tagging along with a scientific team conducting research on the diminishing ice sheet.

Sun Brilliance to build Australia’s biggest solar farm, by output
AUSTRALIA – Perth-based solar power company Sun Brilliance says it plans to build a 100MW solar farm east of Perth, in what will be the biggest solar farm in West Australia by size, and the biggest to date in Australia by output… Director Ray Wills, a former head of the WA Sustainable Energy Association, says the solar farm will be built on a “merchant basis” – meaning no fixed power purchase contract, and without any additional government grants such as those being allocated by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Sorry Josh Frydenberg, gas is not the cleaner alternative to coal (Opinion)
AUSTRALIA – There has been a lot of hot air recently about the role of gas in Australia’s future energy generation. At last week’s COAG meeting, the overwhelming takeaway message from our newly minted energy and environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, was that gas was good, not to mention vital for our future energy solution.

How California passed the most ambitious climate change rules
USA – This week, the state Assembly and Senate ensured the state’s leadership will be strengthened when lawmakers approved two key bills. The legislation will require Californian agencies take steps needed to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 40 percent in 2030, compared with 1990 levels. Governor Jerry Brown plans to sign it.

Environment and Biodiversity

US to create world’s largest marine reserve near Hawaii
The United States president, Barack Obama, will travel to a remote atoll in the middle of the Pacific this week to recognise the creation of what will become the world’s largest marine reserve. The White House last week announced that the Papahanaumokuakea (pronounced Papa-ha-now-moh-koo-ah-kay-ah) Marine National Monument will quadruple in size to cover more 1.5 million square kilometres of ocean to the northwest of Hawaii.

World’s Northernmost Islands Added to Russian National Park
Coming on the same day that President Barack Obama designated a massive expansion of a marine reserve in the Hawaiian Islands, the Russian government has expanded the Russian Arctic (Russkaya Arktika) National Park to include Franz Josef Land, the world’s northernmost chain of islands. Made up of more than 190 islands, Franz Josef Land is a mostly uninhabited area that is encased in sea ice for much of the year. Yet the rocky, glaciated islands are home to stunning biodiversity.

Smoke from Indonesian fires hits ‘unhealthy’ levels in Singapore as authorities push to hunt offenders
Air pollution in Singapore has risen to the “unhealthy” level as acrid smoke drifted over the island from fires on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, the city-state’s National Environment Agency (NEA) said, in a repeat of an annual crisis.

Shark nets indiscriminately killing marine life already inside protected area, video suggests
AUSTRALIA – Shark nets and drum lines off Queensland’s Sunshine Coast are killing marine life already inside the nets and should be removed by the State Government during whale and fish migration times, the Australian Institute of Marine Rescues (AIMR) has warned. The institute has revealed video footage of shark nets off Noosa that caught a tuna, a hammerhead shark and what appears to be a black tip shark in Laguna Bay.

American pika vanishing from western US as ‘habitat lost to climate change’
Populations of a rabbit-like animal known as the American pika are vanishing in many mountainous areas of the west as climate change alters its habitat, according to findings released by the US Geological Survey. The range for the mountain-dwelling herbivore is shrinking in southern Utah, north-eastern California and in the Great Basin that covers most of Nevada and parts of Utah, Oregon, Idaho and California, the federal agency concluded after studying the mammal from 2012-2015.

Pikas have disappeared from more than half of the areas in which they used to live in north-eastern California, the US Geological Survey said. Photograph: Arndt Sven-Erik/BBC

Pikas have disappeared from more than half of the areas in which they used to live in north-eastern California, the US Geological Survey said. Photograph: Arndt Sven-Erik/BBC

EcoCheck: Australia’s vast, majestic northern savannas need more care
Australia’s Top End, Kimberley and Cape York Peninsula evoke images of vast, awe-inspiring and ancient landscapes. Whether on the hunt for a prized barramundi, admiring some of the oldest rock art in the world, or pursuing a spectacular palm cockatoo along a pristine river, hundreds of thousands of people flock to this region each year. But how are our vast northern landscapes faring environmentally, and what challenges are on the horizon?

ECan whitebait ‘mistake’ goes to High Court
NEW ZEALAND – New rules designed to protect whitebait fall short due to a “mistake” the regional council refused to correct, conservation group Forest & Bird claims.  Because of the alleged error, some whitebait spawning areas would be left completely unprotected, the group says. It has challenged the rules in the High Court. Environment Canterbury (ECan) recently updated its Regional Land and Water plan, which now has legal effect. It included restrictions on work such as farming and construction in areas where whitebait were believed to spawn. Four of five whitebait species are at risk of becoming extinct if current rates of decline continue.

Large blue butterfly thriving in UK since reintroduction
Prof Jeremy Thomas, chairman of the Joint Committee for the Restoration of the Large Blue Butterfly, said the numbers of the butterfly, which was reintroduced to the UK in 1984, were its highest for 80 years.  “The success of this project is testimony to what large scale collaboration between conservationists, scientists and volunteers can achieve,” he said. “Its greatest legacy is that it demonstrates that we can reverse the decline of globally-threatened species once we understand the driving factors.”

Economy and Business

The winners and losers in the race for driverless cars
In the short term, Uber has committed to creating tens of thousands of new jobs in Australia. Many thousands of jobs have already been created and your typical Uber driver speaks positively of being empowered in a flexible working arrangement. But we know Uber has other plans. Like almost all large car and technology corporations such as Toyota, Ford and Google, Uber is investing heavily in self-driving technology. It’s already testing its driverless technology in Pittsburgh, in the US. A rival, nuTonomy, has also started trials of driverless taxis at a Singapore business park.

The eco guide to gold
Perhaps it’s all those Olympic medals, but our small preview of Fairtrade gold wedding bands from Argos several weeks ago has led to a rush of queries about clean gold. So here are some further nuggets.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Sea turtles at risk as scientists predict more than 50 per cent are ingesting marine debris
AUSTRALIA – More than 50 per cent of sea turtles are ingesting marine debris, a huge amount of which is floating around the world’s oceans, scientists say. On North Stradbroke Island, in Queensland’s Moreton Bay, the turtle population has been affected by rubbish floating in the water and washing up on the shores.

Politics and Society

Looking good and making a fast buck? Why rich countries help the poor
Why do rich nations help the poor in faraway places? There are a mix of very different reasons, ranging from the high-minded – “It’s our moral duty” – to the venal – “We can look good and make a fast buck out of this”. Commonly, the governments of rich countries use combinations of altruism and self-interest to justify support for the distant needy to their taxpayers. There are four distinct lines of argument.

Tories’ failure to halt ivory trade ‘risks extinction of elephants’
The UK is putting elephants at risk of extinction through its broken promises on the ivory trade, according to campaigners. Before the last election, the Conservative party pledged to shut down the UK’s domestic ivory market: at the time 30,000 elephants a year were being slaughtered for their tusks. But no action has been taken. While bans on the international trade in ivory exist, a failure to observe similar measures at a national level is being exploited by criminal gangs who smuggle ivory into the UK, where it can be passed off as antique.

Record tourism in national parks comes with increasing threats – antsy humans
On the edge of a meadow in Yellowstone national park, tourist John Gleason crept through the grass, four small children close behind, inching toward a bull elk with antlers like small trees… Record visitor numbers at the nation’s first national park have transformed its annual summer rush into a sometimes dangerous frenzy, with selfie-taking tourists routinely breaking park rules and getting too close to Yellowstone’s storied elk herds, grizzly bears, wolves and bison.

Why are professional development standards for new and returning federal MPs so inadequate?
AUSTRALIA – MPs and senators, 226 in all, will soon commence proceedings in Australia’s newly elected 45th federal parliament. But how well prepared are they to undertake the arduous tasks that will confront them daily? To address that question, a starting point might be to examine the formal education and training programs newly elected MPs are compelled to undertake to acquaint themselves with the intricacies of their role. For re-elected members, one might analyse the programs they are required to attend to further their knowledge, skills and abilities. Unfortunately, this is not possible. Unlike all professions and many occupations, it is not mandatory for MPs to take part in any education and training programs specific to their role.

Here’s looking at: Deep Breathing: Resuscitation for the Reef by Janet Laurence
AUSTRALIA – Deep Breathing: Resuscitation for the Reef, an installation by artist Janet Laurence, reminds us of the gift of life and to be more aware of how we live and function on the planet. As artist-in-residence of the Australian Museum, Laurence spent time on Lizard Island at the Museum’s reef station. She also had access to the Museum’s enormous collection of fish and other sea life specimens.

Lone Ranger: Kakadu uranium miner faces fewer safety checks
AUSTRALIA – The controversial Ranger uranium mine in the Top End has had its independent government oversight depleted just years before its closure in a move the local Aboriginal organisation describes as “absurd”. Since December, the Supervising Scientist Branch – the agency under the federal environment department enforcing standards at the giant mine – has halted atmospheric testing of radon and other radioactive dust from the project owned by Energy Resources of Australia.

The Great Kiwi Bee Count: ‘We need to look after bees’
Gardeners and school children are being invited to run the very first “citizen science” survey of bee numbers in New Zealand. NZ Gardener magazine, and scientists from Plant & Food Research have teamed up to run The Great Kiwi Bee Count, intended to provide a base line for generations of research into the bees that are responsible for pollinating a third of everything we eat and drink. Throughout September, Kiwis young and old are encouraged to get into their gardens, parks or neighbourhood – preferably on a sunny day – pick a plant, and count how many bees they see. They can then record the results on

Looking for ‘bee daddies’ who want to learn about beekeeping
Julia Milne  is getting a  real buzz from  teaching  local dads, “bee daddies” ,  how to become beekeepers. The founder of Common Unity Aotearoa, Milne runs numerous community food-growing projects from her base at Epuni School but her latest, the Beeple Honey Collective, is perhaps her most ambitious. There is more to the project, however, than just providing local families with honey. Bees play an important role in pollination but in recent years numbers have declined. Milne hopes to raise awareness of how important bees are to a healthy environment. The collective is currently based in garages and is looking for a permanent home. A PledgeMe campaign is hoping to raise $20,000, which the Wellington City Council will match up to $15,000 from the Low Carbon Imitative.

Built Environment

All is not pristine in New Zealand
Most images of New Zealand show a pristine environment of great beauty. It therefore comes as a surprise that airborne particle pollution in many towns is above World Health Organisation guidelines. This is not due to the diesel cars that confound efforts to manage air pollution in Europe, or the density of cities and industry that contributes to problems in east Asia, Europe and parts of north America. It is due mainly to home heating.

Food Systems

Farmers toil to prevent damage to environment
AUSTRALIA – INNOVATIVE farmers have stopped nearly 1000 tonnes of fertiliser from leaving their Wet Tropics properties and entering the Great Barrier Reef over five years.  The Wet Tropics Reef Rescue Impact Report 2013 shows their efforts have also protected the World Heritage-listed area from 36 tonnes of pesticide run-off.


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