Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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As a reader of this news digest, you may not need convincing that Earth is in a bit of a state when it comes to the amount of resources humans are using. Today’s top story helps to identify the scale of the problem, how we are getting better at managing resources and why we need better policy. In other news, Spain and New Zealand plan to roll out ambitious climate targets, enshrined in legislation, while the Australian feds vote down any inclusion of climate emissions in energy policy; the Great Barrier Reef looks in for another rough summer of bleaching; some tough women protect wildlife in Zimbabwe; and big business, motivated by economics, does good things for chocolate in Ghana.

Top Story

World growth a toxic danger for the environment | Ross Gittins | SMH
If the world’s population keeps growing, and the poor world’s living standards keep catching up with the rich world’s, how on earth will the environment cope with the huge increase in extraction, processing and disposal of material resources? It’s a question many people wonder and worry about – without much sign it’s even crossed the mind of the world’s governments. Until now. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is about to publish a Global Material Resources Outlook, which uses much fancy modelling to make an educated guess about what’s likely to happen in the future.

Poor countries have a lot of infrastructure and housing to build (and a lot of cars and TV sets to buy). Credit: Bloomberg

Climate Change

Rod Oram: the crucial but contentious methane decision | Newsroom
NEW ZEALAND – We’ll know by Christmas the salient features of the most important new legislative framework this country will adopt in generations, the Government promises. Meanwhile, intense lobbying is underway to shape one of the most critical components of it which will significantly determine the legislation’s effectiveness.

Coalition votes down COAG push to keep climate on energy policy agenda | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – The federal Coalition government – backed by conservative states – has taken the extraordinary step of voting down a push to have climate change considered as part of the framing of the country’s energy policy agenda. The ACT government proposed at the COAG energy ministers meeting in Sydney on Friday working to develop a suitable greenhouse gas emissions reduction mechanism for the electricity sector.

Government to set up new multi-billion Future Drought Fund | Michelle Grattan | The Conversation
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will announce a Future Drought Fund, that will grow to $5 billion over a decade, at Friday’s national drought summit. The fund is to provide support against future droughts, helping primary producers, non-government organisations and communities prepare for and respond to their impact.

Spain to close most coalmines in €250m transition deal | The Guardian
SPAIN – Spain is to shut down most of its coalmines by the end of the year after government and unions struck a deal that will mean €250m (£221m) will be invested in mining regions over the next decade. Pedro Sánchez’s new leftwing administration has moved quickly on environmental policy, abolishing a controversial “sunshine tax” on the solar industry, and announcing the launch of Spain’s long-delayed national climate plan next month.

Environment and Biodiversity

‘360 degrees’: Wide-ranging aid needed to stem rapid decline of koalas | SMH
AUSTRALIA – Koalas are in rapid decline across the country, particularly in the regions where populations have the most genetic diversity, scientists say. Koala numbers in NSW are on track to drop a third, and almost half in Queensland, over the next 20 years, according to Rebecca Johnson, chief scientist of the Australian Museum. South Australia and Victoria had more stable populations of the marsupials, but many are descendants of small numbers of transplanted animals after previous culling wiped them out.

Related: Scam developer to use parkland to offset koala habitat destruction | SMH

Spinifex grass would like us to stop putting out bushfires, please | The Conversation|
Spinifex grass: it’s spiky, dominates a quarter of the continent, and has no recognised grazing value. To top it all off, people have reportedly experienced anaphylactic shock from being pricked by its sharp leaf tips. Given this less-than-stellar rap sheet, you may wonder why this plant is the subject of my research attention. Well, it turns out that these less desirable traits are also its virtue. A plethora of birds, mammals and reptiles rely on the unique plant for their survival – to such an extent that it’s considered a keystone of its environment.

Spinifex emerging after a fire. Author provided

Spinifex emerging after a fire. Author provided

The rise of sponges in Anthropocene reef ecosystems | The Conversation
Coral reefs across the world have been altered dramatically in recent decades. Human activities have contributed to mass coral die-offs in tropical oceans. The degradation of reef-building corals is expected to worsen under current climate trajectories, but our work shows that most reef sponges are resilient enough to tolerate climate conditions projected for 2100. In our latest research, we examine how future reefs that include more sponges might function compared to the current coral‐dominated ecosystems.

Many marine sponges can tolerate ocean warming and acidification better than reef-building corals. James Bell

Many marine sponges can tolerate ocean warming and acidification better than reef-building corals. James Bell

Great Barrier Reef likely to be hit with another mass bleaching this summer, forecast shows | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – The Great Barrier Reef could be hit with severe coral bleaching and death this summer as the result of another large underwater heatwave, according to a tentative long-term forecast by one of the world’s most-respected science agencies. A leading coral-reef expert said if that eventuated, it could mean the beginning of the end of the Great Barrier Reef as a coral-dominated system. According to the forecast by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), by March next year the entire reef has a 60 per cent chance of being subject to “bleaching alert level one”, where bleaching is likely. And worryingly, the southern half of the reef has a 60 per cent chance of seeing the highest “bleaching alert level 2”, where coral death is likely.

Photo: The existence of the reef as a coral-dominated system depends on two factors: the events that damage coral and its rate of recovery. (Supplied: Reef and Rainforest Research Centre)

Photo: The existence of the reef as a coral-dominated system depends on two factors: the events that damage coral and its rate of recovery. (Supplied: Reef and Rainforest Research Centre)

How your trip to the Great Barrier Reef could be the thing that saves it | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Tourists visiting the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) are encouraged to contribute to scientific research by recording coral bleaching upon entering the blue seas to dive or snorkel. In 2002, the University of Queensland (UQ) launched a CoralWatch citizen science project which hands out charts that help detect the health of the reef. Almost 6,000 visitors to the GBR have since used the tool to compare the state of coral against the colour chart, and flag deteriorating areas of the reef.

Marine biosecurity risk surveillance program wins WA Golden Gecko environmental award | ABC News
A scientific program that identifies potential marine biosecurity risks in WA ports has won a Golden Gecko environmental award. The State Wide Array Surveillance Program (SWASP) run jointly by port authorities and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development aims to minimise the risk of introduced marine species into Australian waters from visiting ships. SWASP helps tackle the huge challenge for port authorities of monitoring the 11,000km-long WA coastline for invasive pest species.

It’s ‘Save The Kiwi’ month, yet they’re declining at 2 per cent a year |
NEW ZEALAND – It’s Save The Kiwi month – but the bird’s current decline means they could be gone in 50 years. The country’s most famous bird is still declining by 2 per cent a year. Kiwi could be gone within one or two human generations if work to protect them stopped, Kiwis for Kiwi CEO Michelle Impey said.

Akashinga: The female fighters taking on illegal poachers, and the Australian training them | ABC News
ZIMBABWE – Dressed in green camouflage, a woman crouches by the edge of the Zambezi River. Her task: to stop illegal elephant poachers — through might, mediation, or a combination of both. In Zimbabwe, where conservation is increasingly a battlefield, a group of all-female anti-poaching rangers are on the frontline — protecting one of the world’s largest elephant populations. Known as Akashinga, the Shona phrase for “the brave ones”, the anti-poaching group of 39 women are selected and trained by an Australian.

[Ed: It’s possible to sponsor these rangers through the International Anti-Poaching Foundation – watch the video in the article]

Photo: Survivors of domestic abuse, widows and single mothers — Akashinga women have "been through hell". (Supplied: International Anti-Poaching Foundation)

Photo: Survivors of domestic abuse, widows and single mothers — Akashinga women have “been through hell”. (Supplied: International Anti-Poaching Foundation)

Economy and Business

Women mean business in saving chocolate | Newsroom
A US$400 million programme called Cocoa Life, launched by Cadbury parent company (and confectionery and snack giant) Mondelez in 2012, is working to ‘empower’ 200,000 cocoa farmers and reach one million community members in six key cocoa growing areas. Ghana is the biggest player, having been the site of the original Cadbury Cocoa Partnership in Ghana in 2008. Côte d’Ivoire and Indonesia are the next two with the most involvement, followed by three smaller projects in India, the Dominican Republic and Brazil.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Top UK health bodies demand new clean air act | The Guardian
The UK’s leading health professionals are calling on the government to implement the biggest shake-up of air quality legislation for 60 years in an effort to tackle the country’s growing air pollution crisis. The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC) – representing major medical bodies including the Royal College of Nursing, the British Medical Association and the BMJ – is demanding ministers introduce a new clean air act amid growing concern about the devastating health impacts of the country’s toxic air.

‘I’m not going to stop’: schoolgirl conservationist inspires passionate debate | SMH
AUSTRALIA – Fresh from snagging a Young Conservationist of the Year award from Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, student Sophia Skarparis has a message for politicians like those in NSW who hold out against banning single-use plastic bags. “We are the generation that will be active,” Miss Skarparis said. “This youth and this generation are so serious about caring for our common home … I am not going to stop.”

China and Russia are eyeing up Antarctica — and experts say Australia should be more concerned | ABC News
Australia is spending $2 billion on a new Antarctic icebreaker — the biggest single investment in the history of our Antarctic program. The state of the art RSV Nuyina — which was floated last month — will primarily support Australia’s scientific research team in Antarctica, but it also has another purpose: shoring up our territorial claim to 42 per cent of the icy continent, where countries including China and Russia have been ramping up their presence. But why does Australia need to lay claim to so much of Antarctica? What has gotten other countries so interested in the region? And why does it even matter? For the answers to these questions and more, we’ve put together a handy guide — here’s what’s going on south of our shores.

Politics and Society

The Guardian view on misinformation: a moral problem | The Guardian (Editorial)
Most of the recent worries over the spread of propaganda have concentrated on the use of social media: WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have all been rightly criticised for their use in spreading misinformation. Less attention, perhaps, has been given to the content of the messages and the strategy behind their use. The template for many modern campaigns of disinformation was invented by the tobacco industry as it fought against the mounting evidence that it was selling a product that killed its users.

Coalition embraces economic vandalism with worst possible energy policy | Alex Turnbull | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – When I saw the government’s latest energy policy proposal, I was disappointed but not surprised. Just a few weeks ago I was speaking with a few utilities analysts and players, wargaming the absolute worst thing a party with just a few months to live could do to Australia’s energy policy and how far they could roll back some commendable progress to date. What we came up with revolved around the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recommendations. They were very sensible but we figured they had substantial scope for selective and perverse implementation. At one point, we joked about the possibility that this good advice could be turned into a policy to subsidise companies that own coal plants and coal. Turns out that is exactly what has happened.


Climate change: Low cost, low energy cooling system shows promise | BBC News
USA – Researchers in the US have scaled up a new low-cost system that could provide efficient cooling for homes while using very little electricity. The team has developed a roof-top sized array, built from a highly reflective material made from glass and polymers. In tests, the system kept water around 10C cooler than the ambient air when exposed to midday sunlight in summer.

Truck firm partners with hydrogen researcher to fuel fleet |
NEW ZEALAND – Hydrogen-fuelled trucks on New Zealand’s highways moved a step closer after a preliminary agreement was reached between two Taranaki-based companies. Freight operator TIL Logistics Group and New Plymouth-based Hiringa Energy recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to develop hydrogen fuel cell technology transport solutions.

Built Environment

Why car sharing had a slow start in Australia – and how that’s changing | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Car sharing arrived on the Australian scene in the early 2000s. These are commercial services that give people access to vehicles they can rent by the hour. Services in Australia currently include GoGet and Car Next Door. While GoGet has a fleet of vehicles available for rent, Car Next Door supports private vehicle owners renting out their cars to others in the community (kind of like Airbnb). Car sharing is now an established transport option in most major Australian cities, but it’s faced its fair share of teething problems.

Food Systems

Soy destruction in Argentina leads straight to our dinner plates | The Guardian
Argentina’s Gran Chaco forest is being razed for soya, ending up in Europe as animal feed, and on our plates. It’s the backbone of Argentina’s fragile economy, but has come at a price for the indigenous people who live there