Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Today’s top story tells of how, collectively, humans have wiped out more than half of the biodiversity of life on our planet, threatening human existence.  Nature is where most of our resources come from.  But you can influence your friends and neighbours, business and the environment through your choices and influence a better direction.

It can feel like things are so bad reading news outlining the views of the alt-right (particularly disturbing are the Proud Boys, who advocate white male supremacy through violence); a US$417m statue ironically celebrating a free-market advocate on a sacred site taken from the local indigenous people in India; and seals choking on our rubbish.

But there are bright spots that we can build on: Mayer Hillman describes our climate choices; Client Earth sues Poland over a coal plant, saying it’s a financially irresponsible investment; and we can rehabilitate ecosystems, like seagrass that provides services as an efficient carbon storage system and an important food source for wildlife.

Top Story

Humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970, report finds | The Guardian
Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation. The new estimate of the massacre of wildlife is made in a major report produced by WWF and involving 59 scientists from across the globe. It finds that the vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else.

See also:

Cattle in the Amazon rainforest. Photograph: Michael Nichols/National Geographic/Getty Images

Cattle in the Amazon rainforest. Photograph: Michael Nichols/National Geographic/Getty Images

Climate Change

There are three options in tackling climate change. Only one will work | The Guardian (Opinion)
Mayer Hillman is a senior fellow emeritus at the Policy Studies Institute and author of How We Can Save the Planet

The world faces a near-impossible decision – one that is already determining the character and quality of the lives of the generations succeeding us… Future generations will judge us on what we choose to do in full knowledge – accessories before the fact – of the devastating consequences of continuing with our energy-profligate lifestyles. What a legacy we are bequeathing – regions of the world becoming uninhabitable at an accelerating rate, creating potentially millions of ecological refugees; a burgeoning world population, diminishing reserves of finite and other resources, shortages of water and food, calamitous loss of genetic variability, and wars of survival.

‘We’ve never seen this’: massive Canadian glaciers shrinking rapidly | The Guardian
CANADA – Scientists in Canada have warned that massive glaciers in the Yukon territory are shrinking even faster than would be expected from a warming climate – and bringing dramatic changes to the region. After a string of recent reports chronicling the demise of the ice fields, researchers hope that greater awareness will help the public better understand the rapid pace of climate change. The rate of warming in the north is double that of the average global temperature increase, concluded the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in its annual Arctic Report Card, which called the warming “unprecedented”.

We desperately need to store more carbon – seagrass could be the answer | The Conversation
According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to avoid a climate change catastrophe. Although efforts are already being made to reduce the production of greenhouse gasses, they are by most estimations not enough. It is therefore critical that we find ways to drastically reduce the amount of pollutants in the atmosphere. Ecosystems capable of absorbing and storing large amounts of carbon dioxide know as “carbon sinks” are ideal for this.

Seagrass can grow at depths of up to 90m and is an important part of the food web. Anita Kainrath / shutterstock

Seagrass can grow at depths of up to 90m and is an important part of the food web. Anita Kainrath / shutterstock

Environment and Biodiversity

Wind farm monitors to warn of approaching wedge-tailed eagles in bid to prevent bird deaths | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – New technology will be trialled at a Tasmanian wind farm to stop wedge-tailed eagles from being killed by wind turbines. Several monitoring towers will identify eagles and work out whether the bird’s flight path will collide with a turbine, before shutting the turbine down. The Cattle Hill Wind Farm in Tasmania’s Central Plateau is under construction, and will be the first wind farm in the country to trial the technology.

Photo: Eagles will be detected within a kilometre of the turbines. (Flickr: Jim Bendon)

Photo: Eagles will be detected within a kilometre of the turbines. (Flickr: Jim Bendon)

‘Worst year’ for Horsey seals injured by rubbish | BBC News
UK – The number of seals with “horrifying” injuries caused by fishing paraphernalia and plastic flying rings is on the rise, a charity has said. The Friends of Horsey Seals monitors the colony in Norfolk and said at least 10 animals currently had nets stuck to them or rings trapped on their necks. Volunteer David Wyse said this year had been “worse than any other”.

Seals with rubbish around their necks become unable to fish and are weakened by infection. Photo: RSPCA

Seals with rubbish around their necks become unable to fish and are weakened by infection. Photo: RSPCA

£60m ‘greenery drive’ to plant 10m trees in England | The Guardian
UK – More than 10m trees will be planted across England with the injection of £60m of new funding over five years, as part of what the government billed as its “drive to preserve the country’s greenery”. The bulk of the money, £50m, will pay landowners for planting trees that lock up carbon, which observers said raised questions over how accessible those woodlands would be to the public. That fund, the Woodland Carbon Guarantee scheme, should pay for 10m trees. The other £10m will be targeted at planting in cities and towns and should fund at least 100,000 more trees.

Economy and Business

Polish utility sued over financial risk of €1.2bn coal plant | Climate Home News
Activist shareholders filed a climate lawsuit against utility Enea on Monday, over a planned €1.2 billion coal plant in north-east Poland. Plaintiff Client Earth argues the 1GW Ostrołęka C power station poses an “indefensible” financial risk, as rising EU carbon prices and cheap renewables threaten the project’s profitability. The NGO bought a small number of shares in the company to give itself a legal avenue to challenge the project. The lawsuit puts the Polish government’s support for coal under the spotlight, weeks before the country is due to host UN climate talks.

Billionaire industrialist Sanjeev Gupta throws down clean energy financing challenge to Government | ABC News
Sanjeev Gupta, the British billionaire who rescued the Whyalla steelworks from administration, has called on the Federal Government to do more to make it easier for big companies to access finance to make grand investments in renewable energy.

Politics and Society

India unveils the world’s tallest statue, celebrating development at the cost of the environment | The Conversation
INDIA – India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will today inaugurate the world’s largest statue, the Statue of Unity in Gujarat. At 182m tall (240m including the base), it is twice the height of the Statue of Liberty, and depicts India’s first deputy Prime Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The statue overlooks the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River. Patel is often thought of as the inspiration for the dam, which came to international attention when the World Bank withdraw its support from the project in 1993 after a decade of environmental and humanitarian protests…

Why Australia should be wary of the Proud Boys and their violent, alt-right views | The Conversation
Australia has become a destination for a legion of far-right speakers from North America and the UK in recent months. Milo Yiannopoulos’ controversial visit last December resulted in violent clashes between protesters and a A$50,000 bill for Yiannopoulos for extra policing. (He never paid it.) Nonetheless, Yiannopoulos is planning a return in late November. In March, the Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson packed out auditoriums in three cities for speeches railing against feminism, political correctness and hate speech laws. This was followed by the visits of Canadians Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneaux, which sparked more anti-fascist protests and resulted in another large police bill that remains unpaid. Southern’s “It’s Okay to be White” T-shirt served as the inspiration for Senator Pauline Hanson’s recent Senate motion declaring the same message.

No more playing nice on climate: Canberra, you’re warned – ACF | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – We heard Kelly O’Shanassy would be a force to be reckoned with when she was appointed chief executive officer of the Australian Conservation Foundation in 2015. On Tuesday she showed her mettle at a powerful speech at the Canberra Press Club. In a presentation that drew strength from the recent Wentworth by-election that delivered a massive loss to the federal government, O’Shanassy laid out a gameplan that the sitting Liberal National Party Coalition should not ignore – but probably will.

Australia is out on a limb, warns global business leader | The Fifth Estate
Australia is in danger “floating away in a direction no one else is going” on climate change, warned Dutch businessman and president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development Peter Bakker.

Built Environment

Victoria’s Latrobe Valley to host “massive” new EV factory | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – A deal that promises to transform Victoria’s former coal power hub into a national centre for Australian electric vehicle production has been announced by the state Labor government, through a support package that will help build a “massive” EV assembly plant in the Latrobe Valley. Victorian premier Daniel Andrews and minister for industry Ben Carroll announced on Tuesday that the Labor government had committed an undisclosed amount to underpin the construction of a SEA Electric EV factory, most likely in Morwell, in the state’s Gippsland region.

Food Systems

Eating less meat is a climate priority, whatever the sceptics say | The Conversation
Here we go again. The “sceptical environmentalist”, Bjorn Lomborg, has returned to warn against the excesses of an impending green dictatorship. The latest threat: taking away our burgers!.. Lomborg walks the line between sensible liberal thinking and outright denialism by cherry-picking or misrepresenting statistics. Though widely criticised by most scientists, Lomborg retains a large following today. This is why his typically contrarian take on climate change and food attracts so much attention, and why it is worth responding to.