Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Today’s newsletter is dominated with environmental stories on extinction, biodiversity and conservation, beginning with the top story, on whether we should care about extinction, particularly of single species. We look at biodiversity benefits of fig trees, whether the dingo can bring about trophic cascades (including an absolutely fantastic YouTube clip on bringing back wolves to Yellowstone), and how simple interventions can sometimes make a big difference as with seahorses in Port Stephens, Australia. Plastic coverage continues with momentum and a chance to get involved with a citizen science project mapping plastic pollution. And don’t miss news on Adani who are about to start work on Port Abbott.

Top Story

Extinction is a natural process, but it’s happening at 1,000 times the normal speed | The Conversation
When Sudan the white rhino was put down by his carers earlier this year, it confirmed the extinction of one of the savannah’s most iconic subspecies. The northern white rhino will surely be mourned, as would other stalwarts of picture books, documentaries and soft toy collections. But what about species of which of which we are less fond – or perhaps even entirely unaware? Would we grieve for obscure frogs, bothersome beetles or unsightly fungi? Extinction is, after all, inevitable in the natural world – some have even called it the “engine of evolution”. So should extinction matter to us?

Climate Change and Energy

Australia at 19% renewables – NEG 2030 target to be reached in 2021 | RenewEconomy
Australia’s electricity grid reached a 19 per cent share of renewable energy in the year to June 30, and with a host of new wind and solar capacity to be added in the next two years will meet its 2030 target for emissions in the electricity sector nine years early. The latest analysis from The Australia Institute, in its regular energy market audit, is just the latest in a string of reports that highlight how ineffective the Coalition government’s emissions target are.

Environment and Biodiversity

And then there were 12: Why don’t we hear about extinction until it’s too late? | Mongabay (Commentary)
Species threatened with extinction often don’t get the public’s attention until they no longer exist. The author, zoologist Sam Turvey, argues that more attention to these critical cases is required. Ahead of International Save the Vaquita Day on July 7, Turvey points out that the world’s most endangered marine mammal is dangerously close to extinction, and it’s not alone.

Lord of the Rings toad on brink of extinction | BBC News
A toad named after the character Gollum in the fantasy novel Lord of the Rings has joined the latest list of animals deemed at risk of extinction. The amphibian lives not in the Misty Mountains, but on a Malaysian mountain. The toad got its name from Gollum, also known as Sméagol, in Tolkien’s trilogy because scientists saw similarities between the two.

Spinifex-hopping mouse numbers have been affected by feral cats and foxes. (Supplied: Matthew Brun)

Spinifex-hopping mouse numbers have been affected by feral cats and foxes. (Supplied: Matthew Brun)

Culling dingoes start of ‘domino effect’ that may be changing the shape of Australia’s landscape | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – When a 5,500-kilometre dingo fence was constructed between Queensland and Western Australia in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the idea was to stop dingoes from killing livestock in the pastureland to the south. But by excluding an apex predator, scientists believe we may have triggered a “trophic cascade” that has changed the physical shape of the landscape. In research published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface this week, scientists say the shape of sand dunes on the inside and the outside of the fence is markedly different.

Scientists reveal yet another reason fig trees are titans of biodiversity | Mongabay
AUSTRALIA – Biologist David Mackay got a surprise when he began studying the birds visiting fig trees in his native Australia: While he expected to see plenty of species coming to eat the figs, he didn’t expect the insect eaters to outnumber them two-to-one. Mackay already knew that figs feed more bird species than any other fruit. His research, published in June, would show that fig trees are disproportionately important for insect-eaters, too. It adds to growing evidence that fig trees are titans of biodiversity with important roles to play in conservation.

‘Seahorse hotels’ bring an endangered species back from the edge of extinction | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – It is not much more than a chicken wire cage, but the nicely named “seahorse hotel” is behind a population resurgence of Australia’s endangered white seahorse. One of the largest concentrations of seahorses in the world was once found at Port Stephens on the New South Wales coast, until wild storm seasons from 2010 to 2013 destroyed habitat and almost destroyed the population.

Photo: Australia's White Seahorse is now the second seahorse in the world to be listed as endangered. (Supplied: Dr David Harasti)

Photo: Australia’s White Seahorse is now the second seahorse in the world to be listed as endangered. (Supplied: Dr David Harasti)

Leadbeater’s possum: conservations say draft report proves endangered status | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Conservation groups say the Leadbeater’s possum should retain its conservation status as a critically endangered Australian species, based on new advice from the government’s scientific advisory body… The forestry industry and the former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce have been pushing the government to downgrade the species’ critically endangered conservation status to open up protected areas of Victorian forest for logging.

The threatened species scientific committee says population reductions are high enough to meet the threshold for a critically endangered listing for the leadbeater’s possum. Photograph: Zoos Victoria

Shrinking rivers affect trout, eels – study | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – Shrinking rivers are less able to support larger predatory fish – a finding researchers say should be a big consideration for policy around water takes. In a just-published study, a University of Canterbury team drew on data from 29 rivers around the country to find that reducing the size of a habitat undermined its capacity to support larger predators.

Economy and Business

5 reasons companies are collaborating to end deforestation | GreenBiz
Quite rightly, producers, traders and retailers are taking sustainability more seriously, through no-deforestation commitments and ambitions to contribute to U.N. sustainable development goals (SDGs). But they have typically worked in silos, focusing on individual supply chains (automatic PDF download) through certification schemes, for example. While this has led to better practices at the farm level, it has not led to large-scale transformation across sectors and to lower rates of deforestation.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Biosolids: Sydney sewage turned organic fertiliser improves NSW drought-hit soil | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Some farmers in the central west of New South Wales have a surprising solution to help deal with what’s been called the worst drought in living memory. It is human sewage, treated and dewatered to produce biosolids, an organic fertiliser transforming about 30 farms in the region. From more than 20 metropolitan treatment plants, Sydney Water is producing about 180,000 tonnes of biosolid fertiliser a year.

Waste crisis: spot the excessive plastic packaging – in pictures | The Guardian
Australia is drowning in a tsunami of plastic pollution and excessive packaging is one of the culprits. Boomerang Alliance asked supporters to send in pictures of the worst examples

Microplastics project to record amount, location and origin of pollution in the oceans | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – A global citizen science project launched in Sydney will recruit students and volunteers to count and record some of the five trillion pieces of plastic in the oceans. The Australian Microplastic Assessment Project (AUSMAP) will train volunteers to collect micro and macroplastics from coastlines all over Australia. Program director Dr Michelle Blewitt said the aim was to obtain data about the amount of plastic in the marine environment, where it is and where it’s originating from.

Politics and Society

Pope Francis warns against turning Earth into vast pile of ‘rubble, deserts and refuse’ | The Guardian
Pope Francis urged governments on Friday to make good on their commitments to curb global warming, warning that climate change, continued unsustainable development and rampant consumption threatens to turn the Earth into a vast pile of “rubble, deserts and refuse”.

8 takeaways from the Green Climate Fund meltdown | Climate Home News
The UN’s flagship climate finance initiative had a major setback [last] week, with the board failing to agree on any big ticket decisions. Longstanding tensions at the Green Climate Fund came to a head in Songdo, South Korea, as it opened talks on raising a new round of contributions. On top of that, the head of the secretariat abruptly resigned, adding top level recruitment to the fund’s woes. As the dust settled, Climate Home News spoke to several participants and observers about what went wrong, the fallout and next steps. Here are eight takeaways.

Adani says it could start works at Abbot Point without traditional owners’ input | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Adani says it will proceed with new construction work at its Abbot Point coal terminal with or without the involvement of Juru local traditional owners, amid an escalating dispute about the protection of sacred sites… Guardian Australia has seen correspondence that confirms Adani plans to soon begin work at Abbot Point that is outside the area covered by a cultural heritage management plan and has not been surveyed or assessed by Juru people.