Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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The human microbiome is a great example of an ecosystem. In the last few years, scientists have been discovering just how important it is. Our top story today adds to this knowledge base. Like any ecosystem, if you mess with part of it, organisms can die off and make the ecosystem/human sick. Other ecosystems in the news: Krill companies are considering a stop to fishing in the Antarctic, a breakthrough that supports the proposal for an Antarctic ocean sanctuary; Australia considers adding ten more animal species to the extinction list; southern right whales are returning to NZ waters as numbers recover; and ‘antique’ ivory purchases show links to ivory from recently killed elephants.

Top Story

Gut microbes are tiny sensors of your general health | The Conversation
The number of studies that have found a link between a disease and a specific gut microbiome composition seems to be ever increasing. Until recently, though, almost all these studies have looked at single diseases in isolation. But most people tend to have more than one health complaint at a time – “comorbidities”, in medical parlance. For our latest study, published in Nature Communications, we studied the gut microbe composition across a range of diseases. What we found surprised us.

Climate Change and Energy

Australia could be at 86% wind and solar by 2050 – on economics only | RenewEconomy
Australia could source 86 per cent of its electricity from wind and solar by 2050, based on economics only and regardless of any climate or emissions policy, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The global research and news group says that level of wind and solar could be reached quicker, and will need to in order to match the Paris climate target of 2°C, let alone 1.5°C, but the transition to wind and solar is inevitable.

China is fast moving its energy and transport away from coal and oil | The Fifth Estate
For nine consecutive days, the 5.6 million inhabitants of China’s Qinghai Province, and their factories and municipal lighting did not rely on coal-fired electricity but on clean energy. From midnight on 20 June to midnight on 28 Jun, the state grid supplied electricity from water, wind and sun power achieving zero emissions – a record. China is throwing off its dirty coal image faster than any thought possible. In 2017, clean energy generation and installed capacity exceeded 50 per cent of all power generation in the five southern provinces Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan, Guizhou and Hainan, which contain 215 million people.

Environment and Biodiversity

Threatened species: nine mammals and mountain mistfrog could join extinction list | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Ten species could soon be added to Australia’s list of extinct fauna, including a Queensland frog that was last seen in 1990. The federal government’s scientific advisory body is assessing whether to add nine mammals and the mountain mistfrog to its list of native animal species considered extinct under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Southern right whales returning to mainland New Zealand | RNZ
NEW ZEALAND – The southern right whale that has been charming Wellington residents is a sign that the species is returning to old haunts around New Zealand, says whale expert Will Rayment. Every winter Dr Will Rayment, from the University of Otago’s Department of Marine Science, heads to the subantarctic Auckland Islands for three weeks to study southern right whales at their only known New Zealand breeding ground, more than 400 kilometres south of mainland New Zealand. But increasingly, the whales are coming to us, returning to sheltered harbours and bays around mainland New Zealand that were once their winter strongholds.

A southern right whale visits Wellington Harbour in July 2018.

A southern right whale visits Wellington Harbour in July 2018.

Economy and Business

Krill companies limit Antarctic fishing | BBC News
The overwhelming majority of krill companies are to stop fishing in vast areas of the Antarctic Peninsula. Krill are important because they are at the base of the food chain: whales, penguins, seals and squid all eat the tiny, shrimp-like crustaceans. Other species, such as albatross and killer whales are indirectly dependent. The decision of the krill fishing companies comes ahead of a meeting of the Antarctic Ocean Commission (CCAMLR).
See also: Krill fishing firms back Antarctic ocean sanctuary | The Guardian

Legal EU ivory sales ‘condemn elephants’ | BBC News
The open, legal sale of antique ivory in many European countries is covering up a trade in illegal and recently poached ivory, campaigners say. Researchers from environmental group Avaaz bought 100 ivory items and had them radiocarbon dated at Oxford University. Three quarters were modern ivory, being sold illegally as fake antiques.

Coldplay conundrum: how to reduce the risk of failure for environmental projects | The Conversation
New Zealand’s government has committed to planting one billion trees as part of a transition to a low-emission economy, in line with its commitments under the Paris Agreement. The One Billion Trees Programme promises to deliver combined benefits, not only by offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, but also reducing erosion on marginal land. However, unless funding is closely tied to successful outcomes, this public investment risks failing in its environmental and political ambitions. We have developed a results-based bond financing scheme that would remove the risk from forest planting and could be applied to forest and landscape restoration initiatives elsewhere in the world.

Melbourne zoos dump Nestle products over palm oil controversy | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Zoos Victoria has dumped Nestle products from its kiosks and food carts after the company was suspended from an international organisation that promotes the sustainable use of palm oil. The organisation, which operates the Melbourne and Werribee zoos, has long campaigned for the sustainable production of palm oil — an ingredient blamed for threatening the critically-endangered Sumatran orangutan population.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Humans, fish and other organisms are consuming microfibers | Ensia
To date, laboratory studies have largely looked at microplastics as a whole rather than specifically at microfibers. However, since microfibers are a primary constituent of microplastics, such research can provide useful insights. Lab studies have found that microplastics can harm small aquatic organisms that eat them — including plankton, a hugely important food source for aquatic organisms.

Plankton has eaten plastic, shown with flourescence.

Using fluorescence, researchers have been able to show that plankton that form the base of aquatic food chains readily take up microplastics. Photo courtesy of Matthew Cole, Plymouth Marine Laboratory. Originally published in Environmental Science & Technology

Marine debris on north Australian beaches doubles in a decade; foreign fishers may be to blame, researchers say | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Trash from the sea washing up on Arnhem Land’s once-pristine beaches has doubled in the last decade. Researchers say there is up to three tonnes of marine debris per kilometre along 11 monitored beaches in northern Australia, and that much of it is related to fishing activity, some of it illegal.

How to cut down on plastic | newsroom
NEW ZEALAND – The thought of a plastic-free grocery shop can be daunting. No dumping pre-packaged apples or plastic-wrapped pork chops in the trolley, and just keep on walking past the plastic paradise that is the biscuit aisle. But a plastic-free shop shouldn’t be feared: it can be simple with a bit of preparation.

Politics and Society

My baby can’t sleep from the heat, why aren’t we talking about climate change? | Climate Home News
UK – Irritated and covered in sweat, yet again my two year old daughter is struggling to sleep in her cot. I’ve now lost count of the number of nights that the baby thermometer has scowled at me for putting her to bed in officially dangerous temperatures. The ongoing heatwave is the main topic of everyday conversation these days, with record-breaking temperatures and wildfires covering newspapers’ front pages and the NHS issuing health warnings for vulnerable groups. Yet there has been a deafening silence about the likely key driver – climate change.

‘Laser-sharp focus’ needed to achieve Global Goals by 2030, UN political forum told | UN News
The UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), which will run through 18 July, brings together more than a thousand government, business and civil society leaders. They will discuss progress already made by dozens of countries towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – adopted by 193 Member States in 2015 – in an effort to find out what is and what is not working, based on the UN Secretary-General’s annual progress report.