Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
If you like what you see, you are welcome to sign up (on the right) for free sustainable development news delivered direct to your inbox each weekday morning.

A significant move by Ireland tops the news today, as it becomes the first country in the world to divest from fossil fuels. In other news, California grows its economy while reducing emissions below its target two years early, showing it can be done with strong leadership; several articles on the importance of electric vehicles in meeting emissions targets and the challenges faced; and an insight into the world of academia that will help you decide the importance of peer reviewed research.

Top Story

Ireland becomes world’s first country to divest from fossil fuels | The Guardian
The Republic of Ireland will become the world’s first country to sell off its investments in fossil fuel companies, after a bill was passed with all-party support in the lower house of parliament. The state’s €8bn national investment fund will be required to sell all investments in coal, oil, gas and peat “as soon as is practicable”, which is expected to mean within five years.

Climate Change and Energy

National Grid: UK can cope with surging EV power demand | BusinessGreen
UK – National Grid scenarios suggest UK peak demand could increase by just 8GW with the help of flexible technologies, despite millions of electric vehicles hitting the road. The UK can avoid a sharp increase in peak electricity demand by mid-century by ensuring the rollout of millions of electric vehicles (EVs) is combined with smart charging and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technologies.

Related: There could be 36 million electric vehicles on Britain’s roads by 2040 | Climate Action Programme

Carbon neutral goal reliant on electric cars – Govt | RNZ News
NEW ZEALAND – If New Zealand is to meet its zero carbon pledge, nearly all the country’s cars will have to be zero-emission by 2050, Climate Change Minister James Shaw says. As of June, roughly 8700 plug-in cars are on the road of a total fleet of more than four million. Mr Shaw said achieving the country’s commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050 was reliant on significantly boosting the uptake of plug-in vehicles.

Related: Let’s make tech work against climate change | newsroom

Redflow ships “biggest” battery order, to help power Fiji digital TV roll-out | One Step Off The Grid
Australian battery storage developer and manufacturer Redflow has shipped its largest-ever order of zinc-bromine flow batteries, to provide energy storage for Fiji’s new digital television network… The ZBM2 batteries – manufactured at Redflow’s new plant in Thailand – were chosen for the project for their “robustness, long life, safety, temperature tolerance and straightforward recycling process,” Hitech said.

Environment and Biodiversity

How do we decide which endangered species to save? |
NEW ZEALAND – Conservationists pour money, time and energy into saving individual species. Why not shoot for entire ecosystems? In the second part of a two-part series, Charlie Mitchell examines the different ways of choosing which endangered species to save.

DOC proposes to close 24 tracks to protect kauri |
The Department of Conservation is proposing to close 24 tracks in the North Island in an effort to stop the further spread of kauri dieback through human contact. A further 10 could be partially closed as the department steps up its initiatives to halt the spread. Thirteen of the proposed tracks to be fully closed are in the Northland area. The remainder are in Hauraki, Tauranga, Great Barrier and Waikato.

Why have reports of sick or injured barn owls risen 875 per cent? | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – In 2018 Wildlife Victoria received over 117 rescue requests for barn owls between January to mid-July. The year prior during the same period, there were only 12. In the coastal town of Port Fairy, locals have taken to social media to share their experiences. Chelsea Fox found a dead barn owl on her Port Fairy property with no apparent visible sign of injury. After she posted a photo to Facebook it sparked a flood of people sharing similar experiences online.

Whale killing: Iceland accused of slaughtering rare whale | BBC News
Whalers in Iceland have killed what appears to be a blue whale, one of the largest creatures left on the planet. Photographic evidence from campaigners opposed to whaling show a large animal being butchered for export. Several experts have concluded from these pictures that it’s a juvenile male blue, a species that hasn’t been deliberately killed since 1978. The whaling company involved say they are confident that the animal is a hybrid between a blue and fin whale.

Related: Japan wants to restructure IWC to make it easier for it to start commercial whaling again | ABC News

Economy and Business

Rising ocean waters from global warming could cost trillions of dollars | John Abraham | The Guardian
Rising oceans are a big deal. About 150 million people live within 1 meter (3 feet) of sea level. About 600 million live within 10 meters (33 feet) of sea level. As waters rise, these people will have to go somewhere. It is inevitable that climate refugees will have to move their homes and workplaces because of rising waters.

California hits emissions target two years early | Climate Action Programme
The US state of California has cut its greenhouse gas emissions to below 1990 levels for the first time. Emissions have been reduced by 13 percent since their 2004 peak, equal to taking 12 million cars off the road. At the same time, its economy, now the fifth largest in the world, grew by 26 percent.

Nobel-Winning Economist to Testify in Children’s Climate Lawsuit | InsideClimate News
One of the world’s top economists has written an expert court report that forcefully supports a group of children and young adults who have sued the federal government for failing to act on climate change. Joseph Stiglitz, who was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize for economics in 2001 and has written extensively about environmental economics and climate change, makes an economic case that the costs of maintaining a fossil fuel-based economy are “incalculable,” while transitioning to a lower-carbon system will cost far less.

Why IBM obsesses over energy efficiency | GreenBiz
Overall, conservation projects undertaken during 2017 reduced IBM’s overall energy consumption by 4.2 percent, or an estimated 143,00 megawatt-hours of electricity and 105,000 million British thermal units of fuel oil and natural gas, according to IBM’s latest report on its environment programs. That translates into a financial savings of $16.1 million on energy expenses, IBM estimated.

Waste and the Circular Economy

How to break up with plastics (using behavioural science) | The Conversation
Australia is responsible for over 13 thousand tonnes of plastic litter per year. At the end of June 2018, the Australian government released an inquiry report on the waste and recycling industry in Australia. One of the recommendations was that we should phase out petroleum-based single-use plastics by 2023. This means a real social shift, because the convenient plastic products that we use once and throw away are ubiquitous in Australia.

Can Norway help us solve the plastic crisis, one bottle at a time? | The Guardian
Maldum is the chief executive of Infinitum, the organisation which runs Norway’s deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and cans. Its success is unarguable – 97% of all plastic drinks bottles in Norway are recycled, 92% to such a high standard that they are turned back into drinks bottles. Maldum says some of the material has been recycled more than 50 times already. Less than 1% of plastic bottles end up in the environment.

Recycling crisis: why don’t we have a national container deposit scheme? | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – In June, a wide-ranging Senate inquiry into the state of Australia’s recycling system recommended a national container deposit scheme (CDS) be rolled out across the country. Of all 18 inquiry recommendations, a national scheme is one that is at least part way there, all states except Tasmania and Victoria with an existing scheme or one soon to be implemented.

Plastic confusion: All you need to know about biodegradable and compostable plastics |
When Simon Upton came back down to New Zealand last after a long stint overseas, he was gobsmacked by the amount of plastic we use. The country’s new Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment went to a supermarket and the first bag he picked up was labelled biodegradable. “I thought ‘What does that mean?'” Upton said. So the man with powers to investigate environmental concerns thought if he didn’t know, other people probably didn’t either.

Politics and Society

When to trust (and not to trust) peer reviewed science | The Conversation
The words “published in a peer reviewed journal” are sometimes considered as the gold standard in science. But any professional scientist will tell you that the fact an article has undergone peer review is a long way from an ironclad guarantee of quality. To know what science you should really trust you need to weigh the subtle indicators that scientists consider.

UN security council considers ‘cycle of conflict and climate disaster’ | Climate Home News
Climate change is contributing to instability in many parts of the world, the UN security council heard on Wednesday, in its first debate dedicated to the topic in seven years. A community advocate from Chad and Iraq’s water minister testified to the interplay of water scarcity and conflict in their homelands. Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström and UN deputy chief Amina Mohammed, fresh from a trip to the drought- and terrorist-stricken Lake Chad basin, led calls for a coordinated international response.

Missed Opportunities: The High Cost of Not Educating Girls | World Bank
The report says that limited educational opportunities for girls and barriers to completing 12 years of education cost countries between $15 trillion and $30 trillion dollars in lost lifetime productivity and earnings. The report finds out that primary education is not enough.

Built Environment

Everything we’ve heard about global urbanization turns out to be wrong – researchers | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Widely accepted numbers on how much of the world’s population lives in cities are incorrect, with major implications for development aid and the provision of public services for billions of people, researchers say. The United Nations predicts the world’s urban population is expected to grow to 70 percent by 2050 from 55 percent at present after becoming majority urban for the first time around 2008. Not so, say researchers based at the European Commission.

Microfinance could help African cities solve housing crisis – experts | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Granting small loans to help low earners in Africa’s rapidly growing cities build their own homes could help solve a looming housing crisis, experts said on Thursday. About 40 percent of Africa’s one billion people already live in towns and cities and the World Bank predicts the urban population will double over the next 25 years, putting huge pressure on housing.

Survey: Half of young people want electric cars | BBC News
UK – Half of young people in the UK would like to own an electric car – compared with just a quarter of their parents, a survey suggests. The research comes from motoring group the AA, which says myths about electric vehicles are putting off many drivers. This matters because cleaning up air pollution and tackling climate change both depend on mass acceptance of electric vehicles (EVs).

ISCA’s call to do more good rather than less bad | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia chairman David Singleton wants infrastructure planners, designers and those who deliver the projects to aim higher in sustainability. In the organisation’s recently-released ISCA Impacts report, Singleton says that rather than settling for doing “less bad” such as less environmental destruction or social disruption, “we must aim from the outset to do more good”.