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.

It’s amazing what a bit of political direction can achieve.  The UK is seeing a raft of businesses taking action after the government’s announcement of the 25 Year Environment Plan that targets plastic use.  In the top story today, Iceland is putting a label on plastic free products.  This is fantastic because it’s simple and helps shoppers choose and it’s happened in a very short time.  There’s a lot of other positive news today including a new low on solar pricing for Mackay Council; how to win a war on fake news using people’s integrity; some great farming news from NZ; and a couple of volunteering projects, one in Abel Tasman National Park, NZ, but the other you can do from your couch.

The news will take a break tomorrow and return on Monday.

Top Story

New labelling helps UK shoppers avoid plastic packaging | The Guardian
UK – A new plastic-free “trust mark” is being introduced today, allowing shoppers to see at a glance whether products use plastic in their packaging. The label will be prominently displayed on food and drink products, making it easier for consumers to choose greener alternatives. UK supermarket Iceland and Dutch supermarket chain Ekoplaza – which introduced plastic-free aisles earlier this year – will start using the new labelling, alongside Teapigs teabags, but campaigners hope others will follow suit.

Climate Change and Energy

Bill McKibben’s 5 big messages on NZ and climate change | Sustainable Business Network
NEW ZEALAND – Bill McKibben has become one of the world’s most notable commentators on climate change since the release of his first book The End of Nature 30 years ago. Foreign Policy magazine named him on its inaugural list of the 100 most important global thinkers in 2009. He was a 2014 recipient of the Right Livelihood Prize, sometimes called the ‘alternative Nobel’. His current mission is to rapidly accelerate a just transition to 100% renewable energy. The tagline for his current speaking tour is: “Winning slowly is the same as losing – and losing is not an option”. Bill spoke exclusively to SBN members last Tuesday May 8. His message?

Tesla unveils 18.2MW big battery in Belgium | RenewEconomy
BELGIUM – Tesla has unveiled its latest large-scale battery project, this time in Europe, where an 18.2MW collection of 140 Powerpacks and inverters has been connected to the grid in Terhills, Belgium. The project – which Tesla says took six months to complete from inception to operation, with the battery installation itself taking about five weeks – was unveiled on Tuesday afternoon (Australian time) by the California based company via its various social media channels.

Mackay council goes solar – and saves big – with city-wide rollout | One Step Off The Grid
Queensland’s Mackay Regional Council has become the latest Australia local government to shift its operations to solar, in a bid to cut its electricity costs and pass millions of dollars of savings on to ratepayers… is going to provide a significant return for the council, with the investment paid back on average in four years, and total savings on electricity bills over the next 20 years estimated at $16.89 million – even after maintenance and replacement inverters.

Environment and Biodiversity

The oceans are heating up and not even marine protected areas are safe | World Economic Forum
Most marine life in marine protected areas will not be able to tolerate warming ocean temperatures caused by greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new study. Marine protected areas have been established as a haven to protect threatened marine life, like polar bears, penguins, and coral reefs, from the effects of fishing and other activities like mineral and oil extraction. The study found that with continued “business-as-usual” emissions, the protections currently in place won’t matter, because by 2100, warming and reduced oxygen concentration will make marine protected areas uninhabitable by most species currently residing in those areas.

Leaked report warns Cambodia’s biggest dam could ‘literally kill’ Mekong river | The Guardian
CAMBODIA – A Chinese-backed plan to build Cambodia’s biggest dam could “literally kill” the Mekong river, according to a confidential assessment seen by the Guardian which says that the proposed site at Sambor is the “worst possible place” for hydropower. The report, which was commissioned by the government in Phnom Penh, has been kept secret since it was submitted last year, prompting concerns that ministers are inclined to push ahead regardless of the dire impact it predicts on river dolphins and one of the world’s largest migrations of freshwater fish.

A volunteering job with all the trappings |
NEW ZEALAND – If you can’t help but feel a twinge of envy as you watch the tourists pass through town on their way to the striking wilderness of our national parks, the Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust might just have the antidote. The trust is looking to bolster its volunteer force and is calling on locals to register their interest to assist with recording predator data and clearing traps within the national park… Trustee Alistair Sheat has been volunteering for more than two years, and he said that being part of the trust enabled him to “get into the park and do something useful at the same time”. “You hear anecdotally from people who have been in the park regularly that the birdsong has increased, and we’re starting to see birds in the park that we wouldn’t have seen regularly.”

Fur seal numbers in Victoria monitored by armchair scientists using drone footage | ABC News
If you’re looking for the latest mindfulness craze or an alternative to counting sheep at night, perhaps you should try seal spotting.  The new citizen science project allows you to help adorable seal pups like this guy. For more information go to

Photo: Science enthusiasts are encouraged to log on to the SealSpotters portal to help monitor the colony. (Supplied: Phillip Island Nature Parks)

Photo: Science enthusiasts are encouraged to log on to the SealSpotters portal to help monitor the colony. (Supplied: Phillip Island Nature Parks)

NT seabed mining moratorium extended, drawing mixed reaction from stakeholders | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – The Northern Territory Government has quietly extended a moratorium on seabed mining. The ban, prompted by concerns about potential environmental impacts, was put in place for three years by the-then Country Liberals in 2012 and extended for another three years in 2015. It put a pause on growing interest in deposits of manganese along the coast of Arnhem Land and the Gulf of Carpentaria. The ABC confirmed that the moratorium, which was due to expire, will now remain in place until 2021, although there has been no public announcement.


Water shortages to be key environmental challenge of the century, Nasa warns | The Guardian
Water shortages are likely to be the key environmental challenge of this century, scientists from Nasa have warned, as new data has revealed a drying-out of swaths of the globe between the tropics and the high latitudes, with 19 hotspots where water depletion has been dramatic. Areas in northern and eastern India, the Middle East, California and Australia are among the hotspots where overuse of water resources has caused a serious decline in the availability of freshwater that is already causing problems. Without strong action by governments to preserve water the situation in these areas is likely to worsen.

What happens to small towns whose water becomes big business for bottled brands? | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Groundwater being pumped from a highland aquifer, only to be whisked away in tankers and sold in little plastic bottles by a multinational corporation – it’s a difficult concept for a small farming town to swallow.  Just ask the residents of Stanley, Victoria, whose four-year court battle to stop a farmer bottling local groundwater for Japanese beverage giant Asahi ended in failure last month. They were left with a A$90,000 bill for legal costs.

Economy and Business

Forests Could Be Casualties in a U.S.-China Trade War | World Resources Institute
Recently, China announced that it would impose a 25 percent tariff on U.S. agricultural products including soybeans, wheat, corn, cotton, sorghum, tobacco and beef. While China has not yet announced a date for the action, its proposed tariffs on U.S. agricultural products could increase demand for soy and other agricultural products in South American countries. While this is an opportunity for Brazil and other countries to increase revenue and promote better land use practices, without the right precautions taken by governments, the private sector and the international community, a shift in soy production could put some tropical ecosystems, particularly Brazil’s Cerrado, at risk for deforestation from agricultural expansion.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Mysterious rise in banned ozone-destroying chemical shocks scientists | The Guardian
A sharp and mysterious rise in emissions of a key ozone-destroying chemical has been detected by scientists, despite its production being banned around the world. Unless the culprit is found and stopped, the recovery of the ozone layer, which protects life on Earth from damaging UV radiation, could be delayed by a decade. The source of the new emissions has been tracked to east Asia, but finding a more precise location requires further investigation. CFC chemicals were used in making foams for furniture and buildings, in aerosols and as refrigerants. But they were banned under the global Montreal protocol after the discovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica in the 1980s. Since 2007, there has been essentially zero reported production of CFC-11, the second most damaging of all CFCs.

Politics and Society

War on fake news could be won with the help of behavioral science | The Conversation
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently acknowledged his company’s responsibility in helping create the enormous amount of fake news that plagued the 2016 election – after earlier denials. Yet he offered no concrete details on what Facebook could do about it.  Fortunately, there’s a way to fight fake news that already exists and has behavioral science on its side: the Pro-Truth Pledge project.  I was part of a team of behavioral scientists that came up with the idea of a pledge as a way to limit the spread of misinformation online. Two studies that tried to evaluate its effectiveness suggest it actually works.

Built Environment

EV range anxiety – is Big Oil ready for the “volt-age” | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – We’ve all heard the talk about “range anxiety”, the apparently insurmountable fear by potential consumers that an electric vehicle won’t get them from Point A to Point B, and which is supposedly holding back the widespread uptake of EVs. But what about range anxiety of another kind? Big Oil, it seems, can see the EV revolution on its radar, but still can’t figure out how far it is away, or what it should do about it. Denial is one popular option.
Related: Leaf leads global sales surge, Australia EV uptake doubles | RenewEconomy 

ACT to change law to drop gas and pave way for all-electric suburbs | One Step Off The Grid
AUSTRALIA – The ACT is taking steps to pave the way for the rise of all-electric, gas-free suburbs, as part of the next step in its nation-leading push for 100 per cent renewable energy. In an announcement published last week, the ACT government said it had proposed a change to the Territory law that mandates the delivery of gas to all new housing developments, as an essential service.

Food Systems

City agriculture can take on lofty goals | newsroom
The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals may seem beyond the reach of neighbourhood action, but a Victoria University of Wellington research group is exploring how the humble vegetable patch can help address SDGs and how community action can be mobilised around urban agriculture. As a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure all people enjoy peace and prosperity, the SDGs are a complex and ambitious, yet important, step toward a more sustainable future. But do these lofty ideals lend themselves to such localised action?

Switzerland to vote on pesticide ban ‘in 3 years’ | BBC News
SWITZERLAND – Swiss citizens will get the chance to vote on a complete ban on the use of synthetic pesticides after campaigners secured enough signatures to force a referendum. More than 100,000 Swiss signed the call for a ban that would apply to all farmers, industries and imported foods. If the vote is passed, Switzerland would become only the second country after Bhutan to implement a full ban. But it could be at least three years before voters go to the poll.

Glyphosate shown to disrupt microbiome ‘at safe levels’, study claims | The Guardian
A chemical found in the world’s most widely used weedkiller can have disrupting effects on sexual development, genes and beneficial gut bacteria at doses considered safe, according to a wide-ranging pilot study in rats. Glyphosate is the core ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and levels found in the human bloodstream have spiked by more than a 1,000% in the last two decades. The substance was recently relicensed for a shortened five-year lease by the EU. But scientists involved in the new glyphosate study say their results show that it poses “a significant public health concern”. One of the report’s authors, Daniele Mandrioli, at the Ramazzini Institute in Bologna, Italy, said significant and potentially detrimental effects from glyphosate had been detected in the gut bacteria of rat pups born to mothers, who appeared to have been unaffected themselves.

Sheep and beef farmers aim to be carbon neutral by 2050 |
NEW ZEALAND – Every sheep and beef farmer will have a tailored environment plan by the end of 2021 and they aim to be carbon neutral by 2050 in a new Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ) strategy. The industry-good organisation wants to lift the environmental performance of sheep and beef farming with its blueprint unveiled on Wednesday. B+LNZ’s priority areas are healthy productive soils, thriving biodiversity, reducing carbon emissions and cleaner water.

‘Huge shift’ as farmers clean up their act | Radio New Zealand News
NEW ZEALAND – Hikurangi farmer Geoff Crawford says there’ve been huge changes in dairy farming over the past five years, but to hear critics – including the government talk – you’d never know. Mr Crawford and his wife Jo run one of the bigger businesses in the north, milking 1500 cows over two farms on the former Hikurangi swamp, near Whangarei. He said he and his neighbours had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past 8 years to protect waterways.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.