Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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I think today’s top story is a must watch, it’s a short video explaining the fascinating way in which trees communicate. Another amazing example of how complex and interconnected our planet is. In the same theme, we have two articles discussing importance of biodiversity. One calls for a Paris style agreement to protect biodiversity and in a Q&A style article, Dr Palmer eloquently explains why that is important. While this discussion is happening, we hear that deforestation increased dramatically in 2017 and, in the next article, a proposal to ask companies to help with their protection through our consumerist society (more evidence of the power of your buying habits). More news also, on plastics and eliminating them.

Top Story

How trees secretly talk to each other | BBC News (Video 1:47)
Trees talk and share resources right under our feet, using a fungal network nicknamed the Wood Wide Web. Some plants use the system to support their offspring, while others hijack it to sabotage their rivals.

Climate Change and Energy

How to talk about climate change: 5 tips from the front lines | World Economic Forum
I have spent almost my entire working life in climate science and policy, social enterprise, government, and now philanthropy. Over time, I have seen public communication as increasingly important. Why? Greenhouse gas emissions need to decrease fast if we are to have any chance of keeping global temperature rises below dangerous levels, and it is hard to see how this will happen without greater, and more urgent, engagement with society. We need more people talking about climate change more often, because we need to break out of the current climate echo chamber.

Meet America’s new climate normal: towns that flood when it isn’t raining (Book talk)
USA – It isn’t raining when I arrive in Shorecrest, and there isn’t a storm offshore; the day is as clear and as blue as the filigree on a porcelain plate. But the streets are still full of water. I watch as a woman wades ankle deep across Tenth Avenue. She has gathered her long russet-colored skirt in her right hand, and in her left she holds a pair of Jesus sandals. When she reaches the bus stop, she sits and puts her shoes on.

‘I’ve been here 20 years. When I first moved we used to flood once a year, maybe twice. Now it’s constant.’ Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

‘I’ve been here 20 years. When I first moved we used to flood once a year, maybe twice. Now it’s constant.’ Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Environment and Biodiversity

Scientists call for a Paris-style agreement to save life on Earth | The Guardian
Let’s be honest, the global community’s response to the rising evidence of mass extinction and ecological degradation has been largely to throw crumbs at it. Where we have acted it’s been in a mostly haphazard and modest way — a protected area here, a conservation program there, a few new laws, and a pinch of funding. The problem is such actions — while laudable and important — in no way match the scope and size of the problem where all markers indicate that life on Earth continues to slide into the dustbin.

Biodiversity is the ‘infrastructure that supports all life’ | The Guardian
Dr Cristiana Pașca Palmer, UN assistant secretary general and executive secretary of the convention on biological diversity, discusses Half Earth, a future biodiversity agreement and where to find the money to save life on Earth.

The world lost an area of tropical forest the size of Bangladesh in 2017 | Mongabay
According to new data, tropical countries lost 158,000 square kilometers (39 million acres) of tree cover in 2017 – an area the size of Bangladesh. The 2017 number is the second highest since the dataset began in 2001, and only a bit lower than the record high in 2016. Experts attribute the upward trend in tree cover loss primarily to continued land clearing for agricultural purposes.

A most unlikely hope: How the companies that destroyed the world’s forests can save them | Mongabay (Commentary)
In the age of Trump, lamenting the lassitude of governments may be satisfying, but it does little to solve our planet’s foremost existential crisis. It is for this reason that the hopes of billions of people now depend on the very companies most responsible for environmental destruction… At the end of the day, even the worst deforesters can be persuaded to stop and act effectively — if they hear enough from their customers and investors. In this commentary, Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz writes that he feels confident these companies can make a difference because they’ve done it before.

Orangutans have been adapting to humans for 70,000 years | The Conversation
If you are very lucky you might have seen an orangutan in the wild. Most people have only seen them on television. In either case the animal was probably deep in some remote forest, as yet untainted by people. This is the image we associate with these critically endangered animals: vulnerable, dependent on pristine habitats, and incapable of coexisting with people. But that view may be wrong.

Study of reefs reveals benefits of keeping global warming in check | SMH
Keeping global temperature increases to the lower end of the Paris climate accord would make a dramatic difference to the severity of coral bleaching by mid-century, according to research to be presented to the UN’s World Heritage Committee.

Plant response to rising CO2 levels may alter rainfall patterns across tropics | Mongabay
Stomata – the tiny pores through which plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen and water – are closing up everywhere on earth as atmospheric CO2 levels rise. This change in plant structure results in more water being stored within plants, and less being released to the atmosphere. In a recent study scientists posit that the reduction in water released by stomata through transpiration will result in changing rainfall patterns across the tropics. Researchers used climate models to test the hypothesis, noting that while reduced transpiration will occur everywhere, tropical climates in different regions respond differently.

Curious North Coast: Fears for the survival of northern long-nosed potoroo due to development | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – A new study shows the northern long-nosed potoroo, found on the north coast of New South Wales, could soon be extinct. The study, named The decline of the Northern Long-nosed Potoroo Potorous Tridactylus on the far north coast of New South Wales, is about to be published in scientific journal Australian Zoologist.

PHOTO: Several Long-nosed Potoroos have been released in the Booderee National Park on the South Coast. (Kristian Golding,

PHOTO: Several Long-nosed Potoroos have been released in the Booderee National Park on the South Coast. (Kristian Golding,

Garden Bird Survey key research for recording species numbers |
NEW ZEALAND – Every year for more than a decade, Jan Walker sits in her living room, looks out at the birds in her garden, and counts. The Christchurch resident is one of thousands who participate in the New Zealand Garden Bird Survey, kicking off on Saturday and running until July 8. “I think it’s a very worthwhile thing to do, it’s important for people to get interested in the natural life around them,” Walker said.

Economy and Business

India’s Low-Carbon Transition, According to Montek Singh Ahluwalia | World Resources Institute (Podcast 19:56)
Montek Singh Ahluwalia played a key role in economic reforms that put India on a sustained, high-growth trajectory, before retiring in 2014 as deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, a cabinet-level position. In a recent visit to World Resources Institute, he presented to staff on how India can make its next economic transition, to high-efficiency, low-carbon growth—and addresses the vested interests that will need to be addressed before that transition can be made.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Plastic-free campaigns don’t have to shock or shame. Shoppers are already on board | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – With Coles and Woolworths supermarkets phasing out single-use plastic bags at their checkout counters, and Queensland and Western Australia bringing in bans on single-use plastic bags for all retailers from July 1, a long overdue step is being taken towards reducing Australia’s plastic waste. However, it is only a small step, and much still needs to be done to tackle the problem. It is therefore useful to explore what strategies might be effective in informing the public about the issue, and in changing people’s consumption and littering behaviour.

Compostable plastic bags trialled in South Australia as bans loom in other states | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – It sounds too good to be true — a plastic bag made from corn starch that breaks down with food waste and leaves no remnant plastic to make its way into the oceans. As more states prepare to ban single-use plastic bags from July 1, these “compostable” light-weight bags for fruit and vegetables are being trialled in two South Australian supermarkets.

With incentives, industry could tackle Australia’s waste crisis | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – A team of researchers at the Centre for Sustainable Materials, Research and Technology (SMaRT), at University of New South Wales have developed a range of technologies to reform waste into valuable materials to be used in existing and new manufacturing processes.

‘Plastic is like a demon’: Mumbai to clean up by jailing repeat offenders | SMH
INDIA – On Mumbai’s Versova beach, it was once hard to see the sand amid the endless sea of plastic bags and trash. The long stretch of coast had essentially turned into a dumping site until volunteers banded together to clean it up. A few months later, olive ridley turtles began nesting there for the first time in 20 years. Now municipal authorities are taking a new step in the battle against the plastic waste that afflicts Mumbai and so many other cities across the country by criminalising the use of plastic bags with fines of up to $US366 ($495) and jail sentences for repeat offenders.

Politics and Society

Environment leaders renew climate commitments at global summit | Climate Action Programme
The world’s climate leaders have gathered in Vietnam for a major meeting on the environment. The summit, hosted by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), takes place every four years and brings together 183 member countries, business leaders and UN agencies, among others.

Queensland plastic bag ban sees inmates and Girl Guides roll out new boomerang bags | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Ellie has only been sewing a few months but she is powering her way through the production of fabric shopping bags ahead of Queensland’s state-wide ban on single-use plastic bags. She is one of the women at the Townsville’s Correctional Centre making up the reusable bags for Boomerang Bags Whitsundays. The project has been filling their time and provided the women with a way to contribute to society during their confinement.

Housing and car industries should be ‘ashamed’ of climate record | The Guardian
UK – The CCC’s annual report, published on Thursday, found the UK is on track to miss its legally binding carbon budgets in 2025 and 2030, due to lack of progress in cutting emissions from buildings and transport. It also said ministers were spurning low-cost options, such as onshore windfarms, home insulation and tree-planting, meaning people would end up paying more than needed to fight climate change.
See also: Young will pick up climate change bill, advisers warn | BBC News