Good news you probably didn't hear about
We're kicking things off with some amazing news from UNICEF, the world’s largest vaccine buyer. They've just signed a long-term agreement with the world's biggest vaccine manufacturer to supply the new R21 malaria vaccine through to 2028. They expect to start immunising kids in mid-2024. This is huge—half a million children die of malaria every year.
The European Commission, the European Investment Bank, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation just announced a $1.1 billion package for one final push on polio. The funds will cover polio vaccinations for nearly 370 million children annually and deliver vital health services to children, along with the vaccinations. 'We are about to wipe polio off the face of the Earth.' Reuters
Thanks to young people, Poland's democratic opposition has won a majority of seats in both chambers of the country’s parliament. Within the next two months, they should be able to form a new coalition government, bringing to an end the eight-year rule of the current illiberal, misogynist and populist government. 'Whoever I talk to, it’s relief and hope.' Politico
Millions of girls in Eastern and Southern Africa will gain greater access to education thanks to a newly-approved $832 million programme called EAGER. The first phase will directly support over two million girls in Mozambique and Madagascar to stay in or return to school, and future phases are expected in Burundi, Comoros, the DRC, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
More encouraging news on education: government spending on education in low-income countries as a percentage of GDP rose from 3.2% in 2018 to 3.6% in 2021. While still below the international benchmark of 4%, for the first time ever, governments accounted for over half of all spending on education in these countries. World Bank
Over the last seven years, Kenya has trained over 1,200 nurses, with a big emphasis on midwifery and maternal and neonatal care. It's working. The most recent data show that under-five mortality in Kenya has more than halved, there's been a significant uptick in vaccinations, 98% of women now receive antenatal care, and 89% of births are attended by a skilled provider.
Also—from the same report—the prevalence of stunting in Kenya has decreased markedly since 1993, with the greatest decrease coming between 2008 and 2022, during which stunting levels fell from 35% to 18% of all children.
The island nation of Cabo Verde, located off the coast of West Africa, has embarked on an ambitious goal to eradicate extreme poverty by 2026. Their track record is good—the proportion of its population living in extreme poverty fell from 22.6% in 2015 to 11.1% in 2022 due to greater investment in social protection policies. World Bank
The folks over at Human Progress have got an excellent new dashboard that allows you to pull up all sorts of data, including stuff like this. As recently as 2000, just half of Sub-Saharan Africans had access to an improved water source (e.g., piped, well, rain, spring, or bottled water). By 2020, nearly 80% of sub-Saharan Africa had access, along with 94% of people worldwide.
Since 2015, global efforts to eliminate lymphatic filariasis—also known as elephantiasis—have made encouraging progress. Thanks to mass drug administration, the population of people requiring treatment in places where the disease is endemic has fallen from 1.426 billion in 2015 to 760 million people in 2022, a 53.3% reduction. WHO
In a landmark win for Japan’s LGBTQ+ community, a court in central Japan has ruled that it is unconstitutional to require a transgender person to undergo sterilisation surgery in order to change their legal gender. 'I want children to hang on to their hope. I want to see a society where sexual diversity is naturally accepted.' HRW
Core inflation in the United States is almost back down to pre-pandemic levels, having now fallen below 2% annualised for the first time since the lockdowns, and the US economy is now in a better place than the IMF was predicting back in 2019, before the pandemic.
There are a lot of people with very large microphones still talking about the US crime wave. Somebody should probably show them the latest data from the FBI. Homicides in 2022 were down 6.1%, and the murder rate is now below 2020 levels. The violent crime rate fell by 1.7% last year, reaching it's lowest level since 2014.
If it bleeds, it leads
The Pulitzer Prize is the oldest and most prestigious award in journalism, and these are the winners of its Non-Fiction category from the last decade. Four books on racial injustice, two on poverty, and one each on illness, fracking, terrorism, and mass extinction. Whew. While some of these topics do deserve more attention than they have historically received, it's not exactly balanced is it? There are two possible explanations: either it's been an unusually horrifying ten years, or else journalists are more likely to receive awards if they write about death, disaster, and division.
The only home we've ever known
Two weeks ago, Israel greenlit the 90 km2 Ramat Mazar Reserve in the Negev Desert. The area borders the existing Judean Desert Nature Reserve and is home to several species such as the Nubian ibex, dorcas gazelle, the desert tawny owl and Blanford’s fox. Times of Israel
A conservation group called Greater Yellowstone Coalition has purchased 1,598 acres of land on the boundary of Yellowstone National Park to save it from gold mining, removing the last viable mining threat in the area. The area is home to grizzly bears, bison, elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep. NYT
A reforestation initiative in Xizang, China, is well under way to restore approximately 206,700 hectares of land in the mountains of Lhasa. Last year, 55,870 hectares of land were reforested, employing over 1.68 million people. Xizang has now established 47 nature reserves. Global Times
For the first time since dams were removed along the Elwha River in 2014, a local tribe has caught salmon. Coho have made the strongest recovery so far, with an estimated 6,821 returning to the river in 2022, the largest run in four years. The tribe’s fishery is part of an agreement that restricts fishing to 400 coho while restoring tribal history and culture. Seattle Times
It will be a great time to introduce our children to the river, and hopefully revive some of those basic ceremonies around it.
Wendy Sampson, Lower Elwha Klallam tribal member
Deforestation in Brazil continues to fall, despite severe drought. During September 629 km2 of forest was cleared, a 57% drop from the same month last year. Federal agencies have also removed illegal land grabbers from the Apyterewa and Trincheira Bacajá territories, with the goal of returning land rights to the 25,000 Indigenous people who live there.
A 'landmark moment for nature recovery' in the UK, with a new national reserve on the Lincolnshire coast. Spanning 30 kilometres of coastline, the area includes a rich variety of sand dunes, salt marshes, mudflats, and freshwater marshes that are breeding habitats for over-wintering birds, natterjack toads, and insects. BBC
After a long history of whale hunting, Azores, a Portuguese archipelago, is now being hailed as the 'gold standard for responsible whale watching.' The transition from whaling to watching has resulted in a thriving tourism industry with 20 whale watching companies operating across the islands, which are on the migration route for blue and fin whales. CNN
A decades-long breeding project to restore giant tortoises on Española in the Galapagos Islands has transformed the barren ecosystem into a savanna. In 2020, nearly 2,000 captive-bred tortoises were released, and the population blossomed to 3,000. Giant tortoises, like beavers, are ecological architects. 'As few as one or two tortoises per hectare is enough to trigger a shift in the landscape.' Hakai
A landmark food safety law in California will ban red dye No. 3, along with other harmful additives in consumer goods that have been linked to cancer and behavioural issues in children. Nearly 3,000 products use these additives, including Skittles, Nerds, protein shakes, and instant rice. Brands now have until 2027 to revise their recipes. CNN
Stockholm is planning to ban petrol and diesel cars in parts of the city starting in 2025. The proposed area spans 20 blocks, straddling the finance area and main shopping hub, and would only allow electric cars and some hybrid trucks. The proposal builds on the success of low-emissions zones in cities like London. Bloomberg
A few more home runs
The city of Pittsburgh has implemented a plastic bag ban for restaurants and grocery stores. A ten-year fishing ban in the Yangtze River has increased the population of finless porpoises by 23% to 1,249. In the Scottish Highlands, the world’s first public rewilding centre is giving people an opportunity to get hands-on with nature. The number of nesting seabirds on the island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel is at a 90-year high. More good news for birds! Seven birds on the Red List have been spotted at Dorset’s Wild Woodbury reserve, including the nightingale, greenfinch, and skylark. The new Pecan Spring Karst Preserve in Texas will protect over 485 hectares, providing a crucial habitat for endangered species like the golden-cheeked warbler, the Salado salamander, and the tricolored bat. When was the last time you checked in on the Ocean Cleanup? You should probably go have a look.