Thanks to a potent combination of newborns and snap COVID-19 lockdowns here in Melbourne, we've missed sending out the last two editions of this newsletter. Fortunately, that means this is a bumper issue. In fact, there's so much good news we've had to separate it into even more categories than usual, starting with a brand new section whose time definitely feels like it's come:
It's cheaper to save the world than it is to ruin it
The Keystone XL pipeline has been officially terminated, cementing one of the biggest environmental victories of all time. Activists managed to delay the $9 billion, 830,000 barrel per day, Alberta oil sands 'dirty climate bomb' for 12 years, and in the process, give birth to much of the modern climate movement. Take a moment to appreciate this, it's really sweet. Even the most idealistic frontline warriors didn't expect it to end this well.
Eight Australian high school students and a Catholic nun have struck a devastating blow against the coal industry, following a court ruling that the federal environment minister has a duty of care to avoid harm to young people from climate change. Australia is the world's largest exporter of coking coal and the second-largest for thermal coal, so this is a big deal. Reuters
Romania, one of Europe's last remaining coal holdouts, says it will close all of its coal mines by 2032, introduce ecotaxes, discourage the registration of cars older than 15 years and boost scrapping schemes for polluting vehicles, and Canada says it will no longer approve thermal-coal mining projects. C'mon Straya.
South Korea's $774.1 billion National Pension Service, the third largest pension fund in the world, will cease investments related to the construction of coal-fired power plants at home and abroad. That's the 51st coal exit policy from a financial institution announced this year, a 61% increase over 2020. Pensions & Investments
The United States has the world's second largest fleet of coal plants, and 80% of them are now either more expensive to continue operating compared to building new wind or solar, or are set to retire in the next four years. If you think the last four years were bad for US coal, the next four are going to make them feel like a cakewalk.
One fifth of all cars rolling off the production lines in Germany are now hybrid or electric. This is an astonishing change for the fourth largest maker of cars in the world - manufacturers are now producing 74,000 EVs a month, and Volkswagen is now the third largest EV maker in the world after Tesla and Renault-Nissan. The Driven
On that note, isn't it amazing how quickly industrialists seem to develop a conscience when there's a threat to their bottom line? This time, it's Italian automotive giant Fiat that suddenly cares about the fate of the planet, saying it will be an all electric brand by 2030. "This is our greatest project." Indeed. Engadget
It’s adiós to oil and gas drilling in Spain, following new legislation requiring the complete phase out of fossil fuel production by 2042. Sales of ICE vehicles will be banned by 2040, and 74% of the country’s electricity must be renewable by 2030. Meanwhile, renewables produced half of the country's electricity for the first time ever last month, reaching 50.7% of supply.
Over half a million people in Senegal just gained access to clean electricity after two solar PV plants were switched on, and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a massive $100 million off-grid solar project has been approved to bring power to three northern cities that currently have no connection to the grid.
In Texas, four months after Republicans falsely blamed clean energy for the failure of the electric grid, investors have decided just what the state needs: more clean power. 15GW, the equivalent of Finland's entire electrical capacity, is now under construction or in advanced development, more than double three years ago. Bloomberg
Why do all of these stories matter? They matter because they show the tide has turned. The fossil fuels industry is now firmly on the wrong side of both history and company balance sheets, and there's nowhere else left to run. Carbon needs to be accounted for, there is no escaping it. The science has been telling us, our experience of wildfires, freak summers and extended winters has been telling us, and now the mood music is telling us, from the courtrooms of The Hague to the boardrooms of Seoul and the factory lines of Zwickau. It's the year 2021 and the economic and political realities of climate change have finally caught up to the scientific and technological ones and that makes us feel very, very hopeful.
Good news you probably didn't hear about
There's been a new update on progress towards SDG7: the number of people without access to electricity has declined from 1.2 billion to 759 million in the past decade, the number connected to mini grids more than doubled during the same time period, and access to clean cooking solutions has grown by 1% annually.
A new report from the WHO says there were 1.5 million new HIV infections in 2020, a decline of 30% since 2010, and the lowest total number since 1990. The UN's 90-90-90 targets are inching closer: 81% of people living with HIV know their status, 67% are receiving ARVs (up from 20% in 2010), 59% have suppressed viral loads, and 85% of pregnant women are receiving ARVs. Mirage
The same report says that 9.4 million people around the world are now receiving treatment for Hepatitis C, an almost 10-fold increase from the baseline of one million at the end of 2015. This scale-up of treatment has been sufficient to reverse the global trend of increasing mortality from Hepatitis C for the first time ever. ReliefWeb
The global effort to eradicate polio just received a major boost with the release of $5 billion in new funding from The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a public-private partnership by national governments and health groups. Most of it will be spent on vaccinations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the last two countries in the world where outbreaks of wild polio still occur. NYT
A decades-long effort to infuse mosquitoes with a virus-blocking microbe has culminated in a trial in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, that achieved a 77% reduction in cases and an 86% reduction in people needing hospital care. Since the trial ended, the intervention has been expanded to cover the entire city and neighbouring districts. In 12 months time, 2.5 million people can expect to be benefiting from the protection from dengue that Wolbachia provides. BBC
Not only was the science behind this world class, it's also one of the best examples we've ever seen of community engagement. They had to convince 90% of the community before releasing the mosquitoes, requiring years of meetings, letting people in to see the labs, using Whatsapp for engagement, and employing over 10,000 local volunteers to place the mosquito eggs in people’s backyards. Development specialists take note: this is how to help, not through patronage, but through partnership.
It was like we were releasing hope
The US government has put an end to the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols — known as the "Remain in Mexico" program, requiring asylum seekers to return to Mexico until their court dates in the United States. Advocates are calling it a “huge victory” that will save thousands of innocent people from squalid conditions and extortion, sexual assault, and kidnapping. Common Dreams
The government will also make $1 billion in grants available to narrow the digital divide, expanding broadband access for Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities. Only half of households on tribal lands currently subscribe to a home internet service. The Verge
Ecuador has become the latest country in Latin America to be swept up in the 'green wave' abortion rights movement, following a ruling by the country's Constitutional Court decriminalizing abortion in cases of rape. “Never again will women be threatened with jail time, preventing them from making decisions about their reproductive life." Al Jazeera
Your regular reminder that social attitudes can and do change, sometimes in the space of a single generation. Support for same-sex marriage in the United States is now at an all time high of 70%, up from 60% in 2015 when it was legalized, and from 27% in 1996, when Gallup first started asking the question.
Hopefully we're also at the beginning of a similar shift in India, with news that Tamil Nadu has become the first Indian state to ban conversion 'therapy’ after an unprecedented and progressive judgment by the Madras High Court last week. The best part of this story is what the judge said about why he changed his mind.
Prisons across America are being repurposed into homeless shelters, educational farms, and even movie studios as years of declining crime rates force prison closures. Thanks to alternative penalties for non-violent crimes, the number of people incarcerated in the United States in 2020 plummeted by 17% to 1.7 million. AP
The danger in having prisons that are not either repurposed or, to be honest, torn down, is that there will always be an incentive to lock more people up - Nicole Porter | The Sentencing Project
Life, uh, finds a way *
A coalition of more than 40 groups, ranging from local NGOs to governments to international organizations, has mobilized $43 million for efforts to restore degraded habitats in the Galápagos Islands. The initiative aims to reintroduce 13 extinct species, and help increase the population of 54 threatened species.
The US government has suspended all drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of the country's largest tracts of untouched wilderness, and home to migrating waterfowl, caribou and polar bears. It's a big win for environmental groups and First Nations people who have campaigned to stop drilling for decades. NYT
Six years after the toxic haze crisis, the Indonesian government has restored more than 2 million hectares of damaged, carbon-rich peatlands and has announced a plan to replant an additional 1.5 million acres by 2024. The policy reset has been driven by environmentalists who demanded action to curb fires, and an unsung army of ordinary Indonesians who have been toiling for decades to restore these habitats. Last year, the country achieved its fourth consecutive year of decline in deforestation. Reuters
South Korea also has some big tree planting plans, saying it will plant three billion new trees over the next 30 years after joining the WEF's One Trillion Trees initiative, and Glasgow has given the green light to a plan to create a massive urban forest consisting of 18 million trees in and around the city over the next 10 years. BBC
A revolutionary new conservation program in southern Ecuador, funded by a small fee on municipality water, has achieved spectacular success, re-wilding 1,500 ha and putting an additional 337,000 ha under conservation. It represents a simple, yet effective model that can be replicated across the world.
Chile has passed new legislation that will reduce the country’s plastic waste by more than 23,000 tons per year, and in Australia, 60 organizations, including Coles, Woolworths, Nestle and Coca-Cola, have signed an ANZPAC plastics pact that will make all plastic packaging in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. This landmark intervention comes after three years of negotiations and will drastically reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfill and the ocean each year. ABC
The total value of meat products sold in Germany fell by 4% in 2020 compared to 2019. By contrast, sales of plant-based alternatives skyrocketed by 39%, suggesting there has been a permanent shift in tastes, especially from younger consumers.
Furry friends will also be pleased to hear that Israel has become the first country to completely ban the sale of all fur products, including imports and exports. Expect this to be the first in a long list over the next few years. The Beet
The Florida panther has rebounded from a population of 20 to 200 in three decades. The long road to recovery began in 1995 with legislation for a genetic restoration plan, and just received another big boost from lawmakers with $100 million for land conversation and to build highway underpasses along migration corridors. NPR
This is a conservation success story that belongs to Florida and Floridians, and can be a real model of nature and people working together - Carlton Ward Jr | National Geographic photographer
The population of the critically endangered Saiga antelope in Kazakhstan has more than doubled to 842,000 since 2019. It’s a massive rebound for a species that made international headlines in 2015 after 200,000 animals died from a nasal bacterium spread in unusually warm weather. France24
The critically endangered Polish wolf has recovered to an estimated population of 3,000, a massive leap from the mere 60 in existence in the early 1970s. It's always the same story with these endangered species recoveries: decades of unseen, thankless work from scientists, conservationists and activists...
Which is exactly what happened in Bulgaria, which now has a stable population of around 80 griffon vultures, more than 40 years after the birds were declared extinct in the Balkan nation. There are now at least 23 mating pairs, who have been breeding in the wild since 2016.
Alright we are done here (told you it was a bumper edition). Hope you're doing alright out there. We'll see you in a fortnight.