A fortnightly roundup of good news from around the world. This is the free edition. For the full experience, you can upgrade to the weekly premium edition, which also comes with mind-blowing science and the best bits of the internet. One third of the subscriber fee goes to charity.Become a paid subscriber
Good news you probably didn't hear about
A gentle reminder that as of Tuesday this week, over three billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered around the world. Most media outlets are focusing on how badly the rollout is going, and while those criticisms are valid for some countries (8% in four months is hard to spin, even for Scotty From Marketing), globally the numbers tell a very different story. Not that you'd know this from the headlines, but the pace is picking up: it took 20 weeks to give out the first billion doses, but only four to give out the last billion.
This is easily the biggest and fastest vaccination effort in human history. Our species has never done anything remotely like this before. The manufacturing and distribution challenges are mind-bogglingly hard, and that's before you get to the all-too-human problems of bureaucratic screwups, political cynicism, and a natural distrust of new technology. Given the obstacles, it's amazing that we've got this far, this quickly. Perhaps a moment of appreciation is in order?
A moment of appreciation too, for a successful, multi-generational effort to eliminate malaria in China. It's the 40th nation in the world to achieve malaria-free status, and the first in the western Pacific region in 30 years. Not bad for a country that used to report 30 million cases per year in the 1940s.
Bangladesh, home to 160 million people, has been heralded a ‘development miracle’ in the Daily Star as it celebrates its 50th year of independence. Since 1991, GDP per capita has increased seven fold, 24 million people have been lifted out of poverty, life expectancy has risen to 73 years, infant and maternal mortality rates have fallen by a factor of five and the literacy rate has increase from 35% to 74%.
A study in The Lancet of 21 low, medium and high income countries has found that there has been no increase in suicide rates and that 12 countries actually recorded a decrease. This good news has been attributed to increased awareness, better access to mental health services, financial relief packages and new connection points within local communities.
Some good news from Tanzania too, which will allow pregnant girls and teen mothers the opportunity to resume secondary education, overturning a 4-year ban, and Saudi Arabia has officially allowed single, divorced or widowed women to live independently in a house without permission from a father or any other male guardian. “An adult woman has the right to choose where to live. Families can no longer file lawsuits against their daughters who choose to live alone.”
In Canada, a welcome win for LGBTQI+ rights with the passage of a historic bill criminalizing conversion therapy. It joins Germany, Malta, Ecuador, Brazil and Taiwan as countries that have outlawed the practice nationally. Further south, Connecticut has restored voting rights to people with past convictions, marking a milestone in the push to end criminal disenfranchisement,
In Europe, 33 cities have signed an International Alliance of Safe Harbours Agreement allowing them to take in more refugees rescued at sea, in a bid to distribute the load more evenly away from hotspots in the Mediterranean. In Iran, a set of reforms has been passed to ensure that proper schooling is made available to all migrants, including thousands of undocumented children.
Efforts to force multinational companies to pay their fair share have taken a decisive step forward after the world's largest economies agreed to sweeping changes to the global tax system, setting an international minimum corporate tax rate of at least 15%.
More than 1,800 schools in the Indian state of West Bengal have installed mini-solar plants in the past two years, and there are plans to expand installations by 1,000 schools a year until the number reaches 25,000. Schools have used the savings for tree-planting, additional teachers, computer classes and sanitation upkeep. Reuters
Workers with disabilities in Hawaii will be guaranteed fair wages, after an old labour law that allowed employers to pay them less was given the boot. It's welcome news for the 26,000 people who live in Hawaii with some form of disability. Guardian
In Montana, 18,000 acres of wildlife reserve, known as the National Bison Range, has been formally handed back to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and in Maine, the Passamaquoddy tribe have bought back their ancestral land of Pine Island, with the help of a grant from conservation charities.
Our concept of land ownership is that nobody ‘owns’ land. Instead, we have a sacred duty to protect it. This feels like finding a lost relative - Donald Soctomah, Passamaquoddy Historic Preservation Officer
Saving the world is cheaper than ruining it
Heralded as ‘a law of laws’, the EU has approved landmark legislation to enshrine greenhouse gas emissions targets in law, requiring a 55% reduction by 2030, net zero by 2050, and the creation of a carbon budget for 2030-2050 that meets climate goals. It's a very, very big deal. It comes off the back of a very bad few weeks for fossil fuels, after a Brussels court ruled that Belgium’s failure to meet climate targets is a violation of human rights, and recognized 58,000 citizens as co-plaintiffs. The historic judgement follows similar, recent rulings in the Netherlands, Germany and France.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the first three months of 2021 saw 2.5 Hoover Dams worth of capacity added to the US grid, a 46% increase compared to the same period in 2020. Solar and wind accounted for 99% of all new power generation capacity in Q1. Endgame for coal and gas. That's certainly how Maine sees it, after becoming the first state in the United States to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Perhaps they'd gotten wind of a recent survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas of oil and gas executives, which included this little gem:
We have relationships with approximately 400 institutional investors and close relationships with 100. Approximately one is willing to give new capital to oil and gas investment.
Or perhaps they've been paying attention to the latest projections by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics which say that wind turbine service technician and solar panel installer will be the country’s fastest and third fastest growing occupations in the next decade. Reminds us of this graph, which might be one of our favourites of the entire Trump era (we're still waiting for that NYT visit to 'Wind Country').
The world's industrialists and financiers can certainly smell the blood in the water. Fossil fuels billionaire and Asia's richest man, Mukesh Ambani, is making 'a green pivot' with a $10.1 billion investment into clean energy over the next three years. “I envision a future when our country will be transformed from a large importer of fossil energy to a large exporter of clean solar energy solutions.”
Could his newfound enthusiasm for the fate of the planet have something to do with a new piece of reporting from the Financial Times? According to the latest estimates, the vast majority of new coal-power plants being planned around the world will not make back their upfront costs. Specificially, 92% of facilities proposed or under construction globally would cost more to build than the future cash flow they would generate. Pipelines? More like pipe dreams.
Case in point: since 2014, Chinese companies have financed 52 overseas coal projects, worth a combined $160 billion. It's one of the worst investment decisions of all time. Only one plant has gone into operation, and 33 have been shelved or cancelled, with plenty more still to come. No new projects were announced at all in 2020.
Right on cue, China’s biggest bank has dumped a plan to finance a $3 billion coal-fired power plant in Zimbabwe, Japanese trading house Mitsui & Co has eagerly offloaded its investments into Indonesian coal, and South Korea's three big insurance companies will stop underwriting coal-power projects, thanks in part to some serious people power.
There's more. One of Malaysia's biggest banks, RHB, has announced a coal exit by 2022, in Bangladesh, regulators are scrapping plans for 10 coal-fired power plants in favour of renewable energy (that's another 8GW off the table, k thanks), and North Macedonia and Montenegro have become the first countries in the Western Balkans to announce coal exits, saying they will close their plants by 2027 and 2035 respectively.
Meanwhile, in Scandinavia, quiet, clean, and green are not words you would typically use to describe a construction site, but on one of the busiest streets in the heart of Oslo, there's something special going on: in a world-first, all the machinery used on site, excavators, diggers, and loaders, are now electric.
Canada has certainly seen the electric writing on the wall, announcing a ban on the sale of new fuel-burning cars and light-duty trucks from 2035, and there's been a rare bit of good news in our backyard too. In a bid to become the 'Norway of Australia' the state of New South Wales has unveiled a massive $490 million package of new incentives, tax cuts and spending on fast-charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. Here's a list of the cars that benefit the most. C'mon Victoria.
Volkswagen has announced it will stop making combustion engines in Europe by 2035, Ford and Volvo said they would start all-electric production in Europe by 2030, and Audi has declared that from 2026 it will no longer launch new combustion engine models, not even hybrids. Only pure battery vehicles will be developed. That's five years away.
Now, if someone could just tell all of that to Scotty From Marketing.
The only home we've ever known
The entire landmass of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, 3,800 km2 of pristine wilderness that you've definitely seen in a nature documentary, will be designated as a protected area, complementing the existing 1.24 million km2 marine reserve.
Following the shutdown of coal mining in the Svalbard region of Norway, the government has started cleanup operations and expanded the boundaries of a national park by 2,914 km2 to include the former coal sites. “Our goal is for Svalbard to be one of the best-managed wilderness areas in the world." In other conservation news, a vast area of breathtaking beauty ranging through Albania, North Macedonia and Kosovo is about to become a national park, creating one of the largest protected areas in Europe.
It's probably worth mentioning that in the last decade, an area larger than Russia has been added to the world as parks or conservation areas. To give that success a different perspective, of all the land ever protected and conserved by official action, 42% was in the last ten years. Almost 20% of the world’s landmass is now protected from development.
In New Zealand single-use plastics will be phased out by 2025, with bans on cotton buds, packaging, cutlery, straws, and fruit labels beginning next year. The measures could reduce over 2 billion single-use items from landfill each year.
Gabon has passed new laws to protect the country’s 69 species of sharks and rays. The landmark measures include new laws to fully regulate shark and ray catches, and highlight a new global initiative launched on World Ocean Day to save endangered marine species.
Tanzania is hopeful of reaching a ‘zero-elephant-poaching’ target after making thousands of arrests, including 21 kingpins of the illegal trafficking trade. Since 2014, the elephant population has increased by 17,000, remarkable progress for a country that once had the unenviable status of the world’s elephant killing fields.
In the United Arab Emirates, the population of the endangered Arabian oryx has increased by 22% in four years thanks to a reintroduction program inside the country's largest nature reserve.
A ‘drastic times, drastic measures’ approach has proved successful for two radical conservation experiments on different sides of the globe. In Southwest America, the population of the Mexican wolf has been bolstered by a fostering program which placed captive born pups into wild dens, while in Australia, a ‘headstarting’ method has saved the bridled nailtail wallaby from extinction by giving juveniles a few years in protected areas, before released them back into the wild.
And finally, we've saved our favourite story for last. Animal rights activists in China have pulled off an incredible rescue mission, removing 101 moon bears from a bile extraction facility and transporting them over 1,200 km to a rehab centre. It took years of planning, and involved three convoys of nine trucks each, and a dedicated team of vets and carers who will continue to rehabilitate the bears as they settle into their new home.
This unprecedented, historic and momentous event has been eight years in the making. It has been the most challenging, unpredictable and emotional journey we have been on as an organisation.
That's it for this edition, thanks for reading! We'll see you in a fortnight.
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