This is our regular round up of stories of progress from around the world. If you'd like to join the 51,000 people who get this in their inbox every week, you can subscribe for free below.
Give a damn
We're so pleased to introduce our first charity partner of 2024. Acción Andina is a grassroots initiative working across five countries in South America to restore Andean ecosystems. Their approach unites tens of thousands of people in indigenous communities to protect and restore the region's native ecosystems. Since 2018, they've planted almost 10 million native trees and protected more than 11,000 hectares of native forest.
We're sending them US$6,000 to kit out two community forest fire brigades in Calca and Urubamba in Peru. A big thanks to all our paying subscribers for helping make this happen (a third of all subscriber fees goes to charity). They're going to use the funds to buy 13 machetes, 47 fire paddles, ten axes and ten backpacks. Here's a clip from our podcast with Tino, one of their founders, a truly amazing human being.
In 2008, India recorded over 33,000 cases of a brutal disease called visceral leishmaniasis (black fever). Left untreated, 95% of cases are fatal. In 2023, provisional government data showed just 520 cases nationwide, putting India on the verge of becoming the second country to eliminate this disease. DW
France’s top court has struck down large parts of a divisive new immigration law that was passed in parliament with the backing of the far right, ruling that the measures go against the Constitution. The top court also threw out a deeply divisive measure that made it harder for immigrants to bring their families to France. France24
Women in Türkiye can now use their own surnames after marriage, following a decision by the Constitutional Court to abolish a restrictive provision in the Turkish Civil Code. 'Saying that a married woman must take her husband’s surname, and the child take their father’s surname is lending official support to the patriarchy.' duvaR
In the United States, 21.3 million people have signed up for an Obamacare plan during the enrolment period this year, including more than five million people—about a fourth—who did so for the first time. Four in five of all customers were able to find health care insurance for $10 or less per month after subsidies. CMS
José Andrés and World Central Kitchen always seem to find a way. They just announced they've served over 22 million meals in Gaza. They've been able to dispatch over 800 trucks to the area and set up 27 kitchens and over 750 clean cooking stoves.
Between 2000 and 2020, the Lao maternal mortality rate fell by over 250%, one of the largest reductions in the world. It's primarily thanks to the work of midwives, who provide critical sexual and reproductive health services and support their patients through labour and delivery, family planning decision making, and the pursuit of rights and choices. UNFPA
'It’s rare to see such fast, decisive action on a major health problem—and impressive to see it immediately rewarded with such a dramatic improvement in blood lead levels and health outcomes. It’s a reminder that things can change, and can change very quickly, as long as people care, and as long as they act': how Bangladesh removed lead from turmeric and saved lives. Vox
In 2023, Colombia trialled a new model for improving maternal healthcare in 16 territories. An analysis of those territories showed a 16% reduction in the maternal mortality rate during the first six months of the year, so the Ministry of Health has now adopted the strategy nationwide. Think Global Health
Zimbabwe has launched a massive house-to-house vaccination campaign to curb the spread of cholera. The target is to vaccinate 2.3 million people in the most affected districts. Each vaccination team is composed of three people, expected to vaccinate an average of 150 persons per day. UNICEF
A working-class victory is on the horizon in Colombia, after a labour reform law advanced to a second round of legislative debates. The bill will not only restore labour rights that were rescinded two decades ago by a far-right government, it will go a step further and expand these rights, increasing overtime pay, expanding social security for delivery workers, and strengthening workplace rights.
The Seychelles has the best education system in Africa. At least 9% of the country's budget is allocated to education, and it has met all six of UNESCO's goals, achieving a 50% improvement in adult literacy, ensuring universal access to primary education, and achieving gender equality in education. Fair Planet
Kenya has a major project underway to improve wastewater management and water supplies across the country, and it's working. This month, President Ruto has inaugurated two major clean water schemes—one serving 200,000 people in Trans-Nzoia county and another in Busia County serving 173,624 people. Afrik21
Last year, Türkiye suffered its worst earthquakes in nearly a century, exacting a devastating economic, physical, and human toll. A year on, reconstruction and recovery work is in full swing. Damaged or collapsed infrastructure is being rebuilt, tens of thousands of classrooms constructed, and record investments are pouring in.
In our last edition, we included a photo of Hannah Ritchie that we didn't credit properly. The original image was from an interview she did with Positive News, about how we can all replace the ‘deadweight’ of endless unsolvable problems with useful, urgent optimism. We're really embarrassed about the omission, we're usually pretty good on image attribution! If you don't already know about them, do yourself a favour and check UK-based Positive News out, they do such good work.
Mexico has announced 20 new protected areas, which will cover roughly 23,000 km2, stretching across 12 states and both the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California. The areas will preserve critical land and marine habitats for species including whale sharks, Mexican prairie dogs, and jaguars. Mongabay
China’s efforts to protect panda habitats are paying off, with the wild population of giant pandas increasing from 1,100 in the 1980s to 1,900 today. The Giant Panda National Park, established in 2021, is home to around 72% of the wild giant panda population, securing a status change for the species from 'endangered' to 'vulnerable.' Straits Times
The EU is tackling greenwashing, with new legislation banning misleading marketing claims like 'environmentally friendly' and 'biodegradable' on product packaging unless there is concrete evidence for the claims. It is also continuing its crackdown on microplastics by forcing beauty companies to cover the extra costs needed to get rid of the pollutants in urban wastewater.
Ireland has designated its largest and newest seabird protection area, more than 3,000 km2 off the coast of Wexford. The area adjoins eight existing protected areas and will boost protections for over 20 species of rare and threatened birds, including the Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver, and Black-backed Gull. Irish Independent
Over the past several years, American cities and states have passed over 500 policies restricting single-use plastic bags, and a new report says these laws have prevented billions of bags from being used. 'The bottom line is that plastic bag bans work.' Grist
Lagos State, in Nigeria, has announced an immediate ban on single-use plastics and styrofoam to deal with escalating pollution. It follows the lead of African countries like Tanzania, Botswana, Uganda, and South Africa that have either banned single-use plastics or placed a high tax on them. Ecowatch
The world’s forests are doing better than we think. England now has more forest than it did during the Black Death, covering 13,000 km2 of the country; China’s forest area has increased by about 607,000 km2 since 1992, and the combined tree-planting efforts of India and the United States would cover Bangladesh in an unbroken canopy of leaves. Bloomberg 🎁
'We should celebrate our success in slowing a pattern of human deforestation that’s been going on for nearly 100,000 years. Nothing about the damage we do to our planet is inevitable. With effort, it may even be reversible.'
The first-ever platypus translocation program has introduced ten furry trailblazers into Sydney’s Royal National Park after a 50-year absence, with hopes they will breed in the area. Over the past three decades, the areas where platypuses live in Australia have shrunk by 22%, but early reports from the program say the animals are adapting well. Concrete Playground
After two years of negotiations, Belgium has banned the import of hunting trophies from endangered species. Heralded as a 'momentous' triumph for wildlife conservation, the legislation will protect vulnerable animals such as hippopotamuses, cheetahs, and polar bears. World Animal News
Composting is now mandatory in France, with households and businesses required to sort out bio-waste such as food scraps and garden waste, and in California, consumers and businesses have cut food waste by 10% since 2016. Tighter restrictions are aiming to cut organic waste by 75% by 2025, in addition to recovering 20% of edible food waste in order to address food insecurity.
Colombia has created a new national park by turning local ranchers into rangers. After a decade of negotiations, Parque Nacional Natural Serranía de Manacacías now spans 680 km2 of tropical savanna that provides a crucial link to the Amazon. 'The hope is that by protecting this small puzzle piece of savanna, a whole lot more can be saved.' NYT
Even more good news for the planet
Brazil’s footwear industry is aiming to become more sustainable by switching to vegan materials. In Scotland, a fierce competition ensues between glens, lochs, and isles to become the country’s next national park; in Devon, an ancient rainforest will be restored with 100,000 new trees across 50 hectares; in Wisconsin, the largest land conservation purchase in the state's history will protect 70,000 acres of the Pelican River Forest. Could 2024 be the turning point for unregulated fishing? Communities in northeastern Brazil have rallied to protect 100,000 acres of Caatinga dry forest, and volunteer efforts to remove purple urchins are saving California’s kelp forests. Have you ever wondered how cities like London and Paris make car-free zones popular? It has something to do with the Goodwin Curve. 'When I first set foot in the Klamath watershed as a scientist back in 2008, dam removal seemed little more than a dream. Fast forward 15 years and I’m on the edge of my seat as three dams on the Klamath River see their final days, with a fourth already removed.'
That's all for this edition, thanks for reading. A particularly big thank you to everyone who supports us with a paid subscription. We know the donations aren't big time, but you'd be surprised at how much of a difference a few axes and fire paddles can make. We're so grateful.
We'll see you next week.
Gus and Amy