The United Nations has ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first ever global treaty to ban nuclear weapons and all activities related to them. It's not the end of nuclear weapons - the US, Russia and China haven't signed on - but it is a historic milestone in the decades long campaign by civil society groups for disarmament. Conversation
Last year the Global Fund doled out over $8 billion to combat infectious diseases and strengthen health systems in developing countries. This is the highest amount of grants ever given out in a single year, and they all kicked off this month. “This is an exceptional achievement that will help more than 100 countries continue the critical fight against HIV, TB and malaria." Relief Web
Egypt's cabinet has toughened its laws on female genital mutilation, imposing jail terms of up to 20 years as part of efforts to stamp out the horrifying tradition (90% of Egyptian women between 15 and 49 have undergone FGM). The new law hikes the maximum sentence from the current seven years, and will ban any medical practitioners involved from practicing for five years. Reuters
The UN just released its latest data on family planning. The total number of women and girls around the world using modern contraception now stands at 320 million, with 60 million new users in the last seven years, and nine million in the past year alone. Progress has been particularly strong in Africa, where the number of modern contraceptive users has grown by 66% since 2012. FP2020
Ahead of World Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Day, it's worth taking stock. More than one billion people have received treatment for at least one NTD every year for the last five years, there are 500 million people who no longer require interventions for any NTDs, and 42 countries, territories and areas have eliminated at least one NTD. Forbes
Even in the face of the pandemic, 11 African countries delivered more than 35 million preventative treatments for NTDs in 2020, with a further 133 million treatments due to be delivered by March this year. That included the administration of more than 7.5 million doses of trachoma-fighting antibiotics in Ethiopia in just one month during December 2020. ReliefWeb
The WHO has certified 199 countries and territories as being free of Guinea Worm, including 16 formerly endemic countries. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the number of cases was reduced to just 24 between January and October last year, down from 52 in 2019 and a staggering 3.5 million in 1986.
Vietnam just had an insane year for rooftop solar, with 7.4GW installed in less than 12 months. That's 25 times more than it installed in 2019: equivalent to more than half of Australia's entire capacity in a single year. By contrast, only 1.2GW of new coal capacity was added to Vietnam's grid in 2020, from projects that took years to plan and complete. IEEFA
China had an even more insane year, more than doubling its construction of clean energy in 2020. Check out these numbers: 72GW of wind, 48.2GW of solar and 13.2GW of hydro, bringing new capacity to more than 190GW in a single year. This utterly dwarfs anything comparable by any other country. Bloomberg
China has also passed a landmark environmental law protecting the Yangtze, one of the country's two 'mother rivers.' From the 1st of March, chemical projects near the river will be banned and relocated, sand mining will be restricted, and all fishing, including in tributaries, lakes and the estuary, will be forbidden (more than 400 million people live in the Yangtze basin). Reuters
Development banks and states have just pledged over $14 billion towards planting the Great Green Wall to contain desertification in North Africa. It's welcome news; although numerous pilots have proven the project's viability over the last few years, it's been stuck in funding purgatory. This is a major step forward. The Tribune
The world’s biggest diesel engine factory in France, is facing up the inevitable, and switching to electric motors. By 2025, more than half the plant's production will be dedicated entirely to electric vehicles, a shift that's testament to a car industry in flux. Demand for diesel cars has slumped since 2015, following pollution scandals and tough new EU regulations. Reuters
Climate activists targeting financial institutions have delivered another victory, after three major European banks - Credit Suisse, ING and BNP Paribas - said they will stop providing financing for oil exports from the Ecuadorian Amazon. It's a significant blow: along with UBS, Natixis and Rabobank, they account for 85% of all bank trade-financing for Amazon oil. Bloomberg
Total has become the first major global energy company to quit the American Petroleum Institute due to its climate policies and support for drilling. This high-profile departure from the most powerful energy lobby on the planet is a sign of things to come; expect the trickle to become a flood as the Biden administration ramps up efforts to tackle climate change. Reuters
The European Environment Agency says the continent's renewable power generation has doubled since 2005, and is now on par with coal and gas. Not only has this significantly decreased emissions, it's also yielded key improvements for soil acidification, air pollution and eutrophication - where freshwater is overloaded with nutrients, causing algal blooms and low oxygen levels. Reuters
A growing wave of grassroots opposition is challenging the Alberta government's plans to pursue open-pit coal mining in the Canadian Rockies. The pressure, which is coming from both sides of the political divide, is working. On the 18th January, Alberta’s energy minister acknowledged opposition to its plans and announced the province was cancelling 11 coal leases and 'pausing' future sales. The Tyee
Remember that awful scene from Baraka of male chicks being killed after they hatch? Germany just became the first country in the world to ban the practice, effective from the 1st January next year. In a second step, the killing of chick embryos in the egg will be prohibited after the sixth day of incubation starting on the 1st January 2024. Watch for other countries to follow suit. AP
In 1994, outraged by the deaths of sea otters and diving seabirds, voters in California banned gill nets. New research has now revealed that not only did the ban prevent the unnecessary suffering of thousands of birds and otters, but also allowed the population of California's harbor porpoises — one of the smallest toothed whales — a chance to rebound.
Groundfish populations are rebounding off the west coast of the United States. Of the eight stocks that were declared overfished in the early 2000s, all but one, yelloweye rockfish, have been rebuilt today. It's the result of more than two decades of good science and effective regulation, and show's what's possible when nature is given a chance.
The interior least tern, the smallest member of the tern family, has been taken off the US endangered list after 30 years of tireless work by states, federal agencies, tribes and conservationists. In the early 20th century, its feathers became a popular feature of women's hats, and by 1985 numbers had dropped to less than 2,000. Today, the population is over 18,000, with 480 nesting sites in 18 states. AP
Bison have been returned at last to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana. More than 100 years after the federal government illegally fenced off an 18,000-acre parcel of land, the lands and bison have been restored. “We are thrilled this historic wrong has been righted, and that we can re-establish our relationship with the herd that we saved from extinction in the 1800s.” High Country News
That's it for this edition, thanks for reading.
If you're wondering why none of these stories appeared in the evening news, or on the front page of your newspaper, or in your Facebook feed, then you're asking the right questions.
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