Good News on Clean Water, Rewilding in Spain, and Tipping Points for Renewables

Plus, global teen pregnancy, child poverty in the US, reproductive rights in India, ocean conservation in Hawaii and the Congo, national parks in Norway, decarbonization in Europe

Good News on Clean Water, Rewilding in Spain, and Tipping Points for Renewables
Credit: Borgen Project

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Hi everyone, Gus here. We've been running the free version of this newsletter in its current format for around two years, and the time has come for a bit of a shakeup. This is going to be our last edition to include news on the clean energy transition. For many years, it felt like we were one of the few voices broadcasting a message of optimism in this space, but thankfully in the last 12 months it really feels like things have changed.

Obviously the broader climate situation is still extremely concerning - but as you'll see from a few of the stories this week, the momentum has swung decisively in favour of clean energy, and will only accelerate from here. That means that in many ways, our job here is done. Starting with our next edition, saving the world is cheaper than ruining it will be for paying subscribers only. If you would still like to receive that news then please consider signing up (a third of the fee goes to charity).

For everyone else, don't worry, this version of the newsletter will still include all the good news on human progress and conservation.

Good news you probably didn't hear about

Between 2000 and 2020, the global population with access to safely managed drinking water services has increased from 3.8 billion to 5.8 billion people. That means 90% of human beings now have access to either basic or safely managed drinking water services - the highest proportion in our species' history. WHO

Source: WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene

The UN is calling it a 'historic change.' Between 2005 and 2019, nearly 415 million people in India were lifted out of what is known as multidimensional poverty, a measure that includes health, education and standard of living. Children saw the fastest reduction, with child poverty falling from 34.7% to 21.8%. Economic Times

In the decade before the pandemic, 72 countries reduced poverty. One of those was Nepal, which reduced the proportion of people living in multi-dimensional poverty from 39.1% in 2010 to 17.7% in 2019. This was accompanied by the country's largest ever reduction in the proportion of people deprived of sanitation —from 60.6% in 2011 to 21.4% in 2019. Kathmandu Post

A new dengue vaccine that cuts the risk of fever by 61% and hospitalisation by 84% is on the cusp of being approved by the European Medicines Agency. Big news. Global dengue cases have almost doubled over the last three decades, and the only other vaccine we've tried wasn't safe. This new one is.

The arrival of two vaccines for malaria portends a sea change for humanity's efforts to fight one of our greatest scourges. The first, Mosquirix, was approved by the WHO last year and will begin distribution in 2023. A more powerful vaccine with up to 80% efficacy, developed by a team at Oxford, is also just a year or two away. NYT

Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? Of course you do. Well, the FDA recently approved a new drug for Lou Gehrig's disease that was partially funded by those proceeds, and the ALS Association says the remaining funds are supporting funding 130 research projects in 12 different countries, as well as 40 potential treatments in development. NPR

Slovenia's parliament has passed an amendment allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt after a constitutional court ruling earlier this year made it the first country in Eastern Europe to do so. "With these changes, we are recognising the rights of same-sex couples that they should have had for a long time." Euro News

Earlier this month, the US federal government took a big step in repairing the harms of the War on Drugs, by pardoning thousands of people with federal offenses for marijuana possession, and initiating a review of its classification. The move lifts a burden on the roughly 6,500 people whose employment and housing chances are harmed by their past convictions. Reuters

Japan will change an archaic 19th-century law whereby a child born to a woman within 300 days of divorce is considered to be that of her former husband, even if she has remarried. The revised legislation will also end a ban on pregnant women remarrying within 100 days of divorce. Bloomberg

The past quarter century has witnessed an unprecedented decline in US child poverty. In 1993, more than one in four children lived in families living below the poverty threshold. 26 years later, that number has fallen to roughly one in 10. The magnitude of this decline - 59% - is unequalled in the history of poverty reduction efforts in the United States. Child Trends

Fewer teenage girls as a proportion of the global population are giving birth today than at any point in human history. Global adolescent birth rates have decreased from 64.5 births per 1,000 women at the beginning of the 21st century, to 42.5 births per 1,000 women in 2021. Every single region of the world has seen declines during this period. WHO

In September, India's Supreme Court delivered a landmark decision, giving the country's 73 million single women the right to choose. It's a human rights victory on a monumental scale - the first time a legal question about abortion in India has been approached from a women's perspective, and setting an example that could echo far beyond the sub-continent. Al Jazeera

The Mexican state of Quintana Roo has voted to decriminalise abortion, becoming the latest state in the country to ease restrictions, and joining the 'green wave' of reproductive rights victories across Latin America. Al Jazeera

Did you know Sri Lanka has a network of more than 7,000 midwives? They're the backbone of the country's public health system, bringing health and education to every front door, vaccinating 99.1% of the country's children, and helping maintain one of the lowest maternal and child mortality rates in Asia. Gavi

Public health midwife, PiliyandalaK. V. P. Susangika walking to meet a new mother in Gorakapitiya. Credit: Aanya Wipulasena

Oman has become the first country in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region to successfully eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. It's thanks to investments in primary health care, a high quality network of laboratories across the country, and a new electronic health system. Next milestone? Elimination of mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B. WHO

Pakistan has reduced malaria cases by approximately 45% since 2015, thanks to the provision of free-of-cost treatment and related facilities in the public and private health sectors, and nationwide efforts to distribute bed nets. The number of estimated cases fell from 992,605 in 2015 to 542,960 in 2020. Gavi

The number of homicides in Scotland in 2021 reached their lowest point since records began in 1976. This is in line with a significant downward trend in other categories - overall crime has fallen by a total of 43% since 2007. "There are thousands fewer victims in Scotland than there were 15 years ago." BBC

Basic income works. Pilot programs launched across the US and the rest of the world in the last few years have repeatedly shown that it pulls people out of poverty, improves health outcomes, and makes it easier for people to find jobs and take care of their children. The economic evidence is overwhelming. The political battle however, is only just beginning. WaPo

The only home we've ever known

“The most astonishing and heartening coral rebirth the world has ever seen." In 2015/16, the strongest El Niño on record moved across the coral reefs of the Pacific Line Islands, killing half of them. Six years on the reefs are thriving, with more than 43 million colonies per square kilometre. Nature will recover if we let it. Nat Geo

The Republic of Congo will establish its first three marine reserves in the Atlantic. The reserves will cover 12% of the West African country’s ocean zone and protect breeding grounds used by humpback whales and leatherback turtles. The reserves will also cover areas inhabited by whale sharks, the world’s largest fish. Bloomberg

The endangered Galápagos Penguin has recorded its best breeding season on record. In 2010, conservationists began chiselling small holes out of lava for the birds after original nesting sites were taken over by feral predators. 12 years later, a quarter of the population are juveniles - a significant milestone for a species numbering less than 5,000 birds. Nat Geo

A rewilding project spanning 8,500 km² of Spain's Iberian highlands is reintroducing black vultures, lynx, and wild horses. A herd of tauros – cattle bred to fulfil the ecological role of ancient aurochs – has already been released along with 11 semi-wild horses. It's the tenth project from Rewilding Europe, and the first one in Spain. Guardian

Once the world’s most endangered cat, the Iberian lynx can now be found across Spain and Portugal. Staffan Widstrand/Rewilding Europe

A record-breaking 92 Saimaa ringed seal pups were born in the Saimaa Lake region of Finland this year, thanks to fishing restrictions introduced in the last few years. The population of the highly endangered species has increased by of 5.6% every year between 2015-20 due to reduced deaths from fish traps and nets. Yle

Switzerland has reversed the decline of endangered amphibians in the Aargau region. In 1999 the canton decided a mass conservation effort was needed to combat the loss of frogs, newts and toads. Authorities, non-profits, landowners and volunteers worked for 20 years to build 422 ponds - resulting in an increase in almost every pond-breeding amphibian species. BBC

New legislation in the EU will require USB-C to be the single charger standard for all new smartphones, tablets, and cameras from late 2024. The makers of laptops will have until early 2026. The move is expected to cut over a thousand tons of electronic waste every year. Tech Xplore

We might be slowly getting a handle on the food waste problem. In London, grocers have stopped putting expiry dates on fresh produce, in California and France supermarkets are now giving away unsold food, and South Korea’s tough-love approach is working: between 2010 and 2019 food waste in the country declined from 3,400 tons to 2,800 tons per day. NYT

Donated food being collected from a Trader Joe’s in Fresno, California, where, under a new law, grocery stores are required to donate “the maximum amount of edible food that would otherwise be disposed.” Andri Tambunan/NYT

A community-led initiative to expand the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve in Scotland has "achieved the impossible," securing enough funding to more than double the size of the reserve, which was created last year, to over 10,000 acres. “This is about a grassroots fightback against the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis, and helping to create a better future." The National

US air quality is improving. Since 1990, fine particulate matter pollution has declined by 41% and concentrations of O3, a precursor to smog, have declined by 22%. The result? 370,000 avoided premature deaths, 189,000 fewer hospital admissions for cardiac and respiratory illnesses, 147 million fewer acute respiratory symptoms, and 8.3 million fewer lost school days... every year. NRDC

Kenya is planning on growing five billion trees in five years and an additional ten billion by 2032, with the hope of restoring 10.6 million hectares of degraded lands. The government plans to immediately recruit an additional 2,700 forest rangers and 600 forest officers to support the program. Bloomberg

Six years ago, the US government created the world’s largest fully protected ocean reserve, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii. Now scientists have found that the vast reserve, which spans 1.5 million km2, is helping restore fish populations. Nearby catches of yellowfin tuna rose by 54% between 2016 and 2019, and bigeye tuna by 12%. Inside Climate News

Norway is planning to create ten new national parks along its western edge. Four of them will be brand new, while six will see currently designated conservation areas upgraded into full-blown national parks. It’s part of an effort to protect 30% of Norwegian land by 2030. Afar

The first commercial crop of the methane-busting seaweed Asparagopsis has been harvested off the coast of Western Australia. When added to cattle feed, a daily dose of 20 grams per animal can reduce methane output by up to 95%. While still in its infancy, the asparagopsis industry is forecast to be worth $100 million by 2025. ABC

Chile’s Atacama Desert, renowned for its clear skies and spectacular desert blooms, is set to be made into a national park. Earlier this month, Chilean president Gabriel Boric announced plans to protect the area from development and fund research into its ecosystems. Timeout

California has completed the cleanup of contaminated soil and groundwater in Mission Valley, the site of one of the state's biggest ever toxic fuel spills in the 1980s. Over $70 million gas been spent on the clean-up since 2005, removing almost a million kilograms of petroleum contamination. San Diego Union Tribune

And finally... the nature documentary we all need right now.

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Saving the world is cheaper than ruining it

By launching a bloody invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has done more than almost any other single human being to speed up the end of the fossil fuel era.

Who said it? Nope, not us (although to be fair, we've been banging that drum for months). The above quote actually comes from the inaugural Green 28 List by Politico, their annual ranking of the 28 power players behind Europe’s green agenda. Top of their list? Mr Putin.

Meanwhile, Europe's decarbonisation continues to speed up. The bloc as a whole is now aiming to reach 82% clean energy by 2030, and a handful of nations - Portugal, Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark - are aiming even higher, looking to reach 100% clean power by the end of this decade. Euro News

In 2019, science journalist David Wallace Wells wrote a best-selling book called The Uninhabitable Earth. Three years later, he's in the New York Times with a piece entitled: "Beyond Catastrophe: A New Climate Reality Is Coming Into View." It's well worth a read. Things can (and do) change.

Amidst the justifiably scary talk of climate crisis, it's worth remembering tipping points aren’t just for desertification, ice sheets and coral bleaching. The same gradually-then-all-at-once dynamic also applies to decarbonization. 87 countries have now crossed the 5% tipping point for clean energy, and 19 countries have done it for electric vehicles (Canada, Australia and Spain are next). Bloomberg

The ambition for solar and wind in China continues to balloon. Early this year, analysts tallied up plans for 600 GW of additions in 2021-25, but have now had to revise that upwards to 870 GW. That equates to China adding a US-sized, instead of a German-sized amount of clean energy, every year. At this pace, China will hit peak emissions by 2025. Lauri Myllyvirta

The city of Chaozhou in China is building a wind farm in the Taiwan Strait so large it will be able to power 13 million homes, or more than all the power plants in Norway combined. Construction on the 43.3 GW offshore wind farm (can't even believe we're writing that number) will begin before 2025. Offshore Wind

US households are installing record numbers of solar panels on their rooftops, loosening ties to the power grid and the utilities that run it. About 5.3 GW will be installed this year, the most ever, and roughly equivalent to all the country's rooftop capacity in 2015. FT

Think solar is booming now? Wait until you see what's coming. China’s solar cell production capacity doubled in 2021, is projected to double again in 2022, and again in 2023. Total manufacturing capacity could break 1 terawatt per year by 2024, most of it high efficiency n-type cell technologies. Buckle up. PV Magazine

Want to see how quickly this technology can eat the world? Check out the energy interconnection queue for the United States. Absolutely astonishing shift in less than a decade, as the not-so-invisible hand of the market has really started to bite. Enough building for you, Marc Andreessen? MISO

Uruguay is doing it right: a low poverty rate, a rapidly increasing middle class and an electricity grid powered by 98% renewables. It’s also pulled off the remarkable feat of increasing annual beef production without any increase in emissions. “The true revolution is a different culture: learning to live with less waste and more time to enjoy freedom.” NYT

Coal has gone off a cliff in India. More than 606 GW of coal-fired power projects has been cancelled or shelved since 2010. The world's third largest energy-consuming country is now adding 4o GW of clean energy a year, on track to surpass its target of 50% of electricity from non-fossil fuel sources by the end of the decade. AP

Fantastic news from our home state, Victoria. Our government just jacked up our clean energy targets to a 95% share of renewables in the electricity grid by 2035 and a 75-80% reduction in emissions by the same date. “The coal generation companies are leaving. They have made their money and they are going." Renew Economy

Common misperceptions about the energy transition in Germany. No, it has not increased carbon emissions, no it has not replaced nuclear with coal, the Energiewende has not increased the country's reliance on Russia and no, renewable energy has not increased the risk of blackouts. Chad Vestor

China's year old ban on overseas coal plants has put a significant dent in the global pipeline. Cancellations since the ban was announced account for around a fifth of the 104 coal plants either planned or under construction. Half of those plants have not yet started construction either, making them prime candidates for cancellation. SCMP

New coal projects are becoming 'effectively uninsurable' outside China because so many insurance companies have ruled out support. 62% of the reinsurance market and 39% of the primary insurance market are now covered by coal exclusions, and there has also been a significant shift away from oil and gas, with more than a third of the reinsurance market now covered by exclusions. Insure our Future

The latest company to do so is the world’s largest reinsurer, Munich Re, which published an ambitious oil and gas exit policy earlier this month. The German reinsurer says that as of April 2023 it will not invest or insure projects involving new oil and gas fields or new midstream oil infrastructure.

Deutsche Bank, Germany's largest bank, has committed to reducing the emissions tied to its upstream corporate oil and gas sector loans by 23% by 2030, and by 90% by 2050. The bank also announced new targets for three other high-emitting sectors: power generation, automotive and steel. Reuters

The next time someone tells you lithium is bad for the environment, you might want to remind them that we extracted 4.2 billion tons of oil in 2021, or 1.6x as much as the world's most mined metal (iron ore) and 40,000 times more than all the lithium. EVs and renewables don't just stop global warming and air pollution - they reduce material extraction. Visual Capitalist

The lithium pile is so small you need the full resolution version to see it.

Germany will spend €6.3 billion over the next three years to expand its charging network for electric cars, with the eventual goal of a million public charge points by 2030. “We are not just any automotive location, but a leading one in the world. And that’s why it’s important to us that what we’re preparing succeeds.” Reuters

EV battery manufacturing in the United States is about to go nuts. Six gigafactories, worth around $5 billion, were announced between 2018 and 2020. Since the start of 2021, more than 15 new facilities or expansions have been announced, reflecting a potential investment of more than $40 billion. Enough building for you, Marc Andreessen? Dallas Fed

At the biggest trucking show in the world, held in Germany last month, the exhibition was dominated by electric trucks. Scepticism about the future of battery long-distance freight is gone. Reports said it was difficult to spot a single diesel model. "No noise, no vibrations, no emissions. This is the biggest transition we've ever seen." The Driven

If you'd like to have all your hydrogen beliefs exploded then we recommend you spend 20 minutes watching Michael Liebreich lay it out at the World Hydrogen Congress. A very brave presentation given the audience, and one which might prove pivotal. A welcome voice of sanity.

Here's a summary:
1. In almost every use case, hydrogen gets beaten by electrification
2. We do need clean hydrogen - to decarbonize our 94 megatonnes of existing dirty hydrogen
3. The rest is hot air

That's it for this edition, thanks for reading.

Much love,


Intelligent optimism, down under. You're receiving the free edition. You can upgrade to the premium edition over here (it comes with mind-blowing science and the best bits of the internet, and one third of your fee goes to charity).We offset the carbon cost of creating this newsletter by planting trees. If you need to unsubscribe, you'll break our hearts but we understand that it's us, not you. There's a button for that below. We're also on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter

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