Good News, 8th November 2021

An enormous new marine park for one of the most biodiverse ocean corridors on the planet. Plus, why COP26 is going better than you think, and good news on stroke rates, war deaths, human rights in Chile, democracy in Kazakhstan, turtles, cheetahs and the end of animal testing in Mexico.

Good News, 8th November 2021
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

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 your subscriber fee goes to charity.

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Good news you probably didn't hear about

The largest and most successful vaccination drive of all time continues: India just surpassed a billion doses, making it the second country in the world to hit this mark. China leads the tally with over two billion, while Brazil has dispensed 258 million and Indonesia 172 million. Gobal total is now seven billion and counting. Quartz

One of the four major flu viruses that circulate in humans might have gone extinct thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Yamagata virus has not been detected since April 2020 anywhere in the world. Together with the Victoria virus, it used to be responsible for somewhere between 290,000 and 650,000 global deaths every year. ABC

A rapid roll-out of a new polio vaccine across six countries in Africa has resulted in over 80 million children gaining protection against the disease. With decreased risk of side effects, the new vaccine was the first to be authorised by WHO for Emergency Use, which has enabled a faster response to polio outbreaks this year. WHO

The progress made by the six countries and the upcoming rollout in five additional countries, targeting an additional 30 million children by the end of 2021 promise lasting protection from the threat of lifelong paralysis.
Dr Pascal Mkanda, Polio Eradication Programme Coordinator WHO Regional Office for Africa
Vaccinators in Addis Ababa going house to house to administer the new nOPV2 vaccine to children

Rwanda managed to reduce its annual malaria cases from 4.8 million in 2016 to 1.8 million in 2020, and severe cases from 18,000 to 3,000 during the same period. The overall death rate during that time has plummeted by almost 70%, and the government is now trialling drones that spray anti-mosquito insecticides. RBC

Despite experiencing rapid rates of demographic growth and urbanisation, Senegal has been extraordinarily successful in managing sanitation. Thanks to visionary government programs, the rate of access to sanitation in urban areas has risen from 61.7% in 2013 to 74% in 2020, and in rural areas from 38.7% to 50.7% during the same period. Afrik21

The proportion of Brazil's population with access to sewerage facilities has increased from 45% to 54% in the last decade. During that time, hospitalisations due to waterborne diseases decreased by over 50%, from 603,623 to 273,403. Among children under four the reduction in hospitalisations has been even more pronounced, at almost 60%. Trata Institute

The data make it clear that any improvement in the public’s access to drinking water, collection and treatment of wastewater results in great benefits to public health.
Édison Carlos, President of the Trata Institute

Stroke is a hidden killer - the second-leading cause of death worldwide, and the third-leading cause of death and disability combined. A new report in The Lancet suggests that quietly and largely uncelebrated, we're making progress. Between 1990 and 2019, the age-standardised incidence of strokes has decreased by 17%, and deaths by 36%.

Age-standardised incidence and mortality rates (per 100,000 people per year) in the seven Global Burden of Disease super regions, 1990–2019, for both sexes and all ages.

The number of people killed in wars around the world fell in 2020, the second consecutive year of declines. Total battle related fatalities last year were approximately 120,000, a 30% reduction since 2018. The decrease was largely driven by reductions in Asia, Oceania, and the Middle East. SIPRI

Pakistan is an unheralded development success story from the last two decades. Between 1990 and 2019, life expectancy at birth increased by 7.2 years, average schooling increased by 2.9 years, average income rose by 64%, and poverty declined from over 50% to just over 20%. The pandemic has been a setback, but most Pakistanis are still far better off than they were a generation ago. UNDP

Tamil Nadu has become the second Indian state to grant workers the 'right to sit.' For centuries, salespeople in India have been forced to work on their feet without access to a chair. The new law is a victory for labour rights activists, and will require store owners to provide seating and allow employees to sit down whenever possible. Reuters

Chile has taken its first step towards legalising abortion with Congress approving a plan to expand current legislation that restricts the procedure to rape cases or when a woman's life is endangered. Across Latin America, it is now legal for women to choose what happens to their bodies in Agentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana, and three Mexican states. Al Jazeera

Human rights demonstrators march during a 2019 rally for access to legal, safe and free abortion in Santiago, Chile. [Esteban Felix/AP Photo]

In a mountainous, desert nation of 35 million people known for its mosques, mausoleums and ancient Silk Road sites, 80% of eligible voters just cast votes in a presidential election. It's a testament to the strength of emerging democratic norms in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan's neighbour, with officials there calling it “one of the historical achievements of our people.JPost

Bangladesh is planning to remove Islam as the state religion and revert to its secular 1972 Constitution. It’s hoped the move will unite the country and tackle a growing radical Islamist movement that’s resulted in violence against Hindu temples. Islam was made the state religion by a Constitutional amendment during the late 1980s.

Bangladesh is a secular country. People of all religions shall live together in Bangladesh. Religion may be personal, but festival is universal. And people in Bangladesh have always celebrated such festivals together.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

A significant majority of people in wealthy countries now believe that having people of different ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds improves society. In the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan, 8 out of 10 people believe greater diversity is a benefit, and even in relatively culturally homogenous countries like Japan and Greece, the share has increased by double digits since the question was last asked four years ago. Pew

Saving the world is cheaper than ruining it

We’re at the halfway mark for COP26 and whisper it, but things appear to be going better than almost anyone expected at this point. The heads of state have come, done their honey dances and gone, and now the real work is underway, with negotiators deep into the Blue and Green Zone madness. Usually at this stage you start hearing about logjams but for some reason they don’t seem to be as prominent this year.

Instead, in the space of one week we’ve had historic commitments on forests, coal, methane, indigenous conservation, steel, development and finance, plus some very big individual country pledges, most noticeably India’s. Despite terrible political reporting giving the opposite impression, their commitment to a 2070 net zero target is absolutely massive, and would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Credible projections from the IEA now suggest that if all the new pledges are fully funded and met, global warming could be limited to to 1.8℃ this century. If you listen closely, you can almost hear that ratchet clicking.

None of it is perfect. We've seen forest declarations come and go, a lot of the heavy lifting in those net zero commitments is being punted to after 2030, the coal phaseouts don’t include China, India or Russia (and Poland and Indonesia already seem to be getting cold feet) and although the financial industry is talking breathlessly about trillion dollar opportunities and showing off fancy new alliances, many of those signatories remain among the world’s top backers of fossil fuels. Greta and the activists are justified in saying there's way too much greenwashing and not enough action.

And yet... for those of us who have been following this circus for long enough, there's an air of optimism hanging over these proceedings that feels very, very new. The agreements can’t be wholly dismissed. Many involve a large number of countries that had not previously signed up to such pledges; and most have came with A LOT more money — both public and private — than ever before. As Guy Newey says, in this sense (and in the spirit if its surroundings), COP26 is perhaps best thought of as being at the pub. We've all got that friend who is slow to get the drinks in. How do you deal with that? You put pressure on them. You tease them, you tell them it's their round, remind them the prices are falling, gently suggest you might not invite them out again. That's why climate negotiations exist. To build the pressure on everyone to do their bit, where they can.

Are the commitments enough compared to the size of the challenge? Of course not. But anyone whose theory of change is that a problem of the magnitude and complexity of climate is going to be solved by a load of over-tired, over-caffeinated diplomats under LED lights in Scottish conference centre is making a category error. International diplomacy's job is to challenge the free-riders, but more importantly to provide a context and direction for engineers, scientists, financiers and entrepreneurs to put their minds to solving this problem. It's their efforts that cracked this thing open in the first place, and it's their efforts that may eventually make it all possible in the end.

Some other good news on climate and energy you might not have heard about

Less than a week before the start of COP26, activists announced that endowments, portfolios and pension funds worth just shy of $40 trillion have now committed to full or partial abstinence from coal, gas and oil stocks. That’s larger than the gross domestic product of the United States and China combined. NYT

One of the world’s largest pension funds, the Dutch ABP, is selling its €15bn-worth of holdings in fossil fuel companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, claiming it has been unable to persuade the sector to transition quickly enough towards decarbonisation. Guardian

A sizeable chunk of the global cement sector has committed to slashing emissions by a quarter this decade – and to be carbon neutral by 2050. The target was just announced by the Global Cement and Concrete Association, which represents about 80% of the industry outside of China

In an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in global trade, a coalition of companies that includes Amazon and Ikea has pledged to use only ocean shippers that use zero-carbon fuel by 2040. Washington Post

A coalition of philanthropic donors will spend more than $220 million to support the diplomatic effort spearheaded by the U.S. and the European Union to lower methane emissions, the largest private commitment ever toward this effort. AP

After years of pushing from environmental justice advocates, California has agreed to dramatically restrict oil and gas drilling, setting a new one kilometre limit away from from homes and schools. It's a huge victory in the climate fight because it instantly sets around a third of the state off limits to oil drilling. OilPrice

Quebec has decided to put an end to any further fossil fuel extraction. "Closing the door on fossil fuel extraction is a huge victory, made possible by relentless opposition from citizens to both shale gas and conventional oil and gas exploitation." National Observer

Did you know that the Tesla Model 3 was the best selling car in Europe last month? Not the best selling electric vehicle - the best selling car, overall. Oh, and Hertz just bought 100,000 of them for its new fleet, the largest electric car order of all time.

The government of Chile has announced the ban of sales of most internal combustion vehicles in favor of battery-electric variants starting in 2035. Under the new electric transport strategy, all sales of light and medium vehicles, public transport and heavy trucks will have to be zero-emissions. We Go Electric

The only home we've ever known

New York is vying for the title of 'the greenest big city on earth' with the return of whales off the coast of Staten Island, endangered butterflies, rare native bees, coyotes in Central Park and exotic insects not seen for decades in Brooklyn. It’s down to a 40-year conservation effort of tree planting, pesticide bans, and the conversion of former landfills into nature sanctuaries. NYT

An endangered Saharan antelope, known as the mhorr, or Dama gazelle, is on the road to recovery thanks to a rescue mission by an army captain from Spain 50 years ago. The descendants of the rescued gazelles given refuge in the Doñana Park in southern Spain now number 4,000 and have been reintroduced in Tunisia, Morocco, and Senegal. El Pais

For the first time in 60 years, cheetahs have returned to Mozambique, with two males and two females transported to Maputo Special Reserve as part of a rewilding project to reintroduce carnivores to ecologically restored landscapes and expand the shrunken gene pool. Daily Maverick

The reintroduction of cheetah is yet another historic conservation milestone in Mozambique and the development of the reserve into a self-sustaining operation that generates revenue for the communities living in the area.
Mateus Mutemba - Director-General, National Administration of Conservation Areas
The first cheetah to return to southern Mozambique in 60 years trots into a holding boma in the Maputo Special Reserve. (Photo: Ashia Cheetah Conservation)

The population of wild Amur tigers in China, commonly referred to as Siberian Tigers, has rebounded from only 8 big cats in the 1990s to around 60 today. The good news is due to stronger environmental regulations and the creation of several reserves, including the largest tiger refuge in the world. Mongabay

Sea turtle populations are thriving in Cape Verde, with the number of nests increasing from 10,000 to almost 200,000 in the past six years. It's thanks to 20 years of conservation measures and new laws to criminalise killing, trade, and consumption of sea turtles. Beaches from India to the US have also recorded exponential increases in nesting. Guardian

Malawi has dramatically reduced wildlife poaching and trafficking in the past five years, thanks to tougher penalties for convicted criminals. 90% of wildlife criminals have served an average of four and half years in prison since the legislation was amended in 2017, and no international ivory seizures have been linked to the country since. NYT

Ten years ago, the first blow was struck against the Elwha dam, amidst much celebration. The rewilding of the Elwha River has paid off, with the ecosystem bouncing back and chinook salmon returning to the waters after a hundred year absence. This beautiful photo essay shows how quickly nature can bounce back, if we let it. Orion

Two locations in West Virginia’s Canaan Valley Resort State Park have been added to a new state program to protect rare plant and animal species. The areas are home to 2,200 acres of rare conifer swamps, red spruce forest, over 40 rare plants and 12 rare invertebrates. Wowktv

The Biden administration is supporting a 20-year moratorium on copper mining in a national forest to protect the 'unique natural wonder' of Minnesota's Boundary Waters. It’s a major win for environmental groups who have endured a stop-start process under previous administrations. Salem News

Mexico has banned cosmetic testing on animals after Save Ralph, an animated film about a rabbit cosmetic tester, spurred 1.3 million people to petition for new legislation. Mexico is the first country in North America and 41st country in the world to enact the ban. Tree Hugger

Finally, we’re going to save Ralph and all the other animals, because today we are approving a historic reform: the prohibition to use them as experiments for beauty products.
Senator Ricardo Monreal

Nova Scotia is creating the world's first wild refuge for ex-marine park whales. The 40-hectare coastal sanctuary will be 300 times larger than the biggest tank in any marine park and designed to accommodate up to eight beluga whales. The refuge plans to welcome its first whales early 2023. Globe & Mail

Indonesia has restored over 50,000 hectares of mangrove forests in the past two years, from 3.31 million hectares in 2019 to 3.36 million today, thanks to a planting project in villages across East Kalimantan. The new ecosystems will help improve biodiversity and mitigate the impact of climate change. WIF

Panama, Ecuador, Colombia and Costa Rica just announced the creation of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor, a fishing-free zone covering more than 500,000 km2 in one of the world’s most important migratory routes for turtles, whales, sharks and rays. The new interconnected area contains some of the richest pockets of ocean biodiversity on the planet, including the Galápagos Islands. Guardian

Electronic Mail

We have two newsletter recommendations for you - the first is from legendary climate activist Bill McKibben, who is doing some great frontline reporting in Glasgow. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the global fight against dirty energy. Bill has a wonderful way with words and a rare ability to provide a balanced sense of urgency mixed with optimism.

Our other recommendation is the newsletter of Laura Olin, a veteran digital campaigner who ran social media strategy for the Obama campaign in 2012. Her weekly missive, comprises "lovely and/or meaningful things in the form of links, notes, and updates" and we cannot recommend it enough. Short, sweet and always surprising.

That's a wrap for this edition, thanks for reading.

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