Has there been any good news this year? Glad you asked. Amazing as it may seem, 2020 had big wins for conservation, living standards, peace, safety and human rights, clean energy, and yes, even global health.

1/ The British territory of Tristan da Cunha created the largest ever protected area in the Atlantic Ocean, and 4th largest in the world. The 687,000 km² sanctuary is a no-take zone, meaning fishing and other harmful activities are now prohibited.
2/ Belize added another jewel in its crown as a global leader in ocean conservation. In August, it increased the size of its Sapodilla Cayes reserve to 1,300 km² to encompass the Cayman Crown, one of the best preserved reef ecosystems in the region.
3/ In October, the Seychelles reported that one third of its territorial waters are now protected, covering 410,000 km² of ocean and Samoa committed to 36,000 km² of new fully-protected marine protected areas by 2025, 30% of its territorial waters.
4/ In November, 14 countries, responsible for 40% of the world’s coastlines, signed a new pledge to end overfishing, restore fish populations and stop the flow of ocean plastic in the next 10 years.
5/ The most incredible environmental group you've never heard of, @NG_PristineSeas, revealed this year that in past decade they've inspired the creation of 23 marine reserves - two-thirds of the world’s fully protected marine areas, covering an area of more than five million km²
6/ In December, a new report by @FAO revealed that fisheries in the Mediterranean & Black Sea are turning the corner. Percentage of overexploited stocks fell from 88% to 75% between 2014 and 2018, and since 2018, the number of fish stocks with high relative biomass has doubled.
7/ China issued new rules this year for its distant water fishing fleet. Ships will no longer be allowed to 'go dark' or approach marine protected areas, ship captains who break the rules will lose their license for five years and company managers will be banned for three years.
8/ In Pacific Northwest, @TheYurokTribe began reintroduction of the Californian Condor to the Klamath River, and also signed a historic deal to begin the largest dam removal project in US history, freeing up 600km of spawning grounds.
9/ At the turn of this century, @StatenIslUSA landfill was the largest garbage dump in the world, 3X larger than Central Park, with trash mounds 20 stories high. Today, it's a green oasis. The radical fix? Bury the rubbish, plant some grass and do nothing for 20 years.
10/ A new study from @YaleE360 revealed that e-waste by Americans has been declining since 2015. Biggest contributor is disappearance of bulky cathode-ray tube TVs & monitors. Devices entering waste stream also levelling off, due to 'convergence' e.g. smartphones now = cameras
11/ New satellite data revealed this year that UK’s woodlands now cover as much of the country as they did during the Middle Ages, thanks to 20th-century forestry and rewilding practices (Robin Hood eat your heart out).
12/ For the last 20 years the world’s largest seagrass restoration project has been running off coast of Virginia, and during that time the ecosystem has gone from near death to full flowering. Over 70 million eelgrass seeds have been planted by volunteers.
13/ A grassroots effort to restore Appalachia’s mountaintops has now seen over 187 million trees planted on over 1,000 km² of former mining sites, and following a concerted reintroduction effort, those sites are now home to the largest population of elk east of the Mississippi.
14/ 2M people in India planted 250M trees to tackle climate change, Pakistan created 15 national parks, expanding protected areas from 12% to 15%, and Afghanistan announced Bamyan Plateau, second-biggest national park at 4,200 km², home to the ibex, urial and Persian leopard.
15/ Singapore created its new 400 ha Sungei Buloh Park, Vietnam established 22,132 ha tropical forest nature reserve called Dong Chau-Khe Nuoc Trong, whose name means “clear water in the ravine" home to 40 globally threatened species.
16/ Attitudes in China towards the eating of wild animals changed drastically in 2020. Up to 90% of the public now supports strict bans on the trade and consumption of wildlife, and more than 15,000 people were prosecuted for wildlife crimes this year, a 66% increase from 2019.
17/ Vietnam banned sale of protected wildlife as well as all imports. New directive includes recommendations conservationists have been trying to get passed for years, including tougher penalties for crimes involving wildlife trade and cracking down on domestic markets.
18/ Global meat production fell by more than 1% in 2020. This came off the back of a decline in 2019 too (there have never been two consecutive years of decline). We’re already at peak pasture, and it now looks like we might be approaching peak pork and beef.
19/ Poland, world’s third-largest fur producer, banned fur farming (law will spare lives of five million animals) and Kopenhagen Fur, world’s largest fur auction house, announced it would close its doors within the next three years, citing the impact of COVID-19.
20/ Germany started converting 62 military bases west of the old Iron Curtain into nature reserves, Peru began reforesting area around Machu Picchu, and Seattle reported that after two decades of clean ups, Duwamish River is cleanest it's been in 100 years.
21/ Senegal revealed 152M mangrove buds planted in past decade, Madagascar launched drive to plant 60M trees to mark 60 years independence, and Uganda launched project to restore 3M trees to Albertine Rift Forests, close to where @JaneGoodallInst began her career.
22/ Kenya reported elephant population more than doubled from 16,000 in 1989 to 34,000 today. Poaching also down significantly — only 7 in 2020, compared to 34 in 2019 and 80 in 2018. Lions living in the country have increased by 25% too, from 2,000 in 2010 to 2,489 in 2020.
23/ Spain reported 894 Iberian lynx in the wild, up from just 92 in 2002, one of best conservation success stories of modern times. EU also earmarked €18M to keep the project running, giving conservationists a real shot at restoring a stable, genetically diverse population.
24/ Two decades ago, Burmese roofed turtle was thought to be extinct. Conservationists now reporting 1,000 animals, some of which have now been successfully released into the wild in Myanmar. “This is one of the best global turtle conservation successes we have."
25/ Blue whales are returning to South Georgia. Although hunting blue whales was banned in 1965, the leviathans have remained rare visitors to Antarctica – until now. A 2020 survey by the British Antarctic Survey recorded 58 sightings, indicating that the blues are coming back.
26/ For 2nd year in a row Iceland, one of three remaining whaling nations, decided not to hunt whales, thanks to changing public opinion, falling consumption of whale meat. Announcements by country’s two whaling companies suggest this may be the permanent end of the annual hunt.
27/ Bowhead whalesare approaching pre-commercial whaling numbers in US waters. Once hunted to just a few thousand individuals, and on the brink of disappearing forever, their numbers rebounded to about 10,000 by the turn of the 21st century and have now reached at least 16,800.
28/ At the beginning of this year, only thing world’s scientists knew about coronavirus was its genetic profile. Less than 12 months later, world had multiple vaccines, effectively kickstarting humanity’s fightback. It’s one of the greatest medical achievements of all time.
29/ In 2020 Myanmar became 2nd country in southeast Asia to eliminate trachoma, world's leading infectious cause of blindness. Bigger global trend: people at risk has been reduced by 92%, from 1.5 billion in 2002 to 137 million in 2020. 13 countries have eliminated it altogether.
30/ Togo became first African country to eliminate sleeping sickness. Achievement comes after more than two decades of surveillance and screening, and is also part of a bigger success story - there are now fewer than 1,000 cases of sleeping sickness globally.
31/ Senegal reported it has cut its rate of stunting prevalence in half, from 34.4% to 18.8%, since 2002. Improved access to post-natal care, education, water and sanitation now means the country has the lowest stunting burden in French-speaking West Africa.
32/ Africa announced this year it is officially free from wild polio. 25 years ago disease still paralyzed more than 75,000 children every year. Since then, billions of oral vaccines have prevented 1.8 million cases. One of the greatest healthcare success stories of all time.
33/ There was a major breakthrough in 2020 in fight against AIDS. New ARV administered as injection six times a year shown to be 89% more effective compared to standard ARVs, taken as a daily pill. "A major, major advance. I don’t think we can overemphasize its importance."
34/ Meanwhile, @UNAIDS says deaths continue to fall. Number dying from AIDS has fallen by 5.4% in last year, reaching lowest level since 1993. Also crucially, for first time ever, more than two thirds of HIV-positive people now have access to anti-retroviral treatments.
35/ The @WHO revealed malaria deaths have reached the lowest level ever recorded, a drop of almost 60% in the last two decades. Take a moment to let this sink in: between 2000 and 2019, 1.5 billion malaria cases and 7.6 million malaria deaths were averted globally.
36/ The @WHO also published its annual tuberculosis report this year, showing that between 2015 and 2019, global deaths fell by 14%. In fact, progress against TB puts malaria in the shade - since 2000, treatments have averted more than 60 million deaths.
37/ Biggest threat to children around the world? Not AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis - it's pneumonia. In 2011 it claimed 1.3M children before fifth birthday (18% of all child deaths around the world). Last year, number dropped to 672,000, almost 50% in less than a decade.
38/ In 2020 we discovered humanity is winning fight against world's 2nd leading cause of disability - elephantiasis. In 20 years, annual infections have fallen by three quarters, from 199 million to 51.4 million, and last year Malawi, Kiribati & Yemen, eliminated it altogether.
39/ Proportion of world's children under 5 infected with hepatitis B has now dropped to 1%, down from 5% in the early 2000s. 85% of kids now getting all three doses of the HBV vaccine - and @gavi says it's on track to avert 1.2 million infection-related deaths between 2021 -2035
40/ Speaking of @Gavi in June it announced that it had raised $8.8 billion to fund its immunization programs for the next five years, exceeding its original target of $7.4 billion. This will help immunize 300 million more children by 2025 against measles, polio and diphtheria.
41/ According to @BBC, more than one million people in the UK gave up smoking during the COVID-19 pandemic. More people quit smoking in the year to June 2020 than in any year since surveys began in 2007.
42/ Four years after Chile embraced world’s most sweeping measures to combat obesity, consumption of sweetened drinks has dropped by nearly 25%. During the same period, there’s been a 5% increase in purchases of water, diet soft drinks and fruit juices without added sugar.
43/ New research this year showed that risk of a person developing dementia in US and Europe is now 13% lower than it was in 2010 (Alzheimer’s is falling too, by 16% per decade). Researchers think it's down to less smoking, better cardiovascular health, and better education.
44/ A new report by @GlobPeaceIndex showed that since 2007, the majority of the world’s countries - 113 countries - have reduced their armed forces, 100 have reduced military expenditure and both imports and exports of weapons have reached their lowest levels since 2009.
45/ Remember good old days when terrorism was front page news? 2020 Global Terrorism Index reported that deaths from terrorism fell for 5th consecutive year, and terrorism situation improved in 103 countries - highest year-on-year improvement since inception of the index.
46/ Falkland Islands announced this year it has cleared all landmines. Tens of thousands of mines have been removed since 2009 by a team of specialist de-miners, many from Zimbabwe. "We never thought the islands would be completely mine free, this is a momentous change."
47/ Italy abolished anti-immigrant decrees installed by former populists, and reinstated humanitarian protection for migrants, refugees. Government also cut time for citizenship from four years to three. "Tonight a wall comes down. Onward towards a country with more humanity."
48/ Mexico changed laws to prohibit holding children in immigration detention centers, shifting responsibility to country’s family development agency, and Colombia allowed hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants to legalize their presence in the country through work permits
49/ Over past 5 years Germany has opened borders to 1.7M people fleeing war, persecution: arguably greatest humanitarian act of 21st century. Good move. In August, country revealed more than half employed, paying taxes, and 80% say they feel a strong sense of belonging.
50/ Kazakhstan joined international protocol on the abolition of the death penalty, 88th nation to become a signatory. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev quoted Kazakh poet Abai, stressing the need for “love, compassion, bold actions, deeds and thoughtfulness.”
51/ Saudi Arabia and Palestine banned child marriage in 2020, and Bangladesh reported progress. Proportion of girls married before 18 has dropped from 64% in 2010 to 50% today. In actual numbers, that means 10 million girls in Bangladesh saved from child marriage in past decade
52/ Iran criminalized child abuse, Saudi Arabia abolished flogging and banned death sentence for minors, and UAE overhauled Islamic laws, including criminalization of 'honour killings', tougher penalties for sexual harassment and decriminalization of suicide.
53/ Pakistan approved new anti-rape law, prohibiting disclosure of identity of rape victims, creating a national sex offenders register, abolishing two-finger testing, setting up special courts for rape cases, and Sierra Leone reversed ban on pregnant girls attending school.
54/ Sudan ended 30 years of Islamic state rule, deposing its dictator and ushering in new government. Also outlined human rights reforms including abolishing flogging, scrapping death penalty for renouncing Islam, and outlawing female genital mutilation.
55/ New Zealand started providing free sanitary products in schools across country, Scotland became first country in the world to introduce free universal access. “Scotland will not be the last country to make period poverty history – but it now has a chance to be the first."
56/ This one didn’t make headlines. Since 1965, @GallupNews has been polling Americans about whether they want immigration to decrease, increase, or stay the same. In 2020, for first time ever, more Americans said they wanted to increase immigration than decrease it.
57/ This did not appear in a single news publication. @TheJusticeDept released most recent crime data, showing violent crime decreased by 0.5% last year, 3rd consecutive year of declines, property crime dropped by 4.1%, 17th consecutive year of decline. Hellholes, anyone?
58/ Crime is declining in France too. Nearly all major crimes are lower than they were a decade ago. Since 2006, acts of physical violence outside the home have decreased by 8% and thefts with physical violence or threat have dropped by 61% in the same period.
59/ Costa Rica legalized same-sex marriage in May, 28th country. In June, @USSupremeCourt protected LGBTQIA+ citizens from workplace discrimination. “It is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual without discriminating against that person based on sex.”
60/ Later that month, lawmakers in Gabon voted to decriminalize homosexuality, reversing a 2019 law. Sylvia Bongo, Gabon's First Lady, said that parliament had “restored a fundamental human right: that of loving, freely, without being condemned.”
61/ In July, Montenegro became first country in the Balkans to allow same-sex civil unions. Also the first European country outside Western Europe and EU to legalize same-sex civil partnerships. "A big step has been taken towards equality."
62/ In October, 130,000 people turned out Taiwan's Pride rally, a colourful celebration of equality made possible by island's successful vanquishing of the coronavirus. Parade came a day after two same-sex couples joined mass wedding hosted by the military for the first time.
63/ In December, Bhutan became 2nd Asian country after Taiwan to legalize same-sex relationships and in Nepal, authorities said they would count LGBTQIA+ people for the first time in the national census to help sexual minorities gain better access to education and health schemes
64/ The coronavirus pandemic raised serious questions about whether authoritarian regimes were better at handling pandemics than democratic societies. They weren’t. Eight of the top 10 most successful responses came from democracies, according to @business
65/ China birthrate fell to lowest level since 1949, now below England and Wales. Representative of bigger global trend - a major new study revealed this year that average number of children a woman gives birth to was 2.4 in 2017. Global population now on track to peak in 2050.
66/ Did global inequality in last two decades get worse, or better? New research this year showed that during the 2000s and 2010s, the global Gini coefficient dropped by 15 points and the earnings share of the world's poorest half doubled.
67/ This year’s @socprogress index, which measures the social and economic performance of all the world's countries over time, revealed that the world had improved on 8 of 12 key measures in the past decade. 95% of countries improved by one point or more, and only 2% declined.
68/ In 2020, New Jersey, Arizona, Montana, Mississippi, South Dakota all legalized recreational or medical marijuana, Washington DC decriminalized psilocybin, Oregon became first US state to decriminalize personal possession of drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamine, opioids
69/ Argentina broadened use of medicinal cannabis, allowing it to be prescribed for any condition, and letting people grow at home. New rules also stated cannabis should be available for free in public health system. Yes, you heard that right. Publicly funded medical marijuana.
70/ @UN removed cannabis for medicinal purposes from category of world’s most dangerous drugs. Watershed moment; highly anticipated and long-delayed decision that clears the way for global marijuana research and medical use, and bolster legalization efforts around the world.
71/ @UNICEF report on Swachh Bharat Mission, India's massive sanitation drive, showed major benefits to poor households. Average benefit per household = $727 per year, mainly from health savings such as reduced diarrhoea incidence (55%) and sanitation access time (45%).
72/ Indonesia, fourth most populated country in the world, reported significant decline in number of illiterate people, from 4.63% of population in 2011, to 1.78% in 2019. That means that almost 8 million adults there have gained the ability to read and write in the last decade.
73/ @UNESCO reported that proportion of girls receiving primary and secondary education increased from 73% to 89% in past 25 years. That's an extra 180 million girls in school compared to a generation ago (and three times more women are also now enrolled in universities).
74/ @IEA's 2020 report contained hidden nugget of very good news. No. of people without access to electricity down from 860M to 770M, new record low. Africa has made particularly good progress; people gaining access to electricity doubled from 9M/year in 2013 to 20M/year in 2019
75/ China reported 50M people out of poverty in last 5 years. Country's requirements stricter than @WorldBank; in addition to income, China doesn’t consider people to be out of poverty until they have enough food and clothing, basic healthcare, access to education, safe housing.
76/ US imprisonment rate reached lowest level in more than two decades, with greatest decline coming among black Americans, whose imprisonment rate has decreased 34% since 2006. As rates have fallen, former prisons, jails, and detention centers are being converted.
77/ New study showed air quality in Europe has improved dramatically in the past decade. Thanks to the implementation of better environmental and climate policies, around 60,000 fewer people died prematurely due to fine particulate matter pollution in 2018, compared with 2009.
78/ A new analysis of @NASA satellite data showed global sulfur dioxide pollution levels fell 6% last year. SO2 emissions fell in all three of the world’s top emitter countries – India, Russia and China, only the second time ever that this has happened.
79/ Carbon emissions in 2020 fell by 7%, largest drop ever recorded. Most pronounced in US (-12%) Europe (-11%) India (-9%). Important not to be triumphalist: has come at expense of much human suffering. But we can welcome result, even if we abhor way it has been delivered.
80/ Although overall energy demand plummeted this year, clean energy proved remarkably resilient. Wind, solar and hydro accounted for nearly 90% of new electricity infrastructure installed in 2020 and net installed renewable capacity grew by 4% overall, reaching almost 200 GW.
81/ Prices continued to fall too. Between June 2019 and June 2020, LCOE for onshore wind fell by 9% to $44/MWh, by 4% for utility scale solar, to $50/MWh. The cost decline Batteries even more impressive - from $137 per kWh in 2020, an inflation-adjusted decline of 13% since 2019.
82/ 2020 saw unprecedented acceleration in national climate pledges. South Korea became first Asian country to set 2050 net zero goal, followed by Japan, then China, which committed to net zero by 2060 - single most important development in climate policy since Paris Agreement.
83/ List goes on. Argentina committed to net zero by 2050, Finland, Austria, Sweden brought net zero dates forward, UK pledged to reduce emissions by 68% by 2030, EU set new goal of 55% in same time period. Countries representing 42% of global emissions now have net-zero targets
84/ Not just govts. Major global companies committed to reducing environmental impact increased by 46% in last 12 months. That included @Apple, committed to carbon neutrality across entire supply chain by 2030, and @Walmart, targeting zero emissions by 2040 without offsets.
85/ Global electric vehicle sales grew by 28% in 2020, largely thanks to Europe, - where 1 in 10 new cars sold were electric or hybrid, triple last year, and forecasts suggest market share will hit 15% in 2021, as manufacturers scramble to comply with tighter emissions standards.
86/ California first US state to ban sale of new internal combustion engines by 2035, starting clock on a future that would’ve been unthinkable a few years ago. Automakers now have 15 years left until their products become illegal in one of their most important markets.
87/ In 2020, world’s one-millionth public electric vehicle outlet was installed, Germany extended subsidies for EVs by 4 years and made it mandatory for all petrol stations to include electric chargers, and EU committed to one million public chargers by 2025, from 200,000 today.
88/ Notorious latte-sipping, radical greenies, @bp_America said that as a result of the pandemic the world has reached peak oil. The company now estimates demand will fall by at 10% this decade and by as much as 50% over the next 20 years.
89/ In 2012, @Exxon was most valuable company in the world, an unassailable colossus at the height of its power. This year, it got booted off Dow Jones Industrial Average, and wrote off $17bn-$20bn worth of its natural gas assets, the biggest write-down in the company's history.
90/ Denmark, EU’s biggest oil producer, announced an end to all new oil, gas exploration in North Sea as part of its broader plan to phase out fossil fuel extraction by 2050. First major oil-producing country to take such a step, another body blow to the global oil industry.
91/ Sweden and Austria became 2nd, 3rd European countries to exit coal, India said it would stop importing thermal coal in the next 4 years, Pakistan and Phillipines said they would no longer approve new coal plants, and Bangladesh put 28GW of coal on the chopping block.
92/ This year saw blacklistings of coal by @blackrock , @StanChart, @MorganStanley, @HSBC, @Citi , @BNPParibas, and Japan’s three mega banks, largest private financiers of coal in the world. 46 globally significant finance companies exited coal in 2020, 50% increase this year.
93/ US passed legislation to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas used in air conditioners and refrigeration. Lawmakers were swayed by a combined push from industry and environmentalists (unlike coal, oil and natural gas, HFCs don't have a lobby).
94/ In Canada, US, climate activists + indigenous groups won major battles. In Feb, @TeckResources pulled out of oil sands, in June, Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Dakota Access Pipeline, Keystone XL pipeline all shut down, in Nov all major US banks ruled out oil and gas in Arctic.
95/ The UK’s biggest pension fund, over 9M members, divested from fossil fuels and after 8 year fight, New York announced end to oil and gas stocks from $226 billion financial portfolio. First US state to do so, and largest pension fund to dump fossil fuels ― ever.
96/ Hydrogen, universe’s most abundant element, had a great year. Project pipeline for green hydrogen expanded from 3.5 GW to 15 GW in 2020, and dozens of countries announced new policies, meaning that half of the world’s GDP now has credible hydrogen strategies.
97/ The world's largest cement producer, @LafargeHolcim, became the the first global building materials company to commit to reducing its emissions, and committed to 100% carbon neutrality by 2050 (reminder: the cement industry causes 8% of global carbon emissions).
98/ Two of the world’s largest steel producers, @nipponsteel and @poscoanc, announced carbon neutral goals by 2050, and Swedish iron-ore giant, @LKABgroup announced €39bn to decarbonize, largest industrial investment ever made in Sweden.
99/ and finally sorry, but we couldn’t resist. After 4 years of no pets in White House (longest stretch since 1840) two German shepherds, Champ and Major, are moving in. Major will be the first 'First Dog' from a shelter.
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