You would be forgiven for not noticing the good news stories in 2018 as they languish in the shadow of some devastating events. Brazil’s new president appears intent on destroying vast swaths of Amazon rainforest and Trump continues his reign of terror as the president of the United States.
Two major climate reports (UN and US) make it painfully clear that we are rapidly running out of time. Last year was the hottest year on record after 2015, 2016 and 2017 (20 of the warmest years on record around the planet occurred in the past 22 years). More than 3 trillion tons of ice was lost in Antarctica last year and carbon emissions in 2018 hit a record high. Despite these occurrences there was lots of good news in 2018 and not just for the environment.
A new Pew Research report showed that democracy is now more widespread than ever (approximately 60 percent of countries in the world participate in some form of democracy). Suicides are decreasing and deaths from state based conflicts are also on the decline. Poverty is at an all time low and the Brookings Institute announced that for the first time in the history of civilization (10,000 years) the majority of humankind is no longer poor or vulnerable to falling into poverty. According to a UNDP report 271 million people in India have moved out of poverty since 2005. The percentage of black men in poverty in the United States fell from 41 percent in 1960 to 18 percent in 2018, and their share in the middle class rose from 38 percent to 57 percent in the same time frame. Crime in America’s big cities is also down as are incarcerations.
Although Trump may have reneged on US commitments to the Green Climate Fund the World Bank indicated that it will make about $200 billion available to fund action on climate change adaptation from 2021-25.
The healing of the ozone hole proves that global efforts can make a difference. In 2018 the United Nations said that the ozone hole would be
fully healed over the Arctic and the northern hemisphere by the 2030s,
and in the rest of the world by 2060. People are changing their habits and this includes consuming less meat. Countries are reducing pollution and people are breathing cleaner air. The UK recorded reductions in air pollution including vehicle emissions. Even Chinese cities have managed to reduce airborne particulate matter by almost a third .
At COP24, the most important Conference of the Parties since 2015, nation’s agreed to a pathway to meets the commitments contained in the Paris Climate accord. Also at COP24 major fashion brands came together to make a pledge to combat climate.
A total of 157 new species were discovered in Southeast Asia. In the last eight years African mountain gorilla populations have increased by 25 percent. Ivory demand has decreased in China and this has led to a reduction in elephant poaching. In California, the world’s smallest fox was removed from the Endangered Species List. The critically endangered black California condor has rebounded somewhat thanks to drastic conservation measures. For the first time in decades, a wild-born condor took flight. In less than a decade the population of wild tigers in Nepal has nearly doubled and the number of Mexican Jaguars has increased by 20 percent in roughly the same time span.
Fourteen Latin American countries signed an agreement to implement a regional conservation program for jaguars through 2030. Colombia expanded the Serranía de Chiribiquete to 4.3 million hectares, making it the largest protected tropical rainforest national park in the world. Canada signed a conservation deal with its First Nations people, creating the largest protected boreal forest in the world. The rainforest conservation organization GaiAma has committed to save as much of the rainforest in Perú as possible. The Malaysian government is curtailing the expansion of oil palm plantations and they have promised that forest cover will not go below 50 percent of the country. Deforestation in Indonesia fell by 60 percent and Niger revealed that it has planted 200 million new trees in the last three decades.
In 2018 more than 140 nations agreed to begin negotiations on an international treaty to stop overfishing and protect life in the high seas. A total of $10 billion was pledged in Bali for the protection of 14 million square kilometers of ocean. Spain created a new fossil free marine wildlife reserve along the migratory routes of whales and dolphins. The Seychelles created a new 130,000 square kilometer marine reserve in the Indian Ocean and New Caledonia placed 28,000 square kilometers of its ocean waters under protection, including some of the world’s most pristine coral reefs.
These types of projects produce results. Last year UNESCO removed the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world, from its list of endangered World Heritage Sites.
In 2018 Wyoming billionaire Hansjörg Wyss pledged $1 billion to protect
almost a third of the planet. The Wyss Campaign for Nature is a special
project of the Wyss Foundation, it aims to conserve and protect 30
percent of the planet’s lands and oceans by 2030. In addition to
conservation the foundation also invests in science. The Wyss Foundation contribution is second only to China’s He Qiaonv’s $1.5 billion donation for conservation which focuses on big cats like the snow leopard.