Image for What went right this week: a historic pledge for the oceans, plus more

What went right this week: a historic pledge for the oceans, plus more

UK coal use fell to its lowest level in centuries, Nasa appointed its first female science chief, and an enzyme that produces electricity from thin air was discovered, plus more good news

UK coal use fell to its lowest level in centuries, Nasa appointed its first female science chief, and an enzyme that produces electricity from thin air was discovered, plus more good news

This week’s good news roundup

Good news
The high seas were granted protected status

A historic pledge to safeguard the world’s oceans has been agreed by UN member states after a whopping two decades of talks.

Nearly 200 countries signed up to the legally-binding High Seas Treaty, which aims to grant protected status to 30 per cent of the world’s oceans lying outside of national boundaries.

Currently, just over 1.2 per cent of international waters are protected, with the vast majority threatened by overfishing and the effects of climate change.

Rena Lee, president of the UN’s Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, received a standing ovation as she fought through her tears to announce on Saturday: “The ship has reached the shore.”

Greenpeace said the agreement marked a “historic day for conservation”.

Image: Sebastian Pena Lambarri

Good news
Nasa appointed its first female science chief

In a week that marked International Women’s Day there was some stellar news from Nasa: the space agency has appointed its first female head of science.

Solar scientist Dr Nicola Fox, who originally hails from a small market town in the English county of Hertfordshire, steps up from her role leading Nasa’s heliophysics division, which studies the sun.

Fox hailed her new post as the “best job on the planet”. She now holds the purse strings to a space mission budget worth almost $8bn (£6.76bn).

“Growing up in Hitchin, you might dream of working for Nasa but it certainly doesn’t seem as if it could ever be a reality,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Whatever you’re interested in, whatever your heart tells you you’re interested in, that’s what you should do.”

Image: Nasa

Good news
UK coal use fell to pre-Industrial Revolution levels

UK demand for coal fell last year to its lowest level in nearly three centuries, according to a new analysis of government energy data by Carbon Brief.

The report also found the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions were down 3.4 per cent in 2022, partly due to the huge growth in wind and solar, marking the ninth year in the last decade when emissions have fallen. They were up 5 per cent in 2021 as the economy rallied after lockdown restrictions.

However, the analysis cautions last year’s success was in part due to warmer weather, with temperatures 0.9C above average, meaning there was less demand to heat the nation’s homes.

Image: Fas Khan

Hope emerged for those with endometriosis

A landmark clinical trial could pave the way for the first new treatment for endometriosis in four decades. 

The study, which begins recruiting this autumn, will involve 100 women in London and Edinburgh being treated with dichloroacetate, a drug usually used in cancer therapy.

Successful pain reduction would make the drug the first ever non-hormonal, non-surgical treatment for endometriosis, which affects around 10 per cent of women of reproductive age. 

Women’s health charity Wellbeing of Women is funding the study in partnership with the Scottish government. CEO Janet Lindsay said dichloroacetate had the potential to be “truly groundbreaking,” adding: “Advances like this are long overdue.”

Image: Marie Michele Bouchard

A new female cricket league launched in India

Howzat! India launched a professional women’s cricket premier league on Saturday, with commentators hailing it a game-changing moment for the sport. 

The three week tournament got under way in Mumbai and features stars of women’s cricket from across the globe. The $580m (£488m) invested in the contest makes it the most lucrative women’s cricket competition in the world. 

It is hoped the league will raise the profile of women’s sports in India and inspire similar leagues in other nations. 

ESPN cricket commentator Melinda Farrell told Al Jazeera: “It’s going to be perhaps the most transformative competition ever seen in women’s cricket…It makes cricket seem like a viable career for women and young girls.”

Image: Alessandro Bogliari

And sticking with women and sport …

England’s Lionesses football team can claim another spectacular win after the government announced a £600m school sports package to level the playing field for girls.

Schools in England will be required to provide equal access to sports, including football, as part of the ‘Lionesses legacy’ following their historic Euro 2022 victory.

The initiative, which will see funding delivered over the next two academic years, builds on the success of the Football Association’s (FA) #LetGirlsPlay campaign.

Schools will be asked to deliver two curriculum hours of PE a week, and offer the same sports to boys and girls irrespective of gender.

FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said: “The magic of last summer’s Euros victory can now live on with a legacy that has the ability to change the future of women’s football and positively impact society.”

Image: Danny Nee

People stayed mentally resilient despite Covid - study

Negative news cycles and reliance on anecdotes mean the mental health impact of Covid-19 may have been overstated, according to a review of 137 studies from around the globe. 

Contrary to popular opinion, psychiatry professor and author Brett Thombs found there were “minimal” changes in the mental health symptoms of most people.

Thombs’ review, published in the British Medical Journal, concluded: “Rather than a mental health crisis, at a population level there has been a high level of resilience during Covid-19.”

He said the true picture was more nuanced than the “tsunami” scenario depicted by the media and some investigators, but did acknowledge specific groups, including women, older adults and students, suffered worsening mental health symptoms.

Image: Denys Nevozhai 

America’s net zero ambition took a major step forward

A $6.3bn (£5.3bn) clean-up package announced by the US government marks the largest investment in industrial decarbonisation in American history. 

The Department of Energy’s ‘industrial demonstrations programme’ will target energy intensive and high-emitting industries, including iron, steel, cement and concrete, by awarding grants to projects that slash emissions.

The programme is funded by president Joe Biden’s landmark Inflation Reduction Act, which pledged a $369bn (£310bn) spend on clean energy and climate action initiatives.

Jennifer Granholm, the US secretary of energy, said: “Today’s announcement is yet another exciting step in the race to decarbonise our heavy industries fully, and will help drastically reduce harmful pollution while ensuring America’s manufacturing sector is strong and competitive.”

Image: Emiliano Bar

An enzyme offered hope for limitless green energy

Scientists have uncovered a ‘natural battery’ enzyme that could prove to be the holy grail of clean energy: electricity from thin air. 

The enzyme, called Huc, was harvested from a common soil bacterium by a research team at Australia’s Monash University

They discovered it consumes trace hydrogen from the atmosphere to generate an electrical current, which the bacteria use as an energy source to help them thrive in hostile environments, including volcanic craters and deep in the ocean.

Scientists believe the enzyme could be used initially to run small electronic devices using air or low doses of hydrogen. Supplementing with more hydrogen would, in theory, mean more power. 

“Once we produce Huc in sufficient quantities, the sky is quite literally the limit for using it to produce clean energy,” said project lead Dr Rhys Grinter.

Image: Gabriel Jimenez
Main image: Craig Lambert/iStock

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