Image for What went right this week: global child deaths plummeted, plus more

What went right this week: global child deaths plummeted, plus more

Global child deaths plummeted, France slowed down fast fashion, and the world’s largest tree thrived in an unlikely place, plus more good news

Global child deaths plummeted, France slowed down fast fashion, and the world’s largest tree thrived in an unlikely place, plus more good news

This week’s good news roundup

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Global child deaths reached a historic low

The number of children who died before their fifth birthday reached an all-time low in 2022, according to fresh data from the United Nations. 

It showed that the global under-five mortality rate has declined by 51% since 2000. Some countries outpaced this fall, including Cambodia, Malawi, Mongolia, and Rwanda, which reduced under-five mortality by more than 75%.

“Behind these numbers lie the stories of midwives and skilled health personnel helping mothers safely deliver their newborns, health workers vaccinating and protecting children against deadly diseases, and community health workers who make home visits to support families,” said UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell. 

Despite the encouraging figures, the UN said that 4.9 million children under five died in 2022. Most of these deaths were in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, and were due to preventable or treatable causes, such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, and malaria.

“It is critical to improve access to quality health services for every woman and child,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization. 

Image: Bruno Nascimento

France slowed down fast fashion

France’s parliament has backed a string of measures aimed at making fast fashion, especially from Chinese mass producers, less attractive.

Measures include a ban on advertising for the cheapest textiles, and an environmental levy on low-cost items.

Thursday’s vote makes France the first country “legislating to limit the excesses of ultra-fast fashion”, said Christophe Bechu, minister for the ecological transition. 

A surcharge of €5 (£4.20) per item for clothes with big ecological footprints is planned from next year, rising to €10 by 2030. However, the charge cannot exceed 50% of an item’s price tag. The measures still require a vote in the Senate.

Image: Markus Winkler

Somalia reached a debt relief milestone

Somalia has had 99% of its debt cancelled – a breakthrough for the country as it tries to recover from an ongoing three-decade conflict. 

Rich creditor nations, including the US, UK and Russia, cancelled more than $2bn (£1.6bn) of Somalia’s debt.

In a post on X, Somalia’s finance minister, Bihi Eged, said the debt relief would “allow our government to create fiscal space for basic public services.”

Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said the breakthrough was a “major stride towards economic development and poverty reduction” for Somalia.

Image: Khalid Abdalla

The US put the brakes on gas guzzlers

It’s the land of the gas guzzler, but not for much longer. This week president Biden (pictured) announced the strictest car emissions limits yet in the country in a bid to boost the take up of electric vehicles (EVs). 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Wednesday’s regulation will prevent 7bn tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere over 30 years. But the new regulations were watered down in concession to car makers, leaving some climate groups disappointed. 

The measures include a target of 56% for all new vehicles sold in the US to be electric by 2032. EVs have no exhaust emissions but have a big ecological footprint owing to the precious minerals used in batteries. 

Donald Trump has pledged to roll back Biden’s environmental agenda if he wins November’s election. Doing so will likely see the US slip further behind China, currently the world’s leading electric vehicle maker. 

Image: Paris Malone

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New blood test identifies heart failure risk – study

A simple blood test could help identify those at risk of dying from heart failure, research suggests.

In a study, led by the University of Oxford in England, participants whose blood contained high levels of neuropeptide Y – a protein – were 50% more likely to die from a heart complication over three years than those with lower levels.

Heart failure occurs when the heart can’t pump blood around the body. While there’s no cure, treatments are available, including having an implantable cardioverter defibrillator fitted.

“As many as one million people in the UK have heart failure,” said Prof Bryan Williams, chief scientific officer at the British Heart Foundation. “Measuring neuropeptide Y levels could in future offer… greater insights into how a patient’s heart failure is likely to progress, in particular whether those with high levels of neuropeptide Y would benefit from additional treatment to reduce their higher risk.”

Scientists hope the test will be available within five years. Further research is planned.

Image: Karolina Grabowska

A leading university halted donations from big oil

In a UK first, the University of Cambridge (pictured) has stopped accepting donations from fossil fuel groups, pending a review.

The moratorium was proposed by academics at the university amid concern about big oil’s influence on academic research. 

It follows an independent report last year which recommended that the university halt funding from fossil fuel interests. The report found that oil and gas groups donated an average of £3.3m per year to the university over the previous six years, accounting for around 0.4% of its overall research funding. 

“This is a huge deal for ending greenwashing, safeguarding research integrity, protecting academic freedom, and ending institutional support for an industry profiting from harm to people and the planet alike,” said the student group Cambridge Climate Justice, in a statement. “This is a key step towards a permanent fossil free research policy.”

Image: Julius Dūdėnas

World’s largest tree species ‘thriving’ in the UK

In what’s perhaps an unlikely turn of events, California’s giant redwoods – the tallest trees on Earth – are “thriving” in the UK. 

New research suggests there are around 500,000 giant redwoods in Britain – more than there are in the Sierra Nevada mountains. What’s more, they appear to be growing at the same rate as their Californian cousins.  

Imported as botanical trophies in the Victorian era, giant redwoods can live for 2,000 years and reach heights of 90m. They store up to five times more carbon per hectare than tropical rainforests, according to Prof Mathias Disney, who led the University College London research.  

“These giant sequoias are here to stay and are becoming a beautiful and resilient part of our landscape,” he wrote. “More work is needed to consider the impact of planting non-native species like giant sequoias on native habitats and biodiversity, but our work has shown that they are apparently very happy with our climate, so far.”  

Image: Dave Hoefler

An English city called time on toxic ads

Adverts plugging products that polluter will no longer be permitted on billboards owned by Sheffield city council, it was announced this week.   

Oil companies, airlines and car manufacturers are among the firms that won’t be able to tout their wares on council billboards. The ban does not apply to banks, including those funding fossil fuel projects. 

Sheffield Green Party councillor Marieanne Elliot, who supported the policy, said: “If we seriously want to move away from greenwashing and promoting products and foods that are making our health worse and negatively affecting our wellbeing, we need policies like this.”

Image: William Navarro

Finland also trialled a basic income
The World Happiness Report landed

Finland has retained its status as the ‘world’s happiest nation’ in the latest World Happiness Report

The report painted a somewhat mixed picture overall. While it noted an increase in kindness since the pandemic, it also recorded a decline in happiness among young people in the west. 

“This latest World Happiness Report highlights the vital importance of young people’s wellbeing and how this varies around the world,” said Dr Mark Williamson, director of wellbeing charity Action for Happiness, who wasn’t involved in the research. 

“Although there are some countries, like the US, where wellbeing is declining for people under age 30, there are others, like Lithuania, where young people have been getting happier.”

He added: “It’s particularly encouraging that levels of kindness have increased post-pandemic. So, although many young people are struggling right now, they are also playing a big part in helping to make things better.” 

The top of the index was dominated by Scandinavian countries, with Denmark and Iceland ranking behind Finland. The UK and US ranked 20th and 23th respectively.  

Image: Tapio Haaja

A song was released to help revive ‘dark forests’

A new single is making noise about an environmental issue that often goes unheard: the lack of biodiversity in UK conifer plantations.  

The UK’s densely planted timber forests are eerie places, where wildlife struggles to thrive. Where Now A Dark Wood Stands – by Scottish composer Alexander Chapman Campbell and folk singer Julie Fowlis – is a rallying cry for the plantations to be reimagined so that nature can flourish in them.

Read the full story here.

Image: Hugh Carswell
Main image: hadynyah/iStock

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