EU emissions fell sharply, a blood test for brain cancer arrived, and Somali women tackled taboos, plus more good news
This week’s good news roundup
The EU’s CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels have dropped to levels not seen since The Beatles topped the charts – but they’ll need to drop further and faster.
That’s according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA). It said that 2023 saw the steepest reduction in emissions in the bloc’s history, with the exception of 2020, when Covid lockdowns led to a crash in fossil fuel use.
The rollout of renewables was the main driver of the decline, said Carbon Brief, with the EU achieving a 25% year-on-year reduction in CO2 emissions from power generation in 2023.
The EU has agreed to cut carbon emissions by 55% this decade, compared to 1990 levels. A 2023 report by the European Commission suggested it had reduced greenhouse gases by 32.5% already. But a separate report by the European Environment Agency predicted that current policies would see the bloc fall short with a below-target 43% reduction.
Image: 东旭 王
Efforts to reduce emissions are often misleadingly framed as damaging to the economy. Fresh data from China offers more evidence to the contrary.
Number crunchers at Carbon Brief, a climate reporting website, analysed the country’s economic performance in 2023. They found that the clean energy sector – including renewables, battery storage, electric vehicles and nuclear (the latter being low-carbon, yet controversial in being deemed a ‘clean’ energy source) – was the main driver of economic growth, accounting for 40% of China’s GDP expansion.
China ploughed $890bn (£704bn) into clean energy in 2023 – equivalent to the GDP of Switzerland – and the rest of the world is benefitting.
“China’s unprecedented clean-energy manufacturing boom has pushed down prices, with the cost of solar panels falling 42% year-on-year… while battery prices fell by an even steeper 50%,” said Carbon Brief. “This, in turn, has encouraged much faster take-up of clean-energy technologies.”
Image: ma li/iStock
Scientists have developed a simple blood test that could offer early diagnosis for glial brain tumours in future, improving patient outcomes.
Brain tumours are the deadliest form of cancer for children and adults under 40. Identifying them early is key to boosting survival rates but many tumours go undetected for too long.
The TriNetra-Glio blood test could change that. It works by isolating tumour cells that have broken free from the tumour and are circulating in the blood. The cells are then stained and can be identified under a microscope.
The test was pioneered by scientists at the Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence at Imperial College London. Experts said that patients could benefit from the technology in as little as two years.
“A non-invasive, inexpensive method for the early detection of brain tumours is critical for improvements in patient care,” said Imperial College’s Dr Nelofer Syed. “Through this technology, a diagnosis of inaccessible tumours can become possible through a risk-free and patient-friendly blood test.”
Image: Anna Shvets
Embracing sustainable food systems doesn’t just make environmental sense – it’s an economic no-brainer, too.
That’s according to a study by the Norway-based Food System Economics Commission (FSEC). It suggests that a shift towards sustainable agriculture could bring up to $10tn (£7.9tr) in economic benefits annually.
The commission said that existing food systems destroyed more value than they created due to hidden environmental and medical costs. On current trajectory, it predicted food insecurity would leave 640 million people underweight by 2050, while obesity would increase 70% globally. Agriculture will continue to drive a third of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Embracing sustainable farming, the report suggested, could turn food systems into carbon sinks, all while reducing hunger and providing more jobs.
“Food systems are a uniquely powerful means of addressing global climate, nature and health emergencies at the same time – while offering a better life to hundreds of millions of people,” says Hermann Lotze-Campen, FSEC commissioner.
The switch to sustainable agriculture, however, would lead to the cost of food rising, meaning financial support will be needed to help the poorest in society.
Image: Gozha Net
Until recently, many people were unaware that England even had rainforests. But a campaign to revive those that remain have gained prominence lately, prompting the UK government to launch a national rainforest strategy.
Now the National Trust, a conservation body, has rolled up its sleeves. This week, it announced plans to plant 100,000 native trees in Devon to link up fractured rainforest habitats in the country.
Bryony Wilde, a project manager for the National Trust, said: “These trees will not only provide a habitat for wildlife but also fix carbon into the soil, purify air and water, and provide a place for people to enjoy.”
Image: Guy Shrubsole
England’s hedgerows would stretch almost ten times around Earth if lined up end to end, according to a comprehensive new map of these vital ecosystems.
Ecologists hope the data will lead to better protection for hedgerows, which provide shelter for wildlife and store large amounts of carbon.
Researchers used aerial laser scanning to identify more than 242,000 miles of hedges. Cornwall has the most while Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire have the least.
“We’ve probably got more hedgerows in England than anywhere else in the world so we’re very lucky to have this huge resource,” Dr Richard Broughton of the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, who led the project, told the BBC.
“As a national policy, we’re trying to expand hedgerows in this country, and this will tell us where there are gaps in the hedgerow network that we could fill in.”
Image: Mike Bird
It’s one of the world’s most gender unequal countries, so the launch of a current affairs show led by women is a big deal in Somalia.
Based on the BBC’s Question Time format, the panel show will tour the east African nation, inviting guests to engage in contentious issues such as gender inequality and climate crisis.
The show, due to air from March, will be produced by Bilan, an all-women media team that launched last year to provide a female perspective on the country.
In a world first, New Zealand has announced a ban on the use of “forever chemicals” in cosmetics.
So named because they’re virtually impossible to eliminate, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are added to clothing and cosmetics, among other things, to help make them water resistant.
“We know these chemicals don’t easily break down, they can build up in our bodies, and some can be toxic at high levels,” said Dr Shaun Presow, who assesses hazardous substances for New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Authority.
The ban will come into effect from 2026.
Image: Marcus Aurelius
If you’ve got a guitar gathering dust or a piano begging to be played, here’s another reason to get making melodies again: doing so could boost brain function.
Scientists at the University of Exeter in England analysed data from more than 1,000 UK adults aged over 40, reviewing participants’ musical experience alongside results of cognitive tests.
They found that playing an instrument, particularly the piano, was liked to improved memory and ability to solve complex tasks – known as executive function.
Anne Corbett, professor of dementia research at the university said: “Our findings indicate that promoting musical education would be a valuable part of public health initiatives to promote a protective lifestyle for brain health.”
Image: Ketut Subiyanto
Fleet Street – formerly home of the English print media – is now the location for a pop-up visitor centre aiming to raise the profile of London’s status as a national park city.
London became the world’s first national park city in June 2019, following a campaign spearheaded by former geography teacher Daniel Raven-Ellison (pictured).
“People think of London as a concrete jungle, ‘the big smoke’, a cultural, financial and a political centre,” he told Positive News. “But it also has great parks and rivers, a culture of protecting green spaces and institutions like ZSL, the Natural History Museum and Kew Gardens.”
The pop-up centre opened on Thursday. It will host community events, talks and workshops where people “can hatch wild plans for making London greener”.
Image: Sam Bush
Tribalism exerts a potent grip on society, compelling people to place loyalty and familiarity above reason and compassion.
Take hope then, from a new piece of research that suggests humans have the potential to overcome tribalist tendencies and significantly increase their so-called ‘moral circle’ – the people they value and care about.
Read the full story here.
Main image: taranchic/iStock
The sub story within this article about China’s economic growth was amended on 23 February to acknowledge that nuclear power being deemed a clean energy source is controversial.
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