Image for What went right this week: the UK quit a toxic treaty, plus more

What went right this week: the UK quit a toxic treaty, plus more

The UK quit a toxic energy treaty, trees kept the eastern US cool, and the four-day week got a boost, plus more good news

The UK quit a toxic energy treaty, trees kept the eastern US cool, and the four-day week got a boost, plus more good news

This week’s good news roundup

The UK quit a toxic energy treaty

Many will be baffled that such an agreement even exists. But the UK has become the latest country to announce its withdrawal from the controversial Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), which allows fossil fuel companies to sue governments for profits lost due to climate policies.  

The ECT uses an opaque system of secret courts to facilitate legal action, and is the most litigated investment treaty in the world. In November, an oil firm used it to sue the EU, Germany and Denmark over a windfall tax

Nations have unsurprisingly been rushing for the exit. France, Germany and Poland have already pulled out. Denmark, Ireland and the Netherlands are among those set to follow. The UK joined the exodus on Wednesday, citing a “failure of efforts to align [the treaty] with net zero”. 

“By leaving the Energy Charter Treaty we have taken away one of fossil fuel companies’ most used weapons to deter or punish climate action,” said Cleodie Rickard, trade campaign manager at Global Justice Now. “Doing so has untied a straitjacket on our current and future capacity to enact the just transition we desperately need.”


Image: Veeterzy

Reforestation keeping eastern US cool – study

While temperatures have edged upwards over the last century across much of the US – as per the rest of the world – a so-called “warming hole” over the country’s east, where temperatures have plateaued or cooled, has bucked the trend and puzzled scientists. Until now. 

This week, a study attributed this anomaly to widespread reforestation efforts in the eastern states, which had been cleared by early European settlers. 

“Ground- and satellite-based observations showed that eastern United States forests cool the land surface by 1–2C annually compared to nearby grasslands and croplands, with the strongest cooling effect during midday in the growing season, when cooling is 2–5C,” said the study, led by researchers at Indiana University. 

 “The biophysical impacts of reforestation help explain the anomalous lack of 20th-century warming in the eastern United States,” 

The researchers behind the study were quick to point out that their work “does not identify widespread reforestation as the sole factor causing the warming hole”. Air pollution, which blocks sunlight, could also be a factor. 

Image: Tina Rataj-Berard

good news
English hospitals to adopt ‘Martha’s rule’

Seriously ill patients in England will be entitled to an emergency second opinion if their condition worsens, the National Health Service announced this week. 

From April, 100 hospitals will be offered government funding to implement ‘Martha’s rule’, named after Martha Mills, a 13-year-old who died of sepsis because her symptoms were missed. The scheme will eventually be rolled out nationally. 

Martha’s mother, Merope, told BBC R4’s Today programme that she expected the new system would save lives and mean her daughter had not died “in vain”.

Image: Matheus Ferrero


Four-day week here to stay for UK firms

Most of the firms that participated in the world’s largest four-day week trial are operating a shorter working week one year on, a new report shows. 

In all, 61 organisations took part in the UK trial. Of those, 54 are still operating the policy (89%) and 31 have made the change permanent.

When asked about the effects of a shorter working week, 82% of surveyed companies reported positive impacts on staff wellbeing, with half recording reduced staff turnover.

Critics of the four-day week have questioned whether the positive impacts reported in four-day week trials can be sustained long-term. Juliet Schor, professor of sociology at Boston College, which led the UK trial, said that the new research suggests they can be. 

“Overall results have held and, in some cases, have even continued to improve,” she said. “Physical and mental health, and work-life balance are significantly better than at six months. Burnout and life satisfaction improvements held steady. Job satisfaction and sleep problems nudged down a bit, but the bulk of the original improvement remains.”

Image: Alistair Macrobert 

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UK urged bosses to help menopausal workers

Firms in the UK must make “reasonable adjustments” for employees going through the menopause, a watchdog has said. 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) issued new guidance this week to clarify the legal obligations firms have to menopausal workers. 

The EHRC said that menopause symptoms, which include hot flushes, brain fog and difficulty sleeping, can be considered a disability. Failure to provide “reasonable adjustments”, such as relaxing uniform policies or offering flexible hours, it added, amount to discrimination and could result in firms being sued. 

Baroness Kishwer Falkner, EHRC chairwoman, said the watchdog was “concerned both by how many women report being forced out of a role due to their menopause-related symptoms, and how many don’t feel safe enough to request the workplace adjustments”.

She said that employers “may not fully understand their responsibility to protect staff going through the menopause”, and that the new guidance was issued to provide clarity and advice on how they can support their staff.


Image: LinkedIn Sales Solutions

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Greece legalised same-sex marriage

In a historic move, Greece has become the first Christian Orthodox-majority country to legalise same-sex marriage. 

It followed a vote in parliament last Thursday, which passed with a majority of 100. 

Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the new law would “abolish a serious inequality”. “People who have been invisible will finally be made visible,” he told parliament.  

However, the vote has been met with fierce resistance from the Orthodox Church, whose supporters held protests in Athens. 

Image: Tallie Robinson

Wooden satellites prepared for lift off

Could wooden satellites make space exploration more environmentally friendly? Researchers at Kyoto University, Japan, believe so, and are preparing to launch a satellite made of magnolia wood. 

The timber, which astronaut Koichi Wakata tested in space, was shown to withstand extreme temperature fluctuations. The team at the university believe that it could therefore offer an alternative to the metal that most satellites are made from, but which burns up when it re-enters the atmosphere, leaving behind toxic particles.

A launch is planned for later this year. 

Image: Kyoto University/Gakuji Tobiyama

New project celebrates English working class

English working-class culture all too often fades from history, while upper-class heritage is preserved for posterity. A project by Historic England aims to address that.   

Everyday Heritage Grant will fund 56 community-led projects to tell ‘untold’ stories of working-class culture, including documentaries about rollerskating in Birmingham and pigeon fanciers in Yorkshire. 

“Heritage should be for everyone. But not everyone’s stories are told and not everyone’s history is remembered,” said Historic England. “The Everyday Heritage Grants continue to address this imbalance.”

Other initiatives benefiting from the funding include a project chronicling the working-class history of drag in Newcastle’s ‘Pink Triangle’, and another telling the untold histories of St Agnes Place in Kennington, a London street central to the Rastafari community. 

Image: Jonathan Borba

An iconic UK species showed signs of recovery

Their numbers have been dwindling for decades but this week came further signs that hedgehogs might be staging an urban comeback in the UK.

A survey by Gardeners’ World Magazine reported that sightings of the prickly creatures were up 2% last year compared to 2022.

The magazine’s editor Kevin Smith said the increase “is a positive indication that we’re making progress in coexisting with nature.”

While the survey provides only a snapshot of hedgehog populations, it chimes with the findings of a 2022 report on the state of the species. It found that in rural areas hedgehogs continue to decline, while populations in urban areas are stabilising and even growing, “highlighting the importance of gardens and green spaces”.

Image: Alexas Fotos

The sea was brought into sharp focus

An underwater photography competition has brought the oceans and marine conservation into sharper focus.

The winning snaps from 2024’s Underwater Photographer of the Year award invited people to consider their impact on the marine creatures that so often go unseen.

Among the winnings shots was this one by Lisa Stengel, who photographed a mahi mahi hunting other fish in Mexico. See the others here.

Image: Lisa Stengel
Main image: iStock

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