Image for What went right this week: Europe’s ‘historic’ nature law, plus more

What went right this week: Europe’s ‘historic’ nature law, plus more

Europe passed a landmark nature law, Finland almost ended homelessness, and a Scottish land deal empowered communities, plus more good news

Europe passed a landmark nature law, Finland almost ended homelessness, and a Scottish land deal empowered communities, plus more good news

This week’s good news roundup

good news
Europe adopted a ‘historic’ law to restore nature

A landmark law that aims to reverse biodiversity loss in the EU has been approved by the European parliament amid fierce debate. 

The nature restoration law will require EU nations to restore and protect wildlife on a fifth of their land and sea by 2030. It must now be approved by the EU Council before it can enter force.   

Scientists have chronicled a catastrophic decline in nature in the EU, where 81% of habitats are deemed in poor shape. Nevertheless, the law has been contentious. Farmers protested against it, claiming it would increase bureaucracy and impact profits (other farmers say cheap foreign imports – not green policies – are the problem). Misinformation campaigns and right-wing politicians fuelled their ire, forcing the EU to weaken targets and loosen the language, creating loopholes. 

Nevertheless, the law was welcomed by #RestoreNature, a coalition of charities comprising BirdLife Europe, ClientEarth, the European Environmental Bureau, and WWF EU

“We are relieved that MEPs listened to facts and science, and did not give in to populism and fearmongering,” it said in a statement. “Now, we urge member states to follow suit and deliver this much-needed law to bring back nature in Europe.”

Image: Ricardo Frantz

The UK’s green economy defied sceptics

Net zero sceptics routinely claim that going green is a drag on the economy, but new figures provide further evidence to the contrary. 

According to a report by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), while the UK economy grew by just 0.1% in 2023, its burgeoning ‘net zero economy’ grew by 9% last year.    

The analysis found that companies operating in the low-carbon sector – including renewables, battery storage and green finance – added £74bn to the UK economy. What’s more, green jobs were found to be better paid, with the average ‘net zero salary’ coming in at £44,600, compared to the UK average of £35,400.

“Against the backdrop of economic stagnation, the net zero economy is bucking the trend, but it’s clear that the policy U-turns of the past year have damaged investor confidence at a time when the US and EU are investing billions to compete for clean industries,” said ECIU director Peter Chalkley.

“The question now is: will political parties provide the leadership, stability and investment needed to generate further growth or shy away from the global race for net zero?”

The UK data come weeks after a separate report revealed that low-carbon industries are now the main driver of China’s economy.  

Image: Peter Cade/Getty

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helsinki cathedral
Finland has nearly eliminated homelessness

While homelessness has soared across much of the developed world in recent years, Finland is bucking the trend. 

An investigation by the German newspaper Der Spiegel recorded around 3,600 homeless people in Finland today, down from 20,000 in the 1980s. In the capital, Helsinki (pictured), the number of people living without a roof over their heads dropped by 40% between 2019 and 2022, the newspaper reported.

Finland’s approach has been remarkably simple: invest in the construction and maintenance of welfare housing. Dubbed Housing First, the model has found a home for 60% of Finland’s homeless population. 

The new right-wing government’s programme of austerity could put this successful homeless solution at risk. However, the model is being trialled elsewhere in the world, including in Houston, US, where it has been hailed a “gamechanger”. 

Image: Tapio Haaja  

Speaking of housing …

Authorities in Seoul have announced plans to build more homes for single people amid a rise in the number of people living alone in the South Korean capital. 

According to local media, developers will be incentivised to build smaller homes for single people in the city, where rooms will be offered to them at up to 50% cheaper than market rates. 

The news follows last month’s decision by a Belgian municipality to assess how policies impact people living alone. 

Image: Brooke Cagle

Scotland to hand vacant land to communities

A derelict petrol station and an abandoned office block are among the assets set to be handed over to local communities in Scotland as part of a new land transfer initiative.  

Under the Ownerless Property Transfer Scheme, assets that have fallen into the hands of the Scottish state will be handed over to communities, providing they have a business plan for reviving them that benefits the public. 

The initiative launched on Friday and is run by the King’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer (KLTR), a state institution that looks after unowned Scottish property. The scheme stands in stark contrast to how things are done in the rest of the UK, where the state keeps or sells unowned assets. 

KLTR said the initiative recognises “the long-term negative impact that ownerless land and buildings can have on our communities” and would “provide opportunities for communities throughout Scotland”. 

Assets due to be transferred include a derelict petrol station in Ayrshire and an art nouveau office block in Glasgow known as Lion Chambers (pictured).

Image: CS104Group6

How to keep a city cool? Build botanical gardens

As temperatures rise, town planners are under pressure to keep our cities cool. Could building more botanical gardens be a solution? 

Academics at the Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCCAR) think so after they conducted a comprehensive review of the heat-mitigating effects of green spaces. 

Researchers found that botanical gardens cool the air locally by 5C during heatwaves. Parks and wetlands, they observed, had a similar effect. The GCCAR hopes its findings will inform policymakers as the world warms.

“We have known for some time that green spaces and water can cool cities down,” said GCCAR director, Prof Prashant Kumar, who led the research. “However, this study provides us the most comprehensive picture yet. What’s more – we can explain why. From trees providing shade, to evaporating water cooling the air.” 

Image: Gad Xu

Our features editor started a movement

A grassroots movement to protect childhood from smartphones is gathering momentum in the UK – and began life in the home of our features editor Daisy Greenwell. 

Like many other parents, she felt torn: not letting her kids own a smartphone risked alienating them from their peers; giving in risked exposing them to higher incidence of mental illness recorded among young smartphone users.

She wrote a post about it on – ironically – Instagram, which went viral. “We were not alone,” said Greenwell. “There were thousands of parents who felt the same – from paediatric consultants to CEOs, taxi drivers and teachers – people from all walks of life across Britain desperately wanted to talk about the problem, share their experiences, offer each other support and work to come up with a solution.” 

The Smartphone Free Childhood movement was born – and is growing fast. Read the full story here.

Image: Alastair Bartlett/Tilt Shift Creative 
Main image: chekyfoto/iStock

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