A nature recovery plan was announced for England, a blood test was found to detect cancer, and nations agreed to avoid nuclear war, plus more stories of progress
Farmers in England will be paid to create wildlife habitats, restore waterways and protect threatened species as part of a “radical” shake-up of land ownership practices, it was announced this week.
On Thursday, the UK government revealed plans for two nature recovery schemes. The first, the Local Nature Recovery initiative, will pay farmers for “locally targeted actions which make space for nature”. The scheme is set to launch nationally in 2024 and aims to reverse the fortunes of some of England’s most threatened species.
The Landscape Recovery project, meanwhile, will support more radical changes to the landscape, including the creation of nature reserves, woodlands and wetlands.
The government wants an area roughly the size of Lancashire to be covered by the schemes by 2042. Environmental groups cautiously welcomed the plan, but called for greater detail and swifter action.
“How these schemes will work in practice is still a cause for concern for both us and farmers,” said Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB.
Image: Niklas Weiss
Five of the world’s most powerful nations have agreed that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”.
The rare joint pledge was signed by the US, Russia, China, the UK and France on Monday – the five nuclear states recognised by the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The statement was published to coincide with the NPT review conference, which takes place every five years but has been postponed amid Covid-19.
That the pledge was made amid rising tensions between Russia, China and the west makes it all the more encouraging.
However, the five countries have not signed up to the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which came into effect last year and would require them to eradicate their nuclear weapons. Other nuclear states not recognised by the NPT – Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea – have also not reduced their stockpiles.
Meanwhile, the collapse of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran after Donald Trump withdrew the US, and the deadlock in efforts to revive it, is also undermining efforts to reduce nuclear proliferation. There’s still much work to be done.
Image: Humphrey Muleba
Scientists at the University of Oxford have developed a blood test that can detect cancer in patients with nonspecific symptoms, such as fatigue or weight loss – a breakthrough that could potentially save many lives.
Catching cancer early is critical to improving patient outcomes, but for those with nonspecific symptoms, a diagnosis can sometimes come too late.
The new blood test identifies the presence of biomarkers produced by cancer cells in the blood. In a study, published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, the test was used to analyse samples from 300 cancer patients.
The result? Cancer was correctly detected in 19 out of 20 patients. Though more research is needed, the early findings are encouraging.
Image: Hush Naidoo Jade
Flying, without climate baggage. That’s what the Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen promised this week as she announced a goal to decarbonise domestic flights by 2030. It follows a similar pledge by neighbouring Sweden.
Top marks for ambition, but there are no obvious routes to reach those targets – and Frederiksen acknowledged as much, meaning hopes rest on fledgling technologies.
A number of aviation companies are working on solutions. Airbus aims to have hydrogen aircraft in the skies by 2035, while Boeing has promised to launch biofuel jets by 2030.
For lessons in greening domestic travel, countries could look to France. Last year it announced plans to ban internal flights where trains can do the journey in under 2.5 hours.
Image: Amarnath Tade
Anyone convicted of engaging in consensual homosexual activity under now-abolished UK laws is to have their convictions wiped from their criminal record.
A pardons scheme aimed at “righting the wrongs of the past” is set to be announced by the UK government this week.
It is one of the more progressive measures laid out in the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which critics warn will impose draconian restrictions on protesters in the UK.
Image: Sophie Emeny
A UK charity that saves lives at sea looks to have raised more money in 2020 than at any other time in its 200-year history.
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) reported a fundraising surge following its highly publicised efforts to save refugees in the Channel – humanitarian work for which the charity came under fire by right-wing politicians.
Jayne George, the RNLI’s fundraising director, told the Guardian that such hostility appeared to have had the opposite effect. Donations from 2020 are still being counted.
Image: Rob Pumphrey
A British Army physiotherapist has become the first known woman of colour to complete a solo trek to the South Pole.
Preet Chandi (AKA ‘Polar Preet’) skied 700 miles across Antarctica in 40 days, seven hours and three minutes, setting off on 21 November. It makes her the third-fastest female solo skier to complete the expedition, behind Johanna Davidsson of Sweden and Britain’s Hannah McKeand.
When she returns to the UK, Chandi plans to launch a grant to help fund more expeditions for female adventurers.
Image: Preet Chandi
A law that bans plastic packaging on most fruit and vegetables came into force in France on New Year’s Day.
An estimated 37 per cent of fruit and vegetable products in France were sold in plastic wrapping before the ban, and government officials say it could prevent a billion items of single use plastic from being used every year.
Spain will also introduce a ban on plastic packaging of fruit and vegetables from 2023. Read the full story here.
Image: Louis Hansel
Main image: Vincent van Zalinge