A rhino species came back from the brink, a tiny nation hatched a big plan, and three African countries defeated sleeping sickness, plus more
The biodiversity crisis has many faces, the rhino being one of them. The decline of the animals at the hands of poachers has seen numbers crash in recent decades. There are now just two northern white rhinos left on Earth; a mother and daughter.
But this week there was some positive news for the species in Asia, where they have been the subject of conservation efforts. A census of the one-horned rhino in India and Nepal revealed that the population has risen to 4,014.
“For a species that was once perilously close to extinction, numbering fewer than 100 individuals, this recovery is truly remarkable,” said Nina Fascione, executive director of the International Rhino Foundation.
The greater one-horned population increased by 274 since the last count, helped by a ‘baby boom’ during the pandemic when protected areas were closed to visitors.
“The recovery of the greater one-horned rhino is a conservation success story – but the story isn’t over yet,” said Fascione. “The species is still classified as vulnerable and inhabits only a fraction of its former range.”
Image: Nejib Ahmed
Benin, Uganda and Rwanda are triumphing over Human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT) – also known as ‘sleeping sickness’ – according to the World Health Organization.
The life-threatening tropical disease is carried by tsetse flies, and has long been a curse for communities in West, Central and East Africa, where two versions are circulating.
The WHO said that extensive testing and interventions targeting tsetse flies have helped the three nations eliminate at least one version of the disease. It is now no longer considered a public health crisis.
Image: Stuart Isaac Harrier
Greece has become the latest country to introduce legislation prohibiting the discredited practice of conversion therapy, which claims to be able to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The new law prohibits minors from receiving conversion therapy. Health professionals will also need an adult’s explicit consent to perform such treatment and face fines and prison if they violate the law.
A growing list of countries have outlawed conversion therapy. Israel banned the practice in March, following in the footsteps of Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, France, Germany and Malta.
Image: Stavrialena Gontzou
The Church of Scotland has voted overwhelmingly to allow its clergy to conduct same-sex marriages. Members of its general assembly voted to change church law following years of campaigning by the LGBTQ+ community.
Ministers and deacons will be able to apply to become celebrants of same sex marriage, but will not be forced to take part.
The general assembly said that it had worked hard to find “a solution that respects diversity and values the beliefs of all”.
Image: Lollipop Photography UK
Most people would be hard pushed to point to Niue on a map. But this small island nation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has big ideas. The plan? To turn all of its waters into a marine conservation zone the size of Vietnam.
The sea around Niue is rich in natural wonders. It is reputedly home to the highest density of grey sharks in the world, is a birthing ground for humpback whales (pictured), and is the only place where the katuali, a sea snake, is found.
Already, 40 per cent of its waters are protected. The island now wants to increase this to 100 per cent, according to The Guardian, while maintaining opportunities for sustainable local fishing.
Islanders will monitor the marine park for illegal fishing fleets with the help of a satellite surveillance company, Global Fishing Watch. There are also plans to replant coral reefs.
“The ocean is everything to us,” said Niue’s premier, Dalton Tagelagi. “It’s what defines us.”
Image: Max Lissenden
Amid turmoil in energy markets, one thing is for certain: renewables are exceeding expectations and providing countries with a path towards energy security.
That’s according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) latest assessment of renewables. It revealed that capacity for generating electricity from solar, wind and other renewables increased to a record level in 2021.
What’s more, it said that renewables’ growth so far this year has happened much faster than anticipated, driven by strong policy support in China, the European Union and Latin America.
“Energy market developments in recent months – especially in Europe – have proven once again the essential role of renewables in improving energy security, in addition to their well-established effectiveness at reducing emissions,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol.
However, the agency warned that renewables growth was likely to slow next year without further policy shifts to promote green energy.
Image: Markus Spiske
Belgium, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands have announced ambitious plans to drastically scale up offshore wind energy, in a bid to end their reliance on Russian energy.
The countries have set a joint target of 150GW offshore generation capacity by 2050. By way of a yardstick, Europe currently has around 25GW of offshore wind capacity.
Mads Nipper, group CEO at Ørsted, a Danish power company, said: “Add to that ambitions from UK, Norway and other countries, and the North Sea will end up being the power plant of Europe. To the benefit of our climate, communities and our energy independence.”
Image: Shaun Dakin
The Netherlands has announced plans to ban fossil fuel boilers from 2026, a move designed to wean households off Russian gas.
Gas boilers are a major source of carbon emissions. From 2026, new Dutch houses, and old ones needing new boilers, will have to install hybrid heat pumps instead.
It’s an imperfect solution, however, as hybrid heat pumps still rely on gas, oil or LPG to “top up” heating systems when pumps can’t keep up with demand.
The Netherlands joins a growing number of countries that have plans to phase out fossil fuel heating systems. Gas boilers will be banned in the UK from 2025.
Image: Matheus Frade
Researchers have located what is believed to be the largest plant in the world – an ancient seagrass stretching 180km (112 miles).
Thought to be around 4,500 years old, the giant posidonia australis was found in the shallow, sun-drenched waters of Shark Bay, Western Australia.
Lead researcher, Dr Elizabeth Sinclair, from the University of Western Australia’s Oceans Institute, said: “It appears to be really resilient, experiencing a wide range of temperatures and salinities plus extreme high light conditions, which together would typically be highly stressful for most plants.”
Her team are now conducting experiments to understand how the plant survives, information that could prove useful as oceans warm.
Image: Rachel Austin
Main image: Aditya Pal
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