A vaccine trial offered a potential route out of the pandemic, the race to drive cars out of cities gained momentum and renewables defied expectations (again), plus other positive news
A coronavirus vaccine that performed better than expected in trials has raised hopes that the world may soon emerge from a pandemic that has claimed almost 1.3m lives and destroyed many more livelihoods.
The developers – Pfizer and BioNTech – said on Monday that their preliminary analysis showed the vaccine was 90 per cent effective, with no reported safety concerns.
The unpublished results have not been peer reviewed and it is unclear which demographic groups the vaccine protects. Nevertheless, the news was broadly, if cautiously, welcomed by scientists.
Image: Sam Moqadam
Barcelona has emerged as a frontrunner in the race to drive cars out of cities. Its much-vaunted ‘superblock’ scheme has reclaimed road space in many neighbourhoods and used it to create playgrounds, public gardens and walkways.
Now the Catalan capital is accelerating efforts to reclaim the public realm with an ambitious plan to turn one third of streets in the downtown Eixample district into ‘green zones’. The zones will reduce the proportion of road space allotted to cars and give pedestrians and cyclists priority.
Under the scheme, 21 public squares will be created, meaning those living in the neighbourhood will never be more than 200m away from a plaza or small park.
Image: Kaspars Upmanis
Hot on the heels of her landslide re-election victory, New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has won further praise for appointing the most diverse cabinet in the nation’s history.
Indigenous Maori ministers comprise a quarter of the 20-strong cabinet, with women taking eight posts. The new line-up includes Nanaia Mahuta (pictured), New Zealand’s first female foreign affairs minister. In 2016, Mahuta became the first woman to display a sacred facial tattoo, or moko kauae, in parliament.
According to the Star Observer, an LGBTI newspaper, the new look New Zealand parliament has overtaken the UK’s as the “gayest” in the world, with about 10 per cent of MPs identifying as gay.
Image: New Zealand Labour Party
There was more positive news for renewables this week with a report claiming green energy had defied expectations during the coronavirus crisis and was set for a record year.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) report said renewables accounted for almost 90 per cent of the increase in total power capacity worldwide this year.
“Renewable power is defying the difficulties caused by the pandemic, showing robust growth while other fuels struggle,” said Dr Fatih Birol, IEA executive director. “And the future looks even brighter with new capacity additions on course to set fresh records this year and next.”
Image: Karsten Würth
A campaign to have streets outside schools closed to traffic at the start and end of the day has gathered momentum in London, which has some of the dirtiest air in Europe.
According to the campaign group Mums for Lungs, the number of ‘school streets’ in the capital increased from 81 to 383 between April and October, meaning thousands fewer children are being exposed to pollution at school.
School streets was launched in 2019 to cut air pollution and reduce obesity by encouraging parents to use active forms of transport for the school run. With more space needed for social distancing outside schools, the pandemic has added urgency to the campaign.
Image: Oliver Hale
An independent advisor to the UK government has said that achieving net zero emissions is likely to be much cheaper than previously thought, thanks to the falling cost of renewables and other technologies such as electric vehicles.
Chris Stark, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, didn’t put a figure on transitioning to net zero. But in an interview with the Guardian he predicted it would be cheaper than 2 per cent of GDP, which is what the UK government previously estimated it would cost to slash emissions by 80 per cent.
“Net zero is relatively low-cost across the economy,” said Stark, who warned the government wasn’t going far enough fast enough. “But that rests on action now.”
Image: Li An Lim
The UK will become the first country in the world to require corporations to complete climate change risk assessments, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced this week.
Sunak also revealed plans for the UK’s first green bonds, which will allow the government to borrow money at a low interest rate to fund investment in carbon-reducing projects.
“The chancellor’s plans to make disclosure mandatory for companies is right if the rules are compulsory and thorough,” said Greenpeace’s Doug Parr. “The real win would be to make all financial institutions put in place plans to meet the Paris climate agreement by the end of next year. Disclosure is a route to making that happen, but not an end in itself.”
Image: Alev Takil
Main image: The city of Barcelona by Alfons Taekema