What went right? July to September 2017

From war clouds over Korea and wranglings over Brexit, to a shooting in Las Vegas and violence in Catalonia: bad news has dominated in recent months. But we think there are inspiring stories that are worthy of attention too. Get a fuller picture with our top 20 positive developments from July to September

1. A landmark summer for renewable energy

The UK set a new landmark for clean energy in recent months. The National Grid announced that the electricity powering the UK’s homes and businesses this summer was the greenest ever. Experts found that a combination of solar, wind and (albeit more controversially) nuclear – and an absence of coal – pushed carbon emissions to their lowest level yet between 21 June and 22 September.

2. Progress on marriage laws in the Middle East

Laws that allow rapists to marry their victims in order to escape prosecution have been repealed in several countries across the Middle East. This summer, parliaments in Tunisia, Lebanon and Jordan have all amended laws that provide legal loopholes for rapists to avoid punishment for their actions.

3. Record-breaking rates of organ transplants

A record 50,300 people are alive in the UK today thanks to organ transplants, after a surge in donor numbers and progress on survival rates. According to figures released in July by NHS Blood and Transplant, 4,753 people received transplants within 12 months between 2016 and 2017. The number of people on the NHS Organ Donor Register has increased by 4.9 million in the last five years to 36 per cent of the UK population. Organ transplants now help 800 more people per year than they did in 2012.

Julie Melady (pictured, centre left, with her family), from Fishtoft in Lincolnshire, had a life-saving liver transplant 32 years ago after contracting hepatitis at the age of 15

4. New CO2 data cautiously welcomed as a sign of progress

Global emissions of carbon dioxide remained static in 2016, a sign that was cautiously welcomed by climate change experts and campaigners. “These results are a welcome indication that we are nearing the peak in global annual emissions of greenhouse gases,” climate economist professor Lord Nicholas Stern told the Guardian. All of the world’s biggest emitting nations, except India, saw falling or static carbon emissions due to less coal being burned and boosted renewable energy schemes, according to data published in September by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. But many other nations still have increasing rates of CO2 emissions. Though emissions appear to be stalling, huge amounts of CO2 are still being added to the atmosphere every year.

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5. Success rates for people quitting smoking hit record high

People trying to quit smoking in the UK are having more success than ever before, research published by the University College London in September revealed. Almost 20 per cent of those who attempted to quit in the first half of 2017 succeeded in giving up smoking tobacco. Quitting success rates increased from a low of 13.4 per cent in 2010 to a high of 19.8 per cent in the first six months of 2017.

6. Global action on toxic mercury pollution

The first ever global agreement to tackle mercury pollution, the Minamata convention, came into force in August. Representatives of 156 countries took part in a major meeting on 24 September in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss the challenge. The treaty will limit the use of mercury in many products from 2020 but falls short of banning international trade of the toxic metal.

7. Man receives world’s first 3D printed tibia replacement

Surgeons in Australia have successfully performed a world-first transplant surgery, installing a 3D printed tibia into a man’s leg. Reuben Lichter faced losing his leg above the knee to amputation before receiving the 3D-printed tibia, wrapped in blood vessels and leg tissue from both of his legs. In August, in the last of five surgeries, the procedure was declared a success.

8. Progress on gender representation in politics

Women now occupy 23 per cent of parliamentary seats around the world, up from 12 per cent in 1997. The Middle East and North Africa have seen a fourfold increase in that time. The journey toward gender equality remains long however: just two countries have 50 per cent or more women in parliament. These are Rwanda with nearly 64 per cent and Bolivia with 53 per cent. Seven countries had no women in parliament in 2016.

Politicians in Rwanda’s parliament

9. First female president of UK supreme court

The first female president of the UK’s supreme court and the youngest lord chief justice in 50 years have been sworn in. Brenda Hale’s appointment to the leading role at the UK’s highest court was announced by Downing Street in July. She is known as a champion of diversity within the judiciary. Sir Ian Burnett, 59, was sworn in as lord chief justice.

10. Wolves return to Rome for first time in decades

Wolves have been spotted on the outskirts of Rome for the first time in more than 100 years. A pair of mature cubs were seen loping through the Castel di Guido nature reserve, near Leonardo da Vinci airport, close to a three-lane motorway that runs around the Italian capital. The killing of wolves was encouraged in Italy until the 1970s, by which time only 100 or so animals remained there. But the species was given protected status in 1971 and has since gradually recovered.

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11. Major pub chain ditches plastic straws

UK pub chain Wetherspoon, which runs 900 pubs across the UK and Ireland, will stop using plastic straws from 2018, it announced in September. It estimates it will stop some 70m single-use plastic straws being thrown away each year. Straws take up to 500 years to rot if dumped in landfill along with other waste. The company will replace them with biodegradable alternatives. It is part of a wider campaign called Refuse the Straw, which originated in the US.

12. UK coastal seabird haven is given greater protection

Part of the coastline in Northumberland which is one of the most important sites in the UK for seabirds such as Arctic terns and Atlantic puffins has been given greater protection by government conservation body Natural England. The newly designated Northumberland marine special protected area (SPA) stretches 12 miles from the coast into the North Sea, covering an area larger than 120,000 football pitches.

The area is important to birds including the Atlantic puffin

13. Indian farmers act to preserve diverse rice varieties

Farmers in India are working to conserve indigenous, heirloom varieties of rice. The Koraput region in the state of Odisha was historically one of the most diverse areas of rice in the world. Now, more than 1,400 farmers there are spearheading a movement, reports the Guardian, to safeguard what is left of this genetic wealth. So far, 1,200 varieties have been sourced and recorded, many of which have particular qualities, such as resistance to drought or flooding.

14. Ambitious climate target ‘still possible’, say experts

The ambitious aim of limiting global warming to less than 1.5C could still be in reach, scientific analysis released in September suggests. The target set by the global Paris climate change deal in 2015 was considered impossible by many due to the speed of change required. But the updated research finds that the global carbon emissions budget that meets the 1.5C goal is significantly bigger than previously thought, suggesting it could be met if decisive action is taken.

15. 10 countries now offer gender neutral option on official ID

Canada has become the tenth country to introduce a gender neutral ‘X’ option on passports. The third choice was introduced to the application process on 31 August. The Canadian government says it hopes the measure will give people freedom to express their gender identity and help ease travel complications for those who identify as neither male or female. Among the other countries that provide a gender neutral option on passports are Australia, Denmark, Germany, Malta, New Zealand and Pakistan.

A heart-covered mural

16. The tide turns against wasteful plastic bag use

Some 40 countries have now banned, partly banned or taxed single-use plastic bags. In August, Kenya introduce the world’s toughest plastic bag ban: four years in jail or a $40,000 (£30,000) fine. Producing, selling and using plastic bags is now illegal there, though officials say that ordinary shoppers will more likely be warned and have their bags confiscated. China, Rwanda and Italy are among the other nations taking action.

17. Nepal bans the practice of menstrual seclusion

In August, Nepal passed a law criminalising the ancient practice of chaupadi that banishes women from the home during menstruation and after childbirth. Since 2007, at least eight women have died while practising chaupadi, says the Nepal’s Women Development programme. They die from attacks by animals or smoke inhalation while trying to heat the freezing buildings. As well as time in prison, those found to have forced women to take part could be fined 3,000 Nepalese rupees (£22.50).

18. Wild tigers set to return to Kazakhstan

The wild tiger will return to Kazakhstan 70 years after becoming extinct there, it was announced on 8 September. The Republic of Kazakhstan revealed plans to return the cats to their historical range in the Ili-Balkhash region, signing a memorandum with WWF to implement a joint tiger reintroduction plan. Wild tigers had completely disappeared from Central Asia by the 1960s due to habitat loss and uncontrolled hunting and poaching.

19. New Arctic protections agreed by Canadian government and Inuit community

The Canadian government and Inuit group the Qikiqtani Inuit Association have reached an agreement to create a new marine conservation area in Arctic waters. Located predominantly in Lancaster Sound (known as Tallurutiup Imanga by Inuit people) in northern Canada, the reserve will cover more than 50,500 square miles of ocean and will more than double the total area of Canada’s marine protected waters. The area is one of the most ecologically sensitive regions of the Canadian Arctic and home to narwhal, beluga and bowhead whales, seals, walruses and polar bears.

20. India grants citizens the right to freely express sexual orientation

India’s Supreme Court passed a ruling in August that will result in an overhaul of the country’s laws on LGBT rights. It gives people who identify as LGBT the fundamental right to express their sexuality without discrimination. In theory, any discriminatory practices towards members of the LGBT community will be able to be challenged in court. It is expected that one of the first laws to be amended as a result of the ruling will be Section 377 of the country’s penal code. The controversial law bans sexual activity that is ‘against the order of nature’, which has been interpreted to include gay sex.

Illustration: Spencer Wilson

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