There's been plenty of bad news as usual this year, from EU uncertainty to the drama of a tweet-obsessed president. But lots of things changed for the better too. From conservation wins to new milestones for equality, here's our annual round-up of what went right.
According to the latest assessment of its condition, the upper layer above the northern hemisphere is likely to be completely repaired by the 2030s and the entire layer by 2060, says the UN. It has been hailed as a remarkable turnaround that shows what is possible with global action.
India’s supreme court scrapped a colonial-era ban on gay sex. Gay sex became a criminal offence again in India in 2013 when a law named Section 337 was reinstated.
But the nation’s supreme court voted to overturn the law in September, ruling that consensual gay sex “among consenting adults in private” is not a crime.
Colombia’s Serranía de Chiribiquete was declared the world’s largest tropical rainforest national park. In news welcomed by conservationists around the world, the park was enlarged by 5,800sq miles in July, bringing its total size to 17,000sq miles.
The Serranía de Chiribiquete is home to thousands of species – many threatened – including jaguars, giant otters, giant anteaters, lowland tapirs, woolly monkeys, macaws (like the one pictured) and the endemic Chiribiquete emerald hummingbird.
In April, the EU agreed to ban a group of insecticides that have been linked to a dramatic reduction in bee numbers.
Experts from the body’s 28 states agreed to ban the use of three toxic neonicotinoids, six years after the European Food Safety Authority concluded that the chemicals were harmful to bees. The outdoor application of imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam – the world’s most widely used insecticides – would be banned from all fields in EU member states within six months, said EU chiefs.
Ten years after the site was first added, Unesco removed the reef from the list. “Visionary” steps have been taken to protect the reef, which is home to hundreds of varieties of sharks, tropical fish and sea turtles. The Belize government banned oil exploration there, among its efforts.
Pakistan’s new government pledged to plant 10bn trees over five years to help combat climate change. It is an expansion of the ‘billion tree tsunami’ project by prime minister Imran Khan, which is a bid to restore 350,000 hectares of forest. As well as releasing oxygen, it is hoped the trees will help prevent flooding from glaciers in the country’s north.
Research by switching service uSwitch found that five of the top 10 cheapest tariffs are green deals offered by challengers to the ‘big six’. Many consumers wrongly believe that renewable energy deals are more expensive, the research suggested.
Millennials are driving a worldwide shift away from meat, according to a report released in March by analytics company GlobalData. Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, is urging suppliers to offer more plant-based products.
Global numbers of critically endangered mountain gorillas are now above 1,000 – a 25 per cent increase since 2010 – showed census results revealed in May. There are now at least 604 of the apes in the Virunga Massif in east-central Africa: the focus of concerted conservation efforts in recent years. The area, which spans the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda, is one of the two remaining areas where the great ape is found.
A plastic-free ‘trust mark’ has been launched to help shoppers steer clear of products that are packaged in plastic.
UK supermarket chain Iceland was among the first to take up the mark, which sits on the front of plastic-free food and drink items. The design was developed by campaign group A Plastic Planet, which helped launch the world’s first dedicated plastic-free supermarket aisle in Amsterdam. “Now we all know the damage our addiction to plastic has caused, we want to do the right thing and buy plastic-free,” said the group’s co-founder Sian Sutherland.
The figure, which is equivalent to £180bn, was estimated by the Global Impact Investing Network in June. It represents investments made into companies, funds and organisations that intend to make a positive social and environmental impact alongside generating a financial return.
The world’s first electrified road, which recharges the batteries of cars and trucks as they drive along it, opened in Sweden.
The public road near Stockholm now has about 2km (1.2 miles) of electric rail embedded within it, transferring energy via a movable arm that attaches to the bottom of vehicles. Sweden’s roads agency plans to expand the scheme nationally. The design has been likened to that of Scalextric tracks.
Historic firsts were witnessed across the US in November, as voters chose from a set of candidates that was among the most diverse to run in the country.
Native American, Muslim and LGBT candidates all made wins as the Democrats took control of the House, while Republicans tightened their grip on the Senate. Deb Haaland, (pictured) became one of two Native American women to be elected to Congress.
Image: Michael Gorman
As melting ice opens up creates fresh potential for exploitation in the Arctic, a ban signed in October aims to protect much of the fragile ecosystem. Commercial fishing will be banned across a significant expanse of the Arctic under the agreement signed in Greenland.
The moratorium will protect a vast area of sea – about the size of the Mediterranean – that is newly opening up under climate change. Rising temperatures mean that summer navigation by ship is now possible over what was previously ice.
UK supermarket chain Tesco pledged in October to remove more than 100 further best before dates from its fruit and vegetables, in response to customers saying it helps them reduce food waste.
Best before dates were due to be scrapped on 116 products including apples, oranges, cabbages and asparagus. This follows the supermarket removing the guidance dates from around 70 fruit and veg lines earlier in 2018.
In September, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern became the first female world leader to bring a baby to a meeting of the United Nations general assembly in New York.
Ardern played with her three-month-old daughter Neve Te Aroha before giving a speech at the Nelson Mandela peace summit in which she highlighted the former South African leader’s “profound impact” on her country.
Image: Hagen Hopkins / Getty
London fashion week will no longer use animal fur in its shows, it announced in September. The British Fashion Council (BFC) said none of the designers taking part on the official schedule this year would be using it.
The BFC’s chief executive, Caroline Rush, said this month’s fur-free event highlights a trend that has been building over the past few years, with more and more brands deciding to use alternative materials. “The survey results reflect a cultural change based on ideals and choices made by designer businesses, international brands as well as consumer sentiment,” read a statement.
Rwanda became the first low income country to provide universal eye care to all of its citizens, by training 3,000 nurses in over 500 health clinics. Now, under 20 per cent of the population has access to electricity, but everyone can – in theory – access eye care.
Germany released new figures this summer showing that more than 300,000 refugees have now found jobs, and the share of MPs with migrant backgrounds has risen from 3 per cent to 9 per cent in the last two elections.