What went right? January to March 2018

From shootings in the US to humanitarian crises, the first three months of 2018 have had their share of bad news. But there is another side to the coin: here are 20 of our top positive stories

1. An NHS hospital became England’s first to ban all sugary food and drinks

The policy at Tameside Hospital, Greater Manchester, relates to patients and staff and has been welcomed by campaigners as “trailblazing”. A ban on fizzy drinks comes into force across the health service in July.


2. A bottle and can deposit return scheme got the green light in England

A deposit return scheme for single use drinks containers such as plastic and glass bottles and aluminium cans will be introduced in England, subject to consultation, the government confirmed in March. The move, which supporters hope will boost recycling rates and cut litter, comes amid increasing concern over the issue of single use plastic waste. The deposit will increase prices – but consumers will get the money back if they return the container. Deposit return schemes have increased recycling rates to more than 90 per cent in other countries.

3. Of 35m flights taken in 2017, just two were involved in accidents that caused fatalities, figures showed

Research released in January by aviation consultancy To70, means there was a fatal accident rate of just 0.000006 per cent, or odds of one out of 17.5m, for the year – a record low.

4. A ban on plastic microbeads entered force in the UK

On January 9, a manufacturing ban came into force, meaning that the tiny beads – which harm marine life – can no longer be used in cosmetics and personal care products in the UK. A ban on sales will follow in July.

5. Women in Saudi Arabia were allowed into professional football games for the first time

Until January 12, women in the country which was ranked by the World Economic Forum in 2016 as 141th out of 144 on gender parity, have only been able to watch the sport on television. Saudi women still require a legal guardian for many matters, including participating in the workforce and in public life.

6. There has been a 70 per cent drop in the annual rate of respiratory deaths in China since 1990, it was revealed

The reduction is thought to be due to rising incomes, cleaner cooking fuels and better healthcare. Though air pollution remains a big issue, Beijing enjoyed a record 226 days of ‘good’ air quality in 2017.

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7. Latin American countries signed a legally binding pact to protect ‘land defenders’

Officials from 24 Latin American and Caribbean states signed a legally binding environmental rights pact in March. It contains measures to protect land defenders, after almost 200 nature protectors were killed across the world in 2017, 60 per cent of them in Latin America. The new treaty obliges states to investigate and punish killings and attacks on people defending their land or environment.

8. German cities will trial free public transport to cut pollution, it was announced in February

Germany has proposed to reduce road traffic by making public transport free. “We are considering public transport free of charge in order to reduce the number of private cars,” three ministers including the environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, wrote to EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella in a letter in February. It will be tested “by the end of this year at the latest” in five cities, including Bonn and industrial hubs Essen and Mannheim.

9. Organic food and drink sales have risen to record levels in the UK

Sales of organic food and drink in the UK rose by 6 per cent in 2017 to a record £2.2bn, figures released by the Soil Association in February revealed. The boost has been fuelled by strong growth through independent outlets and home delivery which outpaced sales in rival supermarkets. It represents a sixth year of consecutive growth after sales bounced back after dropping following the recession.

10. The number of cities getting at least 70 per cent of their total electricity supply from renewables has more than doubled since 2015

Data published by environmental impact research organisation CDP in February found that more than 101 of the 570 cities it studied, from Nairobi to Vancouver (below), sourced at least 70 per cent of their electricity from renewable sources in 2017. This is compared to just 42 in 2015. More than 40 cities are currently operating on 100 per cent renewable electricity. These include the US city of Burlington, Basel in Switzerland, and the Icelandic capital Reykjavík.

11. A planned Chinese panda park will be twice the size of Yosemite, it was announced

The Bank of China has pledged 10bn yuan (£1.1bn) to create a huge panda conservation park in south-west Sichuan province, the Chinese forestry ministry announced in March. Construction of the park will be complete by 2023, say backers, and aims to provide the endangered animals with an ‘unbroken range’ in which they can mate with other pandas. Measuring 2m hectares (5m acres), it will be more than twice the size of Yellowstone national park in the US.

12. Progress has been made on HIV/Aids in South Africa, research showed

Since 2010, South Africa – the country with the world’s largest concentration of people with HIV or Aids – has halved the infection rate and reduced deaths by 29 per cent. Nineteen per cent of the world’s population living with HIV or Aids lives in South Africa.

13. The government of the Seychelles created two new marine protected areas in the country’s remote Indian Ocean archipelago

The reserves aim to protect the country’s waters from illegal fishing “for generations to come”. The sanctioned areas will cover more than 81,000 square miles, an area about the size of Great Britain.

14. France announced a plan to make half of all food in public sector organic or local by 2022

In February, France announced that at least half of all food bought by the public sector must be organic or locally produced by 2022. This includes food bought for use in schools, hospitals and prisons. The French agricultural minister Stéphane Travert announced the rules as part of measures to boost the French farming sector, and to improve diets.

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15. Afghanistan’s deadliest province for landmines was declared free of explosive devices

Afghanistan’s deadliest province for landmines has been declared free of the explosive devices after a decade-long clearance effort, the demining group HALO Trust announced in February. The organisation said it had cleared more than 600 minefields in Afghanistan’s western province of Herat, opening up 40 million square metres, (15.5 square miles), of farmland.

16. Rwanda became the first low-income country to promise eye care for all

All 12 million of the country’s citizens are now eligible to receive eye care, after 3,000 nurses in 502 local health clinics have been trained. It is set to come from a partnership between the government and the organisation Vision for a Nation. Nurses will prescribe glasses and refer those with serious eye problems to national clinics.

17. India announced plans to create the world’s largest government-funded healthcare programme

India has announced an ambitious health insurance scheme, which is designed to be a safety net for millions of people who struggle to afford medical care. It is thought to be one of the largest such schemes in the world. India currently spends a little over 1 per cent of its GDP on public healthcare, one of the lowest in the world. The announcement came in the annual budget, revealed at the end of January.

18. A rare butterfly was found breeding in Scotland for the first time in 130 years

The tiny eggs of an endangered butterfly were found in Scotland in February, suggesting the insect has returned to breed in the country for the first time in more than 130 years. Enthusiasts discovered white-letter hairstreak eggs on wych elm trees at Lennel, Berwickshire, after an adult butterfly was spotted in summer 2017, 10 miles away – the first sighting in Scotland since 1884.

19. Drinking fountains will be installed in London this summer in a bid to reduce plastic waste, it was announced

Twenty drinking foundations will be installed across London in a pilot project this summer, it was announced in January. The plans are part of a proposed three-year, £750,000 initiative from London mayor Sadiq Khan to tackle plastic waste in the capital.

20. The University of Edinburgh divested from all fossil fuels

The University of Edinburgh is dropping all its fossil fuel investments, making it the largest UK university endowment fund to pledge to be free of all coal, oil and gas holdings. The decision, which will take up to three years to enact, was announced in February and followed a long student campaign in the city (pictured below). More than 60 UK universities have now divested from fossil fuels, with the University of Sussex the latest to make the move.




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