Points of Progress: Costa Rica’s electricity was 99% renewable in 2019

Why We Wrote This

This is more than feel-good news – it's where the world is making concrete progress. A roundup of positive stories to inspire you.

Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters/File
POWER: Hydroelectric dams provide nearly three-quarters of Costa Rica’s electricity.

Costa Rica

The country will get more than 99% of its electricity from renewable sources this year, according to the country’s National Center for Energy Control. Excluding transportation, which still relies on fossil fuels, this means Costa Rica will have run on at least 95% clean electricity for five consecutive years. In 2018, about 73% of its electricity came from hydropower, 16% from wind, 9% from geothermal power, and less than 2% from biomass and solar panels. Part of the country’s emissions-reduction strategy is to promote biking and walking throughout its capital, San José, and to use fully electric trains by 2050. (The Tico Times and Costa Rica National Center for Energy Control)

Russia

Russians are drinking less alcohol and their health is improving. From 2013 to 2016, a World Health Organization report showed alcohol consumption levels dropping by 43%; from 2003 to 2018, alcohol-related deaths decreased. Former President Dmitry Medvedev introduced measures to control alcohol consumption, such as prohibiting the purchase of alcohol after 11 p.m. and making consumption on public streets illegal. Russians are also picking up more hobbies, and there’s a growing push for healthier lifestyle choices. In 2018, life expectancy reached historic highs for both men and women. (World Health Organization)

United States

New York City’s poverty levels are the lowest since the 1970s. From 2013 to 2018, poverty declined by nearly 4% and is currently at 17.3%. Since becoming mayor in 2014, Bill de Blasio has focused on income inequality. Mr. de Blasio says a $15 minimum wage and universal prekindergarten have been helpful boosts to the economy. There is speculation about what has truly caused the decline, as some say low-income families were migrating elsehwere. An economist interviewed by Politico, however, found that most people who were leaving in 2018 had higher incomes, and low-income families are staying. The city’s economic growth mirrors the nation’s, but there’s something unique about New York’s: Residents at the lowest income levels are receiving unprecedented wages. (The Wall Street Journal)

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
Poverty levels are at historical lows in New York City. Observers point to initiatives such as raising the minimum hourly wage to $15.

Syria

A Syrian constitutional committee will begin meeting in Geneva to rewrite the country’s constitution on Oct. 30. United Nations officials hope to begin reconciliation after more than eight years of a civil war that has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced more than 11 million from their homes. The regime and the opposition have agreed to co-chair the constitutional committee. The committee’s voting members consist of three equally represented groups from Syrian government, the opposition, and civil society. Geir Pedersen, the U.N. special envoy for Syria, said the eventual document will need to be “popularly approved,” but could be “the first concrete political agreement” between the warring factions. He called the meeting “a sign of hope.” (The Associated Press)

England

Harbor seals are returning to the Thames. The second-longest river in Britain is home to all sorts of marine life: fish, eels, sharks, and even the occasional whale. That wasn’t always the case, though. In the 1950s, the river was proclaimed biologically “dead,” with some areas containing zero traces of oxygen. A conservation biologist now calls the Thames a thriving ecosystem, showing how far the community has come in recent decades. The switch from film to digital photography led to a decrease in toxic metal pollution. River cleanup initiatives and regulating runoff are also helping to revive the Thames. Harbor seals are migrating to the river, and the Thames estuary is now a breeding ground, with 138 harbor pups in 2018. Population numbers are up 14% since 2016. Now, the biggest threat facing Thames marine life is plastics. (BBC)

Gareth Fuller/PA/AP/File
The Thames’ estuary has become a breeding ground for seals.

Nigeria

The country has been polio-free for three years. Observers attribute this achievement to political leaders’ initiatives, increased access by health workers to remote areas that were once controlled by Boko Haram fighters, and improving immunization campaigns. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Africa, says she’s confident that the entire continent will be certified as polio-free in 2020. (The Guardian and World Health Organization)

Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters
A man wears a cap at a news conference to signify his country’s milestone of being free of polio for three years, in Abuja, Nigeria, Aug. 21, 2019.
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