Points of Progress: New penguin colonies discovered, and more

Places where the world saw progress, for the Sept. 7, 2020 Monitor Weekly.

1. United States

Tens of thousands of formerly incarcerated people – also known as returning citizens – have had their voting rights restored by an executive order of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. Iowa was the last state in the U.S. that still banned all people with felony convictions from voting.

Charlie Neibergall/AP
Gov. Kim Reynolds grants Iowans who were incarcerated with felony convictions the right to vote on Aug. 5, 2020.

The order restores voting rights for returning citizens who have discharged their sentences, including any parole or probation. Restitution payments related to felony convictions do not have to be fully paid back to vote. About 52,000 Iowans – including 10% of the state’s African American adults – could not vote in the state because of past felony convictions, according to a 2016 report by The Sentencing Project. After years advocating for the restoration of voting rights, the NAACP will now focus on educating and registering returning citizens ahead of the Nov. 3 election. (Des Moines Register, The Guardian)

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.

2. United States

A record-breaking 130 Black women are running for Congress in 2020, including 117 House candidates and 13 aiming for the Senate. This figure is up from 87 candidates in 2018, and includes women who may have already lost their local primaries. Black women make up 4.3% of Congress, but nearly 8% of the total U.S. population. Historically, most Black women have been elected to majority-Black districts, but many of this cycle’s candidates are running for office in predominantly white or mixed areas. “People are becoming more comfortable with seeing different kinds of people in Congress. You don’t know what it looks like to have powerful Black women in Congress until you see powerful Black women in Congress,” said Pam Keith, a Navy veteran and attorney who won the Democratic primary for a Florida congressional seat. (Reuters)

3. Scotland

By using excess wind power to produce eco-friendly hydrogen fuel, the Orkney Islands in northern Scotland have become an unlikely leader in the renewable energy field. The islands have powered themselves with wind farms and tidal turbines for years. In fact, these methods were so successful that local electrical grids couldn’t handle the amount of power being generated every day. To keep the turbines running, officials have started redirecting the surplus energy into various green energy projects, namely producing carbon-neutral hydrogen fuel. Although hydrogen fuel has zero carbon emissions, it’s typically made through fossil fuel extraction. Orkadians are focused on the use of electric currents to separate hydrogen from water molecules, a process that allows them to store additional energy and pave the way for scalable technologies that could reduce the world’s reliance on fossil fuels. (CNN, Orkney Islands Council)

4. Antarctica

With new satellite images of Antarctica’s coastline, scientists have identified 11 new emperor penguin colonies, 20% more than researchers thought existed on the continent. The 61 confirmed colonies hold about 270,000 pairs of breeding penguins. Emperor penguins prefer to breed on sea ice, making them vulnerable to rising global temperatures. 

Copernicus Sentinel-2/ESA/AP/File
A patch of guano captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite helped scientists find new emperor penguin colonies.

“Whilst it’s good news that we’ve found these new colonies,” said Phil Trathan, who has studied penguins for the last three decades, “the breeding sites are all in locations where recent [climate change] model projections suggest emperors will decline.” The remote and frigid breeding sites make penguins difficult to study, but the images from the European Commission’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite mission have provided researchers with an important benchmark to monitor the species. (Science Daily)

5. Bougainville

A record number of women are throwing their hat into the first general election since Bougainville voted to seek full independence from Papua New Guinea in a nonbinding referendum held in December last year. Representatives from the autonomous region of Bougainville must work with the PNG government to negotiate the terms of the separation.

Calvin Caspar/The Bougainvillean/Reuters
Voters cast their ballots at a polling station in Arawa, Bougainville, during the presidential elections on Aug. 12, 2020. This year, 43 women are running for office in Bougainville.

PNG is one of only three countries with no women in parliament, but Bougainville has made steady gains in women’s political participation since its decadeslong civil war ended in 1998. Women have been leaders in the peacemaking process and three seats in the House of Representatives are reserved for women. In 2015, Bougainville made headlines when a woman won an open seat for the first time. This year, 14 women are vying for open seats, 27 are aiming for reserved spots, and two are running for president. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)


With the Kingdom of Tonga’s signoff, the International Labor Organization’s convention against the worst forms of child labor has become the first United Nations labor treaty to achieve universal ratification. Around the world, the number of child laborers has declined by 94 million since 2000, but progress has slowed in recent years. Many advocates are concerned that the pandemic will push more families into poverty, and more children into forced labor. First introduced in 1999 and now supported by all 187 member states, the convention aims to protect children from sexual exploitation, armed conflict, and other illicit work. Universal ratification “reflects a global commitment that the worst forms of child labor ... have no place in our society,” ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said in a statement. (Reuters)

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