Points of Progress: Reforestation project smashes goal, and more

Places where the world saw progress, for the Sept. 28, 2020 Monitor Weekly.


Researchers say the world’s largest reforestation project – the 2011 Bonn Challenge – has beaten its 2020 target. Launched nearly a decade ago by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Germany, the challenge aims to have 371 million acres of degraded forest under restoration by the end of the year. According to a recent IUCN report, 61 nations plus states in Brazil, Mexico, and Pakistan and some environmental groups have committed to restoring roughly 519 million acres. Experts say a key element of the Bonn Challenge’s success is that the drive was about more than planting trees: Countries have used their pledges to address national priorities such as food security and job creation. On a national level, reforestation campaigns can be effective economic stimulus measures. Preliminary analysis suggests that every dollar invested in restoring forests generates $9 of economic benefits. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

1. United States

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

A record number of Black female tennis players represented the United States in the U.S. Open. Just 10 years ago, Venus Williams was the only African American in the U.S. Open women’s singles draw. Now, 12 Black players were in the recent women’s singles tournament, including Venus and Serena Williams plus several up-and-coming players. This figure does not include Naomi Osaka, who plays for Japan but grew up in the U.S. watching the Williams sisters.

Seth Wenig/AP
Serena Williams celebrates her victory over Greece’s Maria Sakkari in a fourth-round match at the U.S. Open tennis champion- ships Sept. 7, 2020, in New York.

This is a major shift for the historically white-dominated sport. The United States Tennis Association says African American girls currently make up roughly 15% of training camp attendees, on average, at various playing levels. According to U.S. census estimates, Black people make up 13% of the U.S. population. “It all starts with Venus and Serena,” said Martin Blackman, general manager of player development at the USTA. “That attracted thousands of girls into the sport, not just African American but all backgrounds and races.” (The New York Times, Business Insider)

2. United States

After sitting vacant for nearly a decade, a former inn in Branson, Missouri, has been converted into affordable housing, potentially providing a model to address housing shortages across the country. Los Angeles-based development company Repvblik combined hotel rooms to create studio and single-bedroom apartments that rent for as little as $495. Unlike typical developments, the Branson project didn’t rely on federal funding. Repvblik founder Richard Rubin says there’s room for many other developers to start repurposing large, abandoned commercial spaces into affordable housing units. These kinds of adaptive reuse plans are often subject to zoning challenges, but can feature environmental and cost benefits because they require fewer new building materials. Investors are starting to see the value in the new model, with the company working on about 10 similar projects. “We hope to create about 20,000 apartments within the next five years,” said Mr. Rubin. (Fast Company, Forbes)

3. Afghanistan

Mothers’ names will now be printed on national identification cards in Afghanistan, a significant step in dismantling deep-rooted taboos around women’s role in public life. Despite great strides in women’s leadership since the toppling of the Taliban, activists say Afghans still face intense misogyny masquerading as religiosity. Until now, women weren’t included in the country’s definition of identity; IDs only included the person’s first and last names, father’s name, and date of birth. Because of these norms, widows often struggle to do business or assert themselves as legal guardians of their children without a man present.

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/File
A woman hands over her identification card while voting in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 20, 2009. Soon, national ID cards will include mothers’ names. Fathers’ names are already included.

The proposal to amend the census law comes after years of campaigning by activists, and more recently a social media campaign asking #WhereIsMyName? The Afghan Cabinet’s legal committee approved the change, and officials expect parliament and the president to sign off soon. Laleh Osmany, a campaign supporter, celebrated the government announcement, saying the amendment “is about restoring the most basic and natural right of women that they are denied.” (The New York Times)

4. Qatar

Labor reforms in Qatar are ending the widely criticized kafala – or sponsorship – system, in which an employee needs permission from his or her boss to switch jobs. For years, rights groups say this system led to exploitation and even forced labor among the country’s migrant workforce of roughly 2 million. A new law, first announced last October and passed in late August, allows workers to change jobs more freely. Combined with the January abolition of an exit permit requirement for foreign workers to leave the country, the reforms mark “the beginning of a new era for the Qatari labour market,” according to the United Nations’ International Labor Organization. Workers and advocates welcomed the reforms, but emphasized the need for rigorous and consistent enforcement. (The Guardian)

5. Philippines

The Philippines is launching a new mobile app to combat wildlife trafficking, an illegal trade estimated at $1 billion a year that threatens the country’s biodiversity. Currently, Filipinos can report suspected wildlife trafficking incidents through a Department of Environment and Natural Resources hotline, but a lack of cellphone reception or species knowledge can pose barriers to reporting. The WildAlert app is designed to empower anyone, in any part of the country, to fight the illegal wildlife trade. Its offline mode helps overcome patchy internet reception by automatically recording the time and location of an incident and sending that data to the nearest DENR office once the user has a signal. The georeference feature and centralized data collection system will also help law enforcement monitor the trafficking crisis in real time. As wildlife enforcement officers and the public wait for WildAlert’s full rollout, they can access the app’s wildlife library of 480 species – including conservation status and common names in local dialects – on the website WildAlert.ph. (Mongabay)

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