Points of Progress: Dozens of species saved from extinction

Places where the world saw progress, for the Oct. 12, 2020 Monitor Weekly.


Conservation efforts have saved up to 48 bird and mammal species from extinction since a 1993 global agreement to protect biodiversity. Scientists at Newcastle University and BirdLife International analyzed a list of 17,046 species to identify which birds and mammals would likely have gone extinct without intervention. They concluded that extinction rates would have been three to four times higher, likely claiming the California condor, Iberian lynx, pygmy hog, and Puerto Rican Amazon parrot. Estimates show between 21 and 32 bird species have been saved through invasive species control, zoo conservation, and habitat protection, and between seven and 16 mammals have avoided extinction through legislation, introduction programs, and zoo collections.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/File
The California condor, seen perched in the Los Padres National Forest in 2008, is one of up to 32 birds saved from probable extinction by conservationists.

Researchers say the study is a “glimmer of hope” for groups disheartened by the United Nations’ bleak Global Biodiversity Outlook report for the 2011-20 period. “We usually hear bad stories about the biodiversity crisis and there is no doubt that we are facing an unprecedented loss in biodiversity through human activity,” said Phil McGowan, a Newcastle University professor who co-led the study. “The loss of entire species can be stopped if there is sufficient will to do so.” (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.

1. United Kingdom

The 2020 Booker Prize shortlist is the most diverse it’s ever been, with four of the six finalists being writers of color. The list also includes several debut novelists, including Brandon Taylor and Avni Doshi. Diversity remains a persistent issue in the literary world, with recent surveys suggesting Black, Asian, and other ethnic minority staffers make up only 11% of the U.K.’s publishing industry. Established in 1969, the annual Booker Prize honors the best original English-language novel published in the United Kingdom. Winners receive £50,000 ($63,600). 

Bernardine Evaristo, winner of the 2019 Booker Prize, called the recently announced short- list “groundbreaking.”

Bernardine Evaristo, who won the 2019 Booker Prize for her book “Girl, Woman, Other,” tweeted about her excitement regarding the makeup of this year’s shortlist. “It’s all about who’s in the room and the value they place on different kinds of literature,” she wrote. “If you’re looking for fresh perspectives and narratives, surely you’re going to find it among the most underrepresented voices?” The ceremony for this year’s winner will take place on Oct. 27. (Bustle)

2. Colombia

For the first time, former members of the FARC rebel group have apologized for kidnappings and other war crimes committed during Colombia’s decadeslong civil war. A 2016 peace agreement ended the violence, but until now, many ex-guerrillas have been reluctant to acknowledge their specific crimes. Eight top commanders of the now-disbanded group signed an apology, acknowledging the kidnappings were an “extremely grave mistake” and asking victims’ families for forgiveness. Experts say this is an important step forward in a long reconciliation process. Still, many in Colombia say the deal lets former guerrillas off lightly. All eight signatories are now part of the FARC political party, established in exchange for disarmament. A special court also offers ex-FARC members and other war criminals reduced sentences if they confess to their crimes upfront. “This is a big first step in the right direction,” said Kyle Johnson, co-founder of the Bogotá-based Conflict Responses Foundation. “But there’s still a long road ahead. A lot of victims want the truth, not just an apology.” (BBC, Vice)

3. Europe

A report by Europe’s leading national electricity associations and companies says up to 80% of electricity generated in the European Union could be fossil fuel-free by 2030 despite ongoing economic turmoil. In the first half of 2020, two-thirds of the bloc’s electricity was carbon-free, and renewables generation increased to 40% of the overall electricity mix. A decade ago, renewables accounted for 20% of the EU’s electricity.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
Sheep graze under solar panels on March 9, 2017, in Samso, Denmark. Analysts say 80% of all electricity generated in the EU could be fossil fuel-free by 2030.

“This year, the power sector has proven its crucial value for society by providing hospitals, government offices, and millions of home-working Europeans with clean and reliable power,” said Kristian Ruby, secretary-general of Eurelectric, the group that published the report. Remaining barriers to wind and solar capacity could still keep the EU from hitting its 2030 targets, the association warned, and the pandemic will likely delay permit procedures and slow down progress. (Reuters)

4. Botswana

An amendment to the 2015 Land Policy in Botswana expands women’s rights to own land. Before now, land rights were only granted to unmarried women or wives of men who were not already landowners. While the government can issue deeds to anyone with a legitimate claim to land, that process could take decades, leaving millions of women – widows, single mothers, and many wives – vulnerable. The new policy grants equal eligibility to a residential plot anywhere  women choose. President Mokgweetsi Masisi called on local authorities and nongovernmental organizations to launch campaigns educating women about their rights under the Revised Botswana Land Policy of 2019. Women’s rights activist Tunah Moalosi said she applauds the move, which will protect widows and “allow women to be independent in marriages.” (Thomson Reuters Foundation, Anadolu Agency)

5. China

A new analysis shows many Chinese cities have reduced fine particle air pollution by an average of 33% in recent years. Researchers studied levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – pollution particles with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometers that linger in the air longer, creating a haze – in all of China’s provinces, municipalities, autonomous regions, and special administrative regions. They found that PM2.5 and its associated risks decreased significantly in 74 key cities from 1990 to 2017. Experts acknowledged that 81% of the population still lives in regions with PM2.5 concentrations exceeding World Health Organization guidelines, stating that “with further economic development in China, more sustainable development policies should be instituted and enforced.” The drop comes after massive efforts to curb emissions throughout the country, especially from households. The proportion of families cooking with solid fuels, such as coal, has decreased from 61% in 2005 to 32% in 2017, as the government promotes clean energy alternatives. (The Lancet)

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