Points of Progress: States ban shark fin trafficking, and more

Places where the world saw progress, for the Oct. 19, 2020 Monitor Weekly.

1. United States

More states are working to end shark fin trafficking. Florida became the latest of 18 states and territories to ban the trafficking of shark fins with the signing of the Kristin Jacobs Ocean Conservation Act. The ban came only weeks after U.S. authorities indicted 12 individuals for a multistate conspiracy to smuggle shark fins to Hong Kong. After years of investigation, prosecutors call the charges a milestone in disrupting wildlife trafficking.

Wilfredo Lee/AP
An officer stands next to confiscated shark fins during a press conference on Feb. 6, 2020, in Doral, Florida.

Fins harvested from as many as 73 million sharks every year end up in soups considered a delicacy in East Asia, according to WildAid, although the practice is declining. Federal law makes it illegal to harvest fins from live sharks, but individual states can still govern how that law is interpreted in the fishing business. Florida had served as a key waypoint for international shark fin hauls. The ban will keep those shipments out of Florida ports, but advocates say other coastal states could fill the void without strict federal legislation, and the new ban still permits local fishermen to harvest and sell fins. (Mongabay)

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 Kingdom

The United Kingdom’s first fully electric intercity bus service started shuttling passengers between Edinburgh and Dundee Oct. 1. The transportation startup Ember has secured two coaches that can make the 125-mile round trip in Scotland on one charge. The company hopes the Edinburgh-Dundee route will prove there is capacity and demand for zero-emission coach travel, allowing them to expand services to other cities. The initiative was supported by the government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and Dundee City Council, which installed an ultra-fast charging station in the city center. The kickoff comes as several firms throughout the U.K. are working to develop zero-emission bus fleets. (Scotsman, Business Green)

3. Europe

France and Switzerland expand paternity leave. Switzerland became the last western European country to require paid leave for new fathers. Instead of one day off for the birth of a child, men will get at least 10 days off within the first six months, starting Jan. 1, 2021. Switzerland, where women gained voting rights in 1971, has historically been slow to address gender inequality, but the new policy brings them closer to their European neighbors.

Ludovic Marin/AP
Emmanuel Macron visits a Paris child care facility on Sept. 23, 2020, after announcing plans to expand paternity leave.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron announced plans to expand paternity leave from 14 days to 28 days, with one week being obligatory, starting next summer. The change will also apply to same-sex couples. The new measure brings France closer to meeting the European Union directive requiring member states to offer at least four months of parental leave, with two being nontransferable between the couple, by 2022. Switzerland is not an EU member. Expanding paternity leave creates stronger family bonds, advocates say. (The Associated Press, The New York Times)

4. Zimbabwe

A new app is making it cheaper and easier for farmers to buy land in Zimbabwe. Government data shows that more than half the country’s irrigable land is either underutilized or lying entirely idle, but acquiring unused plots is a notoriously time-consuming and often expensive process. The Umojalands app eliminates many of those barriers by listing available plots along with important details such as legal documentation and crop history. The app’s creator, Tafadzwanashe Gavi, says the program will help tackle food insecurity – an issue that affects nearly 8 million people in Zimbabwe. The Umojalands team vets the users looking to purchase farmland. “We request business proposals that include the amount of capital, the number of hectares, and the date the farming will start,” Mr. Gavi said. “This will ensure that the farmer utilizes the land to produce high-quality food [and] create employment for others.” (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

5. Australia

Vincent Namatjira is the first Aboriginal painter to win Australia’s prestigious Archibald Prize for portraiture in its 99 year history. The winning painting, titled “Stand Strong for Who You Are,” depicts Mr. Namatjira clasping hands with Australian footballer Adam Goodes. Mr. Goodes, who is of Aboriginal descent and an anti-racism advocate, retired in 2015 from Australia’s professional league after facing persistent racism on and off the field. “We share some similar stories and experiences – of disconnection from culture, language and country, and the constant pressures of being an Aboriginal man in this country,” said Mr. Namatjira, who had been nominated for the Archibald Prize three times. 

Copyright Vincent Namatjira/Photo: Mim Stirling/AGNSW/Reuters
Vincent Namatjira’s painting of Australian footballer Adam Goodes caught the judges’ attention.

Aboriginal Australians face higher rates of imprisonment and shorter life spans than other citizens, and the global Black Lives Matter movement has inspired a new focus on Indigenous rights. The 2020 judging panel also included an Indigenous member for the first time. (Thomson Reuters Foundation, The Art Forum)


The City Climate Finance Gap Fund, which will dedicate more than $4 billion to finance low-carbon initiatives for cities in developing countries, has been launched. Implemented by the World Bank and the European Investment Bank, the Gap Fund acknowledges the barriers many emerging economies face when trying to go green. Home to most of the world’s population, and 70% of CO2 emissions, cities are widely seen as the front line of the climate crisis. And their footprint is growing – experts predict 2.5 billion people will migrate to urban areas by 2050. The Gap Fund offers advisory and financial support for developing countries that want to implement climate-smart policies from the start. Key partners have already raised millions of dollars to help local leaders develop energy efficient public transit, improve food systems, and address pollution. (Thomson Reuters FoundationWorld Bank Blogs)

Editor's note: The fifth item in this round-up has been updated to correct an erroneous description of Adam Goodes. He is an Australian football player.

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