Points of Progress: Lynxes make a comeback, and more

Places where the world saw progress, for the Nov. 23, 2020 Monitor Weekly.

1. Iberian Peninsula

A recent survey found that 311 Iberian lynxes were born in Spain and Portugal last year, continuing the species’ yearslong journey away from the brink of extinction. Iberian lynxes nearly disappeared due to habitat loss, long-retired government policies, and the decline of local rabbit populations, which are the spotted cat’s primary prey. The kittens bring the peninsula’s overall lynx population to 855, marking a 900% increase since the first census in 2002. At this rate, researchers say the species could be fully recovered within two decades.

Victor Fraile/Reuters/File
Two endangered Iberian lynxes look out from an enclosure at a nature reserve in Cabárceno near Santander in northern Spain. There are now 855 lynxes in the wild.

The latest phase of the reintroduction program, the $22 million Life Lynxconnect project, is supported by the European Union. Ramón Pérez de Ayala, World Wildlife Fund Spain’s coordinator of large carnivores, says it will be necessary to establish new populations in rabbit-rich areas and blend existing populations to encourage genetic diversity. But he’s hopeful about the lynx’s future: “If we can maintain the population growth momentum ... we’ll have at least 750 females of reproductive age – which means more than 3,000 lynxes in total – by 2040.” (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. Chile

Chileans have overwhelmingly voted to rewrite their constitution, guaranteeing women and Indigenous peoples a seat at the table. Next spring, the country will return to the polls to select members of the constitutional convention. By law, half of those members will be women. The referendum comes after a year of mass protests against the country’s rampant inequality, which many blame on the restrictive constitution created under Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1980.

Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters
Supporters in Valparaíso, Chile, Oct. 25, 2020, celebrate passage of a referendum specifying that citizens, not politicians, will rewrite the constitution next year.

The landslide victory – nearly 80% of voters called for a new charter drafted solely by Chilean citizens – marks a rare example of a country choosing to rework its constitution without war or political revolution. Experts say many challenges lie ahead, but this groundbreaking vote is the first step in creating a more inclusive and equal country. (The Conversation)

3. China, Japan, and South Korea

China, Japan, and South Korea have all pledged to cut carbon emissions to net-zero in the coming years. In September, Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 – a weighty commitment from the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter. Japan, the fifth-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, then pledged in October to go carbon neutral by 2050, and South Korea followed suit. The latter two countries are now in line with the European Union, which set a similar timeline for reaching carbon neutrality last year. Patricia Espinosa, the United Nations climate chief, said the commitments from China, Japan, and South Korea are “extremely important,” signaling a renewed focus on international climate policy after the pandemic and moves by the U.S. government have derailed diplomatic momentum. “[The pledges] are coming at a time when we need this kind of leadership,” she said. (Thomson Reuters Foundation, Nikkei Review)

4. India

An innovative social enterprise combining clean energy technology and tourism has equipped more than 130 villages in India with solar power and generated $100,000 in income for residents. Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE) finds villages that lack reliable access to electricity and leads tourist treks to help engineers set up solar microgrids and other clean energy fixtures in the remote Himalayan communities. The hikes help pay for the grids and cost up to $3,500 per person. So far more than 1,300 tourists have participated. GHE also trains local women to be electricians and run lucrative homestays where guests can use solar-powered telescopes to stargaze. The United Nations awarded the GHE project a 2020 Global Climate Action Award, citing its potential for replicability in other regions facing similar challenges. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

5. Australia

Scientists have found a thriving column of coral taller than the Empire State Building – the first new structure of the Great Barrier Reef system discovered in more than 120 years. Studies show the Great Barrier Reef has lost more than 50% of its coral in recent decades, but this new blade-like outcropping off the coast of North Queensland appears healthy. Measuring more than 1,690 feet, the reef is teeming with life, including several species of shark and rare fish.

Schmidt Ocean Institute/ Reuters
A robotic arm takes rock samples from a towering coral reef discovered off Australia’s Cape York Peninsula.

Remote reefs such as this one are difficult to study, but the deep-sea robots and sonar beams on Falkor, the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s massive research vessel, allowed scientists to create a 3D map of the seabed. “This powerful combination of mapping data and underwater imagery will be used to understand this new reef and its role within the incredible Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area,” said Dr. Jyotika Virmani, the institute’s executive director. (The New York Times, BBC)


A new report on effective peace building shows women are crucial to establishing lasting peace. Research by U.N. Women and the Council on Foreign Relations shows that agreements are 64% less likely to fail when women meaningfully participate in the preceding peace talks through civil society groups. Researchers warn that women are still widely excluded from formal peace processes, but data in the report shows some signs of progress. Since 2010, women have made up as much as one-third of the members of peace negotiating teams, according to the United Nations. (Read our related story here.) The qualitative analysis highlighted case studies including the contributions by women on both sides of the 2016 negotiations between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and the ongoing role of the Women’s Advisory Board for Syria, which is working successfully across political lines to find consensus. (Council on Foreign Relations, Government of the United Kingdom)

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