Points of Progress: Bolivia recognizes same-sex civil union, and more

Places where the world saw progress, for the Jan. 4 & 11, 2021 Monitor Weekly.

1. Canada

A massive solar farm is bringing renewable energy to Indigenous communities living in a remote northern Alberta hamlet that has long relied on diesel fuel. The 5,760-panel project is owned by the Mikisew Cree First Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, and the Fort Chipewyan Métis Association under their joint company, Three Nations Energy, and is expected to meet 25% of the energy needs for Fort Chipewyan’s 1,000 residents. The Canadian federal government says it is the nation’s largest remote, off-grid solar farm. “We worked together and we made it happen,” Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said at the farm’s inaugural celebration event. “We work with the sun. We work with the wind. We work with mother nature and we work with the water for the children of the future – to give them a better life, a cleaner life.”  Three Nations Energy plans to reinvest any profits into other renewable energy initiatives, including wood fuel heating and sustainable hydroponics food production. (CBC)

2. Bolivia

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After a two-year legal battle, Bolivia has recognized its first same-sex civil union. David Aruquipa and Guido Montaño, together for more than a decade before attempting to register their union in 2018, successfully argued that denying them this legal status violated international human rights standards. In a historic decision, the constitutional court agreed that by refusing to recognize the relationship, Bolivia’s civil registry was practicing discrimination. 

David Mercado/Reuters
Guido Montaño and David Aruquipa celebrate after their civil union was recognized by the Bolivian Civil Registry in La Paz on Dec. 11, 2020.

Gay marriage has become increasingly accepted in Latin American countries, and activists hope this ruling will pave the way for full legalization in Bolivia. “Gay and lesbian couples are an integral part of Bolivia’s social fabric and deserve to be recognized by the state,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. (Reuters, Human Rights Watch)

3. United Kingdom

Britain’s first all-electric car filling station recently opened in England’s Essex county with space for 36 vehicles to recharge at any given time. Clean energy firm Gridserve aims to roll out more than 100 “electric forecourts” across the nation by 2025. A combination of overhead solar panels, a Bedfordshire solar farm, and a battery that can store 24,000 miles’ worth of electricity allows patrons to recharge for $0.32 per kilowatt-hour, or less than $15 for an average vehicle. Charging takes about a minute per 10 miles, but drivers at Gridserve’s stations will also have access to Wi-Fi, rentable office space, exercise bikes, and a children’s play area. “What electric forecourts are designed to do is to enable communities across the country to have the confidence to make the transition to electric vehicles,” says CEO Toddington Harper. (The Guardian, Greentech Media)

4. Togo

 The government of Togo, experts from the University of California, Berkeley, and a U.S.-based charity have used satellite data and machine learning to send aid to 30,000 people living in extreme poverty. GiveDirectly operates in several African countries, using mobile technology to identify and support the poorest communities. Everything from the aid application to the cash transfer is done via cellphone. This was an appealing option in Togo, where around 90% of the population owns a mobile phone despite high poverty rates. The program launched in November, aiming to deliver monthly stipends of $13 to $15 to 60,000 beneficiaries by mid-2021 and test the new method of efficiently distributing aid. “Being able to enroll many of the world’s poorest really, really rapidly – that is in many senses the holy grail of a lot of international development and humanitarian work,” said Han Sheng Chia, special projects director at GiveDirectly. “We need to innovate. And we think this could be one of the new models.” (Thomson Reuters Foundation, Vox)

5. China

Public support for wildlife protection is growing in China. A survey conducted via social media in February found more than 90% of respondents supported strict bans on wildlife trading, consumption, and exhibition outside of zoos. Major awareness campaigns, improved wildlife education, and the pandemic, which has been tied to the sale of wild bats in Wuhan meat markets, have all contributed to a dramatic shift in attitude, say researchers.

Themba Hadebe/AP/File
A pangolin looks for food in Johannesburg on Feb. 15, 2019. The animals are often smuggled to China, but attitudes are shifting.

Nongovernmental organizations have also observed increased interest in conservation work from the public and government, with officials more open to discussing new regulations and enforcement strategies. China prosecuted more than 15,000 people for wildlife-related crimes in 2020, a 66% increase from 2019. (Mongabay)


Fourteen countries have pledged to restore fish populations and slash plastic pollution over the next decade in what organizers are calling the world’s biggest ocean sustainability initiative to date. Signees include Japan, Canada, and Australia, and altogether the participating countries control 40% of global coastlines. They agreed to a series of policy changes, such as ending subsidies that contribute to overfishing and crafting a national fishery plan backed by scientists. More than 3 billion people rely on food from oceans every day, and researchers say that sustainably managed oceans could produce six times more food and about 12 million new jobs.

Stoyan Nenov/Reuters/File
A fishing boat travels waters that will soon be sustainably managed in Repparfjord, Norway, June 13, 2018.

“Humanity’s well-being is deeply intertwined with the health of the ocean,” said Erna Solberg, the prime minister of Norway. “For too long, we have perceived a false choice between ocean protection and production. No longer. ... Building a sustainable ocean economy is one of the greatest opportunities of our time.” (The Guardian)

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article misconstrued the relationship between GiveDirectly and the University of California, Berkeley. They are independent actors collaborating on this initiative.

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