From American bald eagles to sustainable palm oil, progress takes flight


1. United States

Bald eagle populations in the contiguous United States have quadrupled since 2009, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report. Despite being a beloved national symbol, only 417 bald eagle nesting pairs were confirmed in the mainland U.S. about 60 years ago. Today, there are an estimated 316,700 birds, up from 72,434 in 2009.

Bald eagles were among the first species protected under the 1973 Endangered Species Act. Combined with a ban on the pesticide DDT – believed to have decimated bald eagle populations after World War II – experts say decades of government protection and conservation efforts brought the bird off the brink of extinction and set the stage for the recent population boom.
CBS News

A bald eagle perches above the Hudson River in New York.

Why We Wrote This

Awareness powers change that expands. In our progress roundup, the palm oil industry is answering public calls to improve its practices, and a women-only Kenyan village is spreading knowledge of land rights.

2. Brazil

Lawmakers in Brazil have laid the foundation for a nationwide system to compensate farmers, Indigenous people, local communities, and others who protect critical ecosystems. Legislators voted in favor of the payments for ecosystem services (PES) policy in March, allowing them to establish a market that reimburses people for efforts to safeguard the environment in line with Paris Agreement goals, including carbon offsets through forest conservation. Resources are expected to primarily come from private companies, foreign investors, and donations from wealthier governments. The new law prioritizes family farms, traditional communities, and Indigenous peoples.

The PES concept has been employed sporadically in local and regional programs throughout Brazil since 2005, but until now, there has not been a national legal framework for such initiatives. While programs established with these new guidelines may still encounter challenges, including obstructionist government officials and generally weak environmental law enforcement, national PES policies have helped other countries incentivize sustainable resource management on a large scale, and they are expected to do the same in Brazil.
Thomson Reuters Foundation

3. Italy

Volunteer initiatives in Italy are bringing communities together to fight food waste. Government surveys suggest Italian families waste roughly 187 pounds of food annually, but food waste awareness has grown in recent years and prompted some communities to seek new solutions. In the southern city of Bari, the award-winning Avanzi Popolo 2.0 project is helping redistribute excess food to those in need through an online platform where users can virtually fill and exchange grocery baskets. These baskets are then collected and delivered by volunteers.

Another program called Recup works with 11 markets in Milan, sending around groups of volunteers at the end of the day to collect leftover products – mostly produce – that traders would rather donate than throw away. Organizers say Recup creates an opportunity for young people, retirees, and foreigners to work together to better their community. “Our aim is not just welfare and simple recovery of food but rather to promote collaboration and intercultural and intergenerational exchange,” said Lorenzo Di Stasi, one of the program managers.
News48, World Economic Forum

4. Kenya

A women-only community in rural Kenya is empowering residents and inspiring other villages to pursue equal land rights. Founded in 1990 as a refuge for Samburu County women who’d been rejected from society after experiencing sexual violence, Umoja housed about 50 families at its peak. They built homes and a school, which 37 women and their children still use today. In addition to supporting the village residents, Umoja women also visit nearby communities to educate others about the importance of women becoming landowners.

According to the country’s constitution, women have equal rights to own property in Kenya. However, it’s customary for fathers to pass down land to their sons, and advocacy network Kenya Land Alliance reports that women hold less than 2% of titled land across the country. Now, Umoja women are leading the way in shifting norms about gender and land ownership. Officials say the community’s recent application for the legal deed to a tract of grazing land – something one of Umoja’s founders says would have been impossible 30 years ago – is a reflection of growing recognition of women’s property rights in the region.
Thomson Reuters Foundation

5. China

New rules issued by the Ministry of Education in China ban severe punishments for students, such as caning or verbal abuse. The guidelines reinforce an existing ban on corporal punishment, which has been in place since 1986 but is inconsistently enforced, and also forbids humiliation as a form of discipline. Data on classroom abuse is scarce, but news reports show that public beatings, making children kneel on the ground for hours, and other harsh punishments still occur in some educational institutions, with parents sometimes deferring to teachers on these practices.

Children play during a break from school in Xujiashan village, Sichuan province. Corporal punishment has been against Chinese law since 1986.

The change comes after a series of student deaths, reportedly linked to classroom trauma, strengthened calls for clearer government guidelines. The ministry encourages teachers to have students write apologies for minor incidents, such as forgetting homework, while more serious offenses, such as bullying, may prompt suspension or counseling. The government has yet to outline the consequences for violating these rules.
Agence France-Presse, Xinhua News Agency


Major companies in the palm oil supply chain are taking concrete steps to address deforestation after facing significant public pressure, a new study has found. A key ingredient in many foods, soaps, cosmetics, and biofuels, palm oil is a major driver of deforestation and Indigenous displacement, with plantations covering more than 66 million acres around the world, according to Rainforest Rescue. By clearing forests, palm oil producers threaten biodiversity and eliminate trees, an important tool for absorbing carbon dioxide.

Following years of public pressure campaigns, companies now “see palm oil as a reputational risk,” concludes the study from the international environmental charity CDP, which runs a disclosure system for governments, companies, and investors to report their environmental impact. Analysts from CDP found that the palm oil industry is doing more to shrink its environmental footprint than other industries involving deforestation-driving commodities, including cattle, cocoa, coffee, natural rubber, soy, and timber products. In an analysis of hundreds of agri-commodity companies, nearly all that created or consumed palm oil were taking at least one legitimate measure to mitigate deforestation.
Reuters, Rainforest Rescue

The oil palm is native to Africa but has been introduced elsewhere, as seen here in Klang, Malaysia.
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