Points of Progress: Portugal plans for a green future, and more

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.

Staff
Places where the world saw progress, for the May 25, 2020 Monitor Weekly.

1. United States

Louisiana’s state bird, the brown pelican, is again nesting in one of its largest colonies, 10 years after a BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico destroyed its habitat. The state bird was removed from the endangered species list in 2009. Gov. John Bel Edwards declared Queen Bess Island restored in February of this year. The island was already at risk of disappearing because of erosion and subsidence before the 2010 spill. BP paid a total of $20.8 billion in a settlement, which is also being used to preserve and protect Gulf ecosystems from erosion and rising sea levels. The return of brown pelicans across coastal Louisiana illustrates the benefit of conservation policies that work to restore and protect ecosystems, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group. (National Geographic, Environmental Defense Fund)

Gabe Giffin/Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries/File
A brown pelican flies over Queen Bess Island in Louisiana. One of the largest nesting grounds of brown pelicans, the island was declared restored in February.

2. Portugal

Portugal is steering toward a post-coronavirus green economy. The country is preparing a handful of multibillion-dollar projects, including a new hydrogen plant. The government is also holding a licensing auction for new solar energy plants in June, which had been delayed. The solar-powered hydrogen plant is expected to produce cleaner energy than fossil fuels, and it is estimated that it will attract more than $5 billion in private investment. “The economy cannot grow along the lines of the past and our post-coronavirus vision is to create wealth from projects that reduce carbon emissions and promote energy transition and sustainable mobility,” said Environment Minister João Matos Fernandes. Work on building the hydrogen plant will start within a year, according to Mr. Fernandes. (Reuters)

Paulo Amorim/VWPICS/AP/File
Solar panels lined up at the Serpa solar power plant in Serpa, near Lisbon, Portugal. The government is preparing multi- billion-dollar “green” projects.

3. Sudan

Sudan’s government has declared female genital mutilation a criminal act. The dangerous procedure, also known as female circumcision, is widely practiced across some regions in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. In Sudan, 88% of the female population ages 15 to 49 have been cut, according to United Nations data. Under the new law, anyone in Sudan who performs female genital mutilation faces a three-year prison term and a fine. The amendment to the country’s criminal code outlawing female genital mutilation has been lauded by women’s rights campaigns, agencies, and governments. The success of the ban relies on all parties involved – including midwives, health service providers, fathers, mothers, and young people – being informed about the legislation, according to UNICEF. (CNN, The New York Times)

4. Pakistan

The 10 Billion Tree Tsunami program, halted at the onset of the new coronavirus, has not only resumed but is also employing more than 63,000 left jobless during the lockdown. Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, launched the five-year program in September 2018 with the goal of planting 10 billion trees across Pakistan by 2023. The project is intended to amend the damage done by deforestation and to counter flooding, rising temperatures, and drought – effects linked to climate change. The program is associated with the 2014 Green Growth Initiative led by Mr. Khan. This year, the program is employing triple the number of laborers it did in its first year. (Al Jazeera, Reuters)

Akhtar Soomro/Reuters/File
A boy arranges bagged trees and plants to be transported for planting on the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan, in 2019.

5. Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is working to grant citizenship to an estimated 50,000 stateless people. President Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed a new provision in the Citizenship Law on March 20 making registered stateless people – those who were granted permanent residence in Uzbekistan before Jan. 1, 1995 – eligible to acquire citizenship. The new law went into effect April 1. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres commended Uzbekistan’s decision as an important contribution to global efforts to end statelessness by 2024. In Central Asia, hundreds of thousands of people became stateless after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s when they could not acquire citizenship in any successor states. Other countries in the region, such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, are also paving the way to citizenship for their stateless residents. (Thomson Reuters Foundation, International Observatory of Human Rights)

6. Australia

Off the Ningaloo Coast of Western Australia, researchers have discovered the longest known sea creature: a giant siphonophore. Siphonophores are transparent, gelatinous animals made of clusters of cells that are highly specialized for functions such as feeding and locomotion. A relative of jellyfish, siphonophores resemble long strings, and this one was spotted in a strange spiral formation – the outer ring of which was estimated to be 154 feet in circumference. The whole creature might be more than twice that length end-to-end. The discovery came during a yearlong initiative by the Schmidt Ocean Institute to explore deep-sea canyons and coral reefs off the coast of Australia and in the Pacific Ocean using an underwater robot, ROV SuBastian. On April 9, the Schmidt Ocean Institute announced 30 additional suspected new species found by the team. “There is so much we don’t know about the deep sea, and there are countless species never before seen,” said Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of the institute. (Smithsonian Magazine, Schmidt Ocean Institute)

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