Points of Progress: Seabirds take off in Namibia, and more

Points of Progress: Seabirds take off in Namibia, 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.


Places where the world saw progress, for the Feb. 8, 2021 Monitor Weekly.


January 29, 2021

1. Galápagos Islands

New research shows that atmosphere-ocean interactions deliver critical nutrients to the Galápagos archipelago, knowledge that could help defend the biodiversity hot spot against climate change. Scientists have long understood that with only modest rainfall and vegetation, the ecosystem relies on phytoplankton whose growth is fueled by the upwelling of deep, nutrient-rich waters to the ocean surface. However, the mechanisms governing the water’s movement – and in turn, the stability of the whole food chain – had been a mystery. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File

Highly localized atmosphere-ocean interactions bring vital nutrients to Galápagos wildlife, say scientists.

Using computer models of regional ocean circulation, scientists from England, Ecuador, and France discovered that local northward winds generate intense turbulence west of the islands, creating the upwelling effect. This new understanding “is informing ongoing plans to expand the Galápagos Marine Reserve, and improve its management against the mounting pressures of climate change and human exploitation,” said Professor Alberto Naveira Garabato of the University of Southampton. (Nature, University of Southampton)

2. Congo

Communities in Congo are obtaining legal ownership over the forest areas where they reside, and evidence suggests these concessions can help combat climate change. The Congo Basin, the world’s second-largest rainforest, sinks 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually and houses an estimated 10,000 unique species. However, the critical ecosystem faces accelerating deforestation, largely driven by small-scale agriculture. Since the first concession was granted in 2017, around 7,700 square miles of forest have been allocated, or are in the process of being allocated, to local communities. Rainforest Foundation UK, which is charged with monitoring the success of Congo’s community concessions program, reports that 57 community-operated forest concessions had a 23% lower deforestation rate than the country on average in 2019. The nonprofit’s analysis also looked at data back to 2001 and found that traditionally occupied lands – where locals were effectively managing the forest resources as their own property – historically experienced less deforestation. A 2014 World Resources Institute report also linked community forest rights in 14 countries with lower carbon dioxide emissions and deforestation. (BBC)

3. Namibia

Namibia’s fishermen and conservationists have worked together to save thousands of seabirds, including endangered albatrosses, over the past decade. Drawn to the bait and waste of fishing vessels, seabirds traversing Namibia’s coast would often get caught in the nets used to catch hake and horse mackerel. Long-line fishing boats, which drag thousands of baited hooks on ropes that stretch for miles, were particularly lethal. Recognizing the sustainability benefits of protecting the local food chains, fishermen actively worked with conservationists between 2009 and 2018 to reduce seabird mortality by 98%. This is largely because of bird-scaring lines – ropes decked with colorful streamers that fly behind boats and serve as a sort of sailing scarecrow – which are now required on all hake fishing vessels. A new paper estimates that between 20,000 and 30,000 birds were killed by the long-line fishing fleet in 2009, before the lines were rolled out. In 2018, data estimated only 215 birds were killed. (RFI, Biological Conservation)

4. Germany

Wind, solar, and other renewable resources produced more energy for Germany than fossil fuels in 2020 – a first for the powerful European Union nation. Preliminary data shows wind power alone outpaced the country’s hard coal and lignite plants last year. Agora Energiewende, a Berlin-based energy think tank, says that together with record-low energy consumption driven by the pandemic and a mild winter, this shift led to a roughly 42% drop in total greenhouse gas emissions compared with 1990 levels, surpassing Germany’s initial 2020 target. 

Andreas Gebert/Reuters

Alexa Rauscher of electric car startup Sono Motors drives a solar-powered prototype in Munich on Jan. 21, 2020.

While the group expects emissions to rise in 2021, so will carbon emission prices as the European Union raises the emissions reduction goal for 2030. Experts say a mix of national and community-driven energy initiatives, like the thousands of wind and solar co-ops that already exist throughout Germany and northwestern Europe, are key to sustaining this renewable energy trend. (Clean Energy Wire, Yale Environment 360)

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5. Japan

Schools and businesses in Japan, where traditional roles are deeply entrenched, are beginning to adopt more gender-inclusive policies. According to a recent poll by Kyodo News, more than 600 prefecture-run schools have relaxed restrictive dress codes in the past five years. Japan Airlines also announced last year it will retire the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” from English in-flight announcements, and allow female flight attendants to wear pants and flat shoes. These changes follow campaigns to raise awareness of institutionalized sexism in the workplace and the challenges LGBTQ and female students face, but advocates say the revised dress codes serve everyone. This shift includes recent challenges to the fiercely competitive shukatsu, a job recruitment process in which new graduates are pressured to follow strict guidelines for the kinds of suits, haircuts, bags, and even body posture that men and women should display on job interviews. Yumi Mizuno, who dropped out of the stressful shukatsu in 2011, says her Stop #ShukatsuSexism campaign is not only for LGBTQ people, but to offer people of all gender identities more freedom. The campaign is calling on clothing companies and recruiters to edit their products to encourage more diversity, and has gathered 13,000 signatures. (BBC, Kyodo News, The New York Times)


At the One Planet summit in Paris Jan. 11, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that more than 50 countries have promised to protect 30% of the planet by 2030. A United Nations report from 2019 shows that human activities have put more than 1 million plant and animal species at risk of extinction, and coordinators of the latest pledge say the goal is necessary to avoid a mass extinction event. The High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, co-chaired by France, Costa Rica, and the United Kingdom, now has commitments from dozens of countries across six continents. Although the collective pledge has been met with skepticism from some climate activists, others see it as an opportunity to set an aggressive agenda at the U.N.’s upcoming biodiversity conference in Kunming, China. “We have a moral and pragmatic imperative to come together, to take strong decisions that will get us one step closer to halting biodiversity loss,” said Andrea Meza, Costa Rica’s environment and energy minister. (The Associated Press, The Guardian, The Planetary Press)

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