69 good news stories you likely didn't hear about in 2023
January 5, 2024
Let us celebrate the less-known ways in which 2023 left a life-affirming mark on the world!
The US journalist Krista Tippett says that what is needed more than ever are 'generative narratives.' since we're all fluent enough by now in the language of catastrophe and dysfunction. This is why, over the past year, Positive News has showcased thousands of stories highlighting human kindness, courage, and ingenuity for the greater good. We shared these with the 100K+ subscribers through our media channels.
Take a look at the millions of lives improving, women’s rights victories, elimination of diseases, falling emissions, vast swathes of our planet being protected, and entire species being saved. May these stories ignite courage in you - to hope for a better world and to take small risks of immense kindness! --Ilonka Wloch
1. Many countries passed laws protecting women
Uzbekistan passed a law giving women greater legal protection against gender-based violence, the Netherlands and Switzerland amended their laws to introduce a consent-based definition of rape, Sierra Leone passed landmark legislation advancing women’s rights, Oman passed a law prohibiting the termination of employment due to pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding, Latvia ratified the Istanbul Convention, the international treaty for preventing and combating violence against women and girls, Argentina approved a law designed to prevent gender-based violence online. And in China, a new law protecting women against discrimination and sexual harassment came into effect, the country's most significant reform to women's rights in 30 years.
2. Others narrowed gender gaps in business
The pay gap between full-time working women and their male counterparts in the US is now narrower than ever, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics – but there’s a way to go before parity is reached. Many feared that the pandemic would reverse pay gap progress, but the opposite appears to be true, with women now making 84 cents for every $1 that men earn for similar work – the closest it’s ever been.
Here, the proportion of women in boardroom roles at listed British firms rose above 40%, data published in February revealed. FTSE 350 companies were set a 2025 deadline to achieve the 40% target, hitting it three years early. Just over a decade ago, 152 of the 350 listed firms had no women on the board at all.
3. Women in Iceland went on strike
The first full-day women’s strike in 48 years takes place in Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir (PM of Iceland) joined an estimated 100,000 women and non-binary people demanding gender equality. With a quarter of the population attending it was the biggest protest the country has ever seen.
4. Advancing menstrual and reproductive rights
Mexico's Supreme Court decriminalized abortion nationwide, France amended its constitution to include the words, "no woman may be deprived of the right to termination of pregnancy," Argentina removed the requirement for a prescription to obtain emergency contraception, Honduras ended its ban on the morning after pill, British Columbia made prescription contraception free to all residents, Ghana included free long-term contraception in its national health insurance program, Taiwan made period products available in all schools and the Catalonia region of Spain started providing period products for free at pharmacies.
5. Reproductive rights activists organized in the US
Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, Virginia, and Ohio protected reproductive rights, and the FDA approved the first oral contraceptive for over-the-counter use, as well as the first oral medication designed to treat severe postpartum depression. One of our favorite stories of the year came in June, when, after more than a decade of advocacy, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act came into effect, changing the health and economic trajectory for at least nine million women and their families, "one of the most significant civil rights victories our country has seen in decades."
6. More girls got a chance at childhood
India, home to the highest number of teenage brides, reported that the proportion of all girls married before the age of 18 has fallen from 46% to 23% in the last 15 years. And off the back of last year's landmark ban on child marriage, the Philippines reported that teenage pregnancy has fallen from 8.6% to 5.4% in the last five years (good news for a country with one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the world). New legislation banning child marriage came into force in England and Wales, and Japan raised the age of consent to 16 and introduced far stricter laws against sex crimes.
7. A record number of countries eliminated diseases this year
Egypt became the first country to eliminate hepatitis C (which is crazy given that it used to have the highest burden in the world), the Maldives became the first country to eliminate leprosy, Bangladesh became the first country to eradicate black fever, and also eliminated elephantiasis, Niger became the first African country to eliminate river blindness, Benin, Mali and Iraq eliminated trachoma, Timor-Leste, Bhutan, and North Korea eliminated rubella, Ghana eliminated sleeping sickness, and Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Belize eliminated malaria.
8. Progress in the elimination of cancer
European cancer mortality for 2023 was estimated to be 6.5% lower for men and 3.7% lower for women than in 2018. The United States reported cancer death rates have fallen by a third in the last three decades, Australia reported significant reductions in skin cancer in under 40s, there were major breakthroughs in treatments for colon, skin, bladder, and cervical cancer, and Pfizer announced it would offer all patented cancer drugs at cost to 1.2 billion people in low-income countries.
9. Malaria vaccines started arriving in Africa
A malaria vaccine is the holy grail of global health. We've been trying to create one for over 70 years, and now we are about to unleash not one but two of them against a disease that infects 247 million people and kills half a million children every year. That’s more than 1,000 deaths of children every day. The first vaccine, Mosquirix, started arriving in nine African countries this year (it reduces severe malaria by 22%, and reduces deaths from all causes by 13%), and in October, the WHO approved a second, cheaper version called R21/Matrix-M which UNICEF will start distributing to millions of kids in 2024.
10. Some bright spots for maternal and child health
India, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Liberia, Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, and Sierra Leone all reported significant declines in maternal and child mortality, as did the entire Southeast Asia region; in August, the WHO reported that exclusive breastfeeding has increased from 38% to 48% globally in the last decade, and UNICEF rsaid that eight in ten children are now welcomed into the world by a trained professional in a health facility, up from six in ten a generation ago.
11. We are eliminating AIDS
Two decades ago, the disease seemed unstoppable, killing two million people a year, but today, it's a very different story. In July, the United Nations revealed that in 2022, deaths fell to 630,000, there were an estimated 1.3 million new infections, the lowest since the early 1990s, and only 130,000 new infections in children, the lowest since the 1980s. There's also been notable progress on the legal front, with several countries removing laws preventing access for marginalized groups in the last two years.
12. Uncelebrated progress on smoking
5.6 billion people are now protected by at least one policy to help reduce smoking - and without measures implemented in the last 15 years, there would be an estimated 300 million more smokers in the world today. We also learned this year that humanity had made astonishing progress in reducing drowning, with deaths declining from 531,956 to 295,210 and age-standardized mortality rates falling by 57.4% in the last three decades.
13. Polio and Guinea Worm are so close to eradication
Polio is now restricted to just seven districts in Pakistan and two provinces in Afghanistan. The Taliban has reversed course and decided that elimination is now a priority, and in December, world leaders committed $59 million for 'last mile' efforts, intending to complete elimination by 2026. Meanwhile, only six cases of Guinea Worm were reported worldwide in the first ten months of this year, putting the goal of eradication tantalizingly close.
14. Success around tuberculosis
TB is the most lethal infectious disease in the world. Still, this year, one of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies said it would allow generic versions of its life-saving TB drug to be supplied to 44 low-income countries, trials of a new vaccine covering 26,000 people kicked off in Africa and Asia. In November, the WHO said there were over 100,000 fewer TB deaths in 2022 compared to 2021.
15. Breakthroughs on new medicines
Two powerful new drugs, Donanemab and Lecanemab, heralded a turning point in reducing Alzheimer’s; the decades-long campaign to make insulin less expensive scored a major victory when the world's three biggest manufacturers lowered their prices, a new meningitis vaccine raised hopes for a disease that kills about 250,000 people a year, and Australia became the first country in the world to classify psychedelics as medicines, approving their use to treat some mental health conditions.
16. CRISPR gene-editing came of age
When looking back on 2023, future generations might decide that this was actually the biggest health story of the year. Eleven years after its discovery, CRISPR was approved by regulators for the treatment of sickle cell disease in the United Kingdom, Bahrain, and the United States. The treatment will prevent episodes of excruciating pain, as well as free people with beta-thalassemia of regular blood transfusions, and for some, may even be a cure. “This is just the start of CRISPR therapies. There are a lot more to come.”
17. The greatest conservation victory of all time
In March this year, 193 countries reached a landmark deal to protect the world's oceans in what Greenpeace called "the greatest conservation victory of all time." The UN High Seas Treaty is the first international agreement on ocean protection since 1982, providing for the shared governance of half the Earth’s surface and paving the way for conservation on the high seas, with the aim of protecting at least 30% of the planet by 2030. Only about 1% of the high seas are currently protected.
18. First Nations in North America notched up some big wins
In California, the Klamath Tribes officially kicked off the world's largest dam removal project, 12,500 hectares were restored to the Penobscot Nation in Maine, First Nations in Minnesota gained greater management rights over three million acres, a $1 billion 'nature agreement' in British Columbia transformed conservation practices in collaboration with First Nations, bison restoration efforts began in Montana, South Dakota, and Alberta, and the Ḵwiḵwa̱sut'inux̱w Ha̱xwa’mis Nation designated a new 40,000-hectare protected area north of Vancouver Island.
19. Another excellent year for river and lake restoration
The restoration of Wullar Lake in Pakistan brought back thousands of migratory birds. Chilika Lake, the second biggest lake in India, bounced back after two decades of work; in the Netherlands, a project kicked off to restore one of Europe's largest freshwater lakes; in Florida, nearly half of the Kissimmee River has been restored, in Toronto, the Don River has roared back to life half a century after being declared dead, the Mersey River in England was labeled “the best environmental news story in Europe,” Paris continued its $1.5-billion-dollar effort to clean up the Seine, in Washington, the Potomac is almost safe for swimming, and the waters around New York are teeming with life again.
20. One of the largest ever declines in deforestation
In 2023, deforestation across the nine Amazonian countries was 55.8% lower than last year, a major turnaround for a region vital to curbing climate change. Brazil's deforestation rate fell by over 50%, the most significant single-year decline since records began, and over a million hectares of forest were protected across South America, including the Cuchilla del San Juan Reserve, linking together two of the world’s greatest biodiversity hotspots, and the Camino del Jaguar Reserve, part of a global biodiversity hotspot that extends from Panama to northern Peru.
21. A lot to celebrate for indigenous conservation
Brazil recognized eight indigenous territories, Colombia expanded three, Ecuador voted to stop oil drilling in its enormous Yasuní National Park and restored the ancestral homelands of Siekopai Nation; in Japan, the Raporo Ainu Nation reclaimed their historical fishing rights, and indigenous communities took ownership of the Tama Wildlife Reserve in Ethiopia. Land legally owned or managed by indigenous communities worldwide has increased by 102.9 billion hectares, an area the size of Egypt, since 2015.
22. Debt for nature swaps ramped up
In May, Ecuador announced the biggest debt-for-nature swap ever, a $1.6-billion deal to reduce its debt burden and free up hundreds of millions of dollars to fund marine conservation around the Galápagos. And in August, Gabon wiped $450 million off its national debt by increasing protections of its marine ecosystems, the second African country after the Seychelles to benefit from this kind of program.
23. Cities went green
São Paulo is producing 1.5 million seedlings a year to plant in underprivileged areas; New York transformed the Harlem River shoreline from a dumping ground into a bountiful wetland; Medellín's green corridor programs have reduced urban temperatures by 2°C; Lisbon, Milan, and Stockholm announced inner city car bans, London expanded its low emissions zones across the entire city, a ring of former train tracks around Paris was transformed into a semi-wild oasis, a six-lane highway in Madrid was transformed into a riverside park, a former railway line Singapore was converted into a green corridor, and San Francisco now has 48 major circular water systems in operation.
24. Europe passed new laws to protect the environment
In January, the continent's regulators ended the use of exceptions for bee-killing pesticides. In May, they implemented a new rule to stop the import of any products that destroy forests; in July, the EU passed the Nature Restoration Act, the first significant piece of legislation to protect biodiversity in 30 years, and in November became the first international body to criminalize wide-scale environmental damage “comparable to ecocide." Not bad for a year's work.
25. The United States wasn't too far behind
Major conservation measures were passed in four states, including Texas, where voters supported a $1 billion fund for state parks; New York became the first state to pass a law reining in bee-killing pesticides, and California became the first state to ban four food additives. The EPA set new legal limits for drinking water to remove forever chemicals, proposed tougher standards on lead in paint, protected waterways from harmful vessel discharges, and reinstated limits on toxic chemicals from coal-fired power plants. The federal government prohibited all drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, started a $1.5 billion urban tree-planting program, pledged $106 million for salmon recovery programs, $161 million for ecosystem restoration on public lands, and created a New Deal-style Climate Corps, signing up over 40,000 people in its first few weeks.
26. A banner year for ocean protection
Over a million square kilometers of ocean was protected off the coasts of Panama, Chile, Papua New Guinea, Dominica, the Congo, Kenya, New Caledonia, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Australia - which tripled the size of its Macquarie Island Marine Park, and closed off an area larger than Germany to fishing and mining. In March, a group of countries committed over $20 billion of funding to ocean conservation, and in August, a coalition of over a dozen countries spearheaded by Chile, France, and Costa Rica tried to officially debate the possibility of an outright ban on deep-sea mining.
27. Climate litigation ramped up
Litigation has emerged as a vital tool for ramping up climate action. So read a report by the United Nations, which found that the number of climate court cases being brought have more than doubled in five years. The report, released in July, highlighted a series of landmark rulings, including a Dutch court ordering oil giant Shell to cut its emissions.
The UN said that as climate litigation becomes more common, the body of legal precedent grows, forming an increasingly well-defined field of law. A month after the report came out, young environmentalists successfully sued the fossil fuel-rich US state of Montana for violating their right to a clean environment. It was the first time a US court has ruled against a government for a violation of constitutional rights based on climate change.
28. Some big wins for animal rights
The United States removed the requirement that pharmaceutical companies use animals to test new drugs before human trials, Canada announced a phaseout in chemical toxicity testing, Bhutan became the first country to sterilize and vaccinate its entire stray dog population completely, the number of no-kill dog shelters in the United States reached 57%, up from 24% in 2016, South Korea announced a ban on dog meat by 2027, New Zealand banned live animal exports, Wales banned snares and glue traps, Scotland conducted its last fox hunt, and Lithuania became the 14th European country to ban fur farming.
29. A lot of new areas were protected
China protected the entire Tibetan plateau, an area larger than all of Western Europe; Mexico announced 13 new conservation areas; Romania proposed a 101,000-hectare park as a 'Yellowstone for Europe,' South Africa announced a plan to extend nine nature reserves and create six new ones in the Western Cape, Zimbabwe and Zambia agreed to protect 18,515 km2 of the lower Zambezi-Mana River basin as a transboundary conservation area. The United States reinstated protections for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest and created a 1,638 km2 national monument in southern Nevada and a 4,045 km2 national monument in northern Arizona.
30. Endangered species that are recovering
African lion / African elephant / American alligator / American bison / Asiatic lion / Atlantic puffin / Azores bullfinch / Bald eagle / Bali myna / Black rhino / Black-footed ferret / Black-veined moth / Blue whale / Bornean orangutan / Chinese sturgeon / Darwin’s flycatcher / East Pacific green sea turtle / Eastern barred bandicoot / Eurasian brown bear / Eurasian beaver / Eurasian wolf / Fender’s blue butterfly / Galapagos giant tortoise / Golden eagle / Golden lion tamarin / Greater bilby / Hargila stork / Humpback whale / Iberian lynx / Jaguar / Kaempfer’s woodpecker / Kipunji monkey / Large heath butterfly / Mexican wolf / Monarch butterfly / Mountain gorilla / Olive ridley sea turtle / Peregrine falcon / Polynesian tree snail / Red squirrel / Saiga antelope / Saimaa ringed seal / Sea otter / Siamese crocodile / Snow leopard / Sooty albatross / Southern right whale / Stocky galaxias fish / Takahē / Three-banded armadillo / Tibetan antelope / Tibetan red deer / Tibetan white-lipped deer / Tiger / White rhino / Wood stork / Whooper swans / Yunnan golden hair monkey / Zebra shark.
31. The largest-ever commitment to water conservation
In March, 10,000 participants at the UN Water Conference pledged billions of dollars and made over 700 commitments to ensure a water-secure future. The biggest commitment of all was the Freshwater Challenge, an incredibly ambitious project to restore the world's waterways. Driven by Colombia, the DRC, Ecuador, Gabon, Mexico, and Zambia, the project aims to restore 300,000 kilometers of rivers and 350 million hectares of wetlands (an area larger than India) by 2030.
32. Over 100 countries now have plastic bans
This year, New Zealand became the first country to ban plastic bags for loose fruit and vegetables, England banned plastic cutlery, balloon sticks, and polystyrene cups, and Jamaica said that its three-year-old plastic ban has largely eliminated plastic straws and bags and styrofoam boxes and cups, the United States announced a phaseout of single-use plastics across all its public lands, and the UAE said it would ban single-use plastic shopping bags starting in January 2024. “It’s really, really encouraging to see those numbers trending down."
33. Global poverty reduction is back on track
After the setbacks of the pandemic, the World Bank said that most low and middle-income countries will see poverty decline in 2023, and more than half will reach a lower poverty rate than in 2019. The two standouts are India, which has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in the last two decades, and Indonesia, which has reduced its share of people living on less than $3.20 a day from 61% in 2002 to 16% in 2022.
Bangladesh also reported it has lifted almost ten million people out of poverty since 2016, Cambodia has halved its number of poor from 5.6 million to 2.8 million since 2015, the number of people living in poverty in Mexico has declined by 8.9 million since 2020, over 1.5 million people in Uganda have joined the middle class since 2017, and Togo expanded its social safety net this year to provide cash transfers to all 1.8 million of its extreme poor.
34. Class finally entered the climate debate
An investigation by Oxfam in November revealed that the richest 1% of humanity belched out more emissions in 2019 than the poorest 66%. That might not sound like good news, but it paves the way for the kind of targeted climate solutions that Paris is pioneering. Billing it as a form of “social justice”, the French capital plans to triple parking rates for SUVs. Research shows that carbon emissions from the global SUV fleet outweighs that of most countries.
Curbing private jet use is another high-impact climate policy that wouldn’t affect ordinary citizens. According to a study commissioned by the UK government, 75% of aviation’s emissions come from private jets. “Reducing these flights by half would reduce the sector’s emissions by approximately 37% ,” the study said.
35. US unions won more than 70% of elections, and their victories are driven by workers of color
According to Project Censored, the percentage of American workers in a union rose from 7.6 percent to 19.2 percent, and during World War II between 1941 and 1945, from 20 percent to 27 percent. Masters described the current wave of union activity as driven by record levels of economic inequality and continued mobilization of workers in “essential industries,” such as healthcare, food, and public safety, who were thrust into harm’s way during the global pandemic.
Labor activity—including organizing efforts and strikes—surged in 2022, compared to preceding years. Since 2021, Cornell University has tracked all labor actions, counting 385 strikes in 2022, up from 270 in 2021. Moreover, the general public is growing more favorable towards unions. Seventy-one percent of those in the US now support unions, according to Gallup—a level of support not seen since 1965.
36. Some good news for LGBTQ rights
Estonia became the 35th country to legalize same-sex marriage, Thailand’s Cabinet approved an amendment to its civil code to allow same-sex marriage, a Peruvian high court ordered same-sex unions to be legally registered, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Romania and Bulgaria were required to protect the rights of same-sex couples to family life, Taiwan granted full adoption rights to same-sex couples, a court in South Korea ruled that denying benefits to same-sex couples was discriminatory, and Hong Kong's top court ordered the government to legally recognize same-sex relationships.
Perhaps the biggest news of the year, however, was December's announcement by Pope Francis that priests are allowed to bless unmarried and same-sex couples, described as “the most concrete pastoral shift on the stance toward gay couples in the Catholic Church’s 2,000-year history.”
37. Tolerance became legally enshrined in many countries
Mauritius and the Cook Islands decriminalized homosexuality, Sri Lanka’s government gave the green light to a bill looking to do the same, Japan passed a law to promote understanding of LGBTQ citizens, Iceland banned conversion therapy, Finland passed legislation making it substantially easier for transgender people to change their legal gender, Germany's government approved plans to do the same, and Spain passed legislation expanding both reproductive and transgender rights.
38. The four-day week trials confounded critics
It has often been dismissed as utopian thinking, but the four-day week silenced some critics in 2023. The results of the world’s largest trial, which took place in the UK, suggested it was a win-win for employees and bosses. And there was more good news to come for advocates of a longer weekend. Similar trials in the US and in South Africa, where participants worked fewer hours for the same pay, suggested a shorter working week brought “huge benefits”.
39. More say yes to life!
Over the past three decades, global suicide rates have fallen by more than a third, thanks primarily to rising living standards in the two most populous countries in the world. In this century, suicide rates have fallen by a third in India and by more than half in China, where one of the most common means of suicide is pesticides. Banning or limiting access to dangerous pesticides has had astonishing effects in other countries. In 1995, Sri Lanka had the highest suicide rate in the world. That year, it banned dangerous pesticides, and the national suicide rate has since fallen by 70%. In Bangladesh, a similar ban led to a 65% reduction.
40. The right to repair went mainstream
In a watershed moment for consumer rights – and a win for the planet – electronics giant Apple has backed plans for a right to repair law in the US, after years spent doggedly lobbying against it.
In further signs that the right to repair movement is heading into the mainstream, France introduced a ‘make do and mend’ bonus, offering citizens rebates on clothing and shoe repairs. Meanwhile, in London, a repair centre launched to slow down fast fashion. The United Repair Centre employs refugees and other people who struggle to access the jobs market.
41. More children are getting fed at school
The World Food Program revealed that the number of children benefitting from school meals worldwide is now 418 million, 30 million more than were reached before the pandemic in early 2020. This is due to governments ramping up domestic funding in the last two years to nearly $48 billion overall for these programs, something that is happening in more and less privileged countries alike.
42. Crime plummeted in the US
Initial data suggests that murder rates for 2023 are down by almost 13%, one of the largest ever annual declines, and every major category of crime except auto theft has declined too, with violent crime falling to one of the lowest rates in more than 50 years and property crime falling to its lowest level since the 1960s. Also, the country's prison population is now 25% lower than its peak in 2009, and most states have reduced their prison populations by more than that, including New Jersey and New York, which have reduced prison populations by more than half in the last decade.
43. The world moved closer to a fairer international tax system
In 2015, the equivalent of 9% of global GDP was held in tax havens. Today, thanks to the automatic exchange of bank information, this is down to around 3%. In November, in what advocates hailed as a “historic victory,” the UN General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution to develop a fairer and more inclusive international tax policy system that could drastically change how global tax rules are set.
44. Progress on water, sanitation and hygiene
In July, the WHO released new data on access to drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene, highlighting one of the least-known success stories in global development. Between 2000 and 2022, 2.1 billion people have gained access to safe drinking water, 2.5 billion have gained access to safely managed sanitation, the number of people using unimproved facilities has been halved from 1.1 billion to 545 million, and the number practicing open defecation has fallen by more than two thirds, from 1.3 billion to 419 million.
45. Lots of other bright spots for education
Punjab, home to over half of Pakistan's population, reported that in the last two decades, 13 million girls gained access to education, Nepal reported the number of out-of-school children fell by 6.7% in the last five years, and in Ethiopia, access to pre-primary education has increased from 5.3% to 44%. In both the DRC and Sierra Leone, one-fifth of the national budget is now dedicated to education, and this year, South Sudan made secondary education free, following the recent leads of Ghana, Madagascar, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Togo, and Zambia. Since 2017, government spending on education in low-income countries as a percentage of GDP has risen from 3.2% to 3.6%.
46. A decline in childhood stunting
Stunting is when a child does not have sufficient nutrition to grow and develop. This year, Indonesia, Peru, Senegal, Thailand, Kenya, Uganda, Brazil, Cambodia, and Ghana reported multi-year declines. In May, UNICEF said that since 2000, stunting has declined by one-third, resulting in 60 million fewer undernourished children. In 2022, 182 million children under five were reached with services for the early prevention, detection, and treatment of child wasting, up from 154 million the year before.
47. Other less-known human rights victories
Malaysia and Ghana banned the death penalty. Mexico implemented a National Civil and Family Procedure Code, empowering older persons and people with disabilities to make decisions by themselves; Peru passed a law canceling unjust fines accrued by Venezuelan refugees who had overstayed their visas; Nigeria became the 13th African state to ratify the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Older Persons, and Bangladesh reported that its clothing industry has been completely transformed thanks to labor laws passed after the Rana Plaza tragedy ten years ago.
48. Most places in the world are safer than they used to be
The World Bank released its latest data on the global homicide rate. Over the past twenty years, the global homicide rate has decreased by 17%, from 6.99 per 100,000 people in 2001 to 5.79 per 100,000 in 2021, the most recent year with global statistics. Over this period, murders in Africa have decreased by 7%, in North and South America by 8%, in Asia by 29%, and in Europe by an astonishing 72%.
49. The most remarkable year ever for clean energy
Thanks to the staggering uptake of wind and solar, energy researchers had to tear up all their old forecasts, including the International Energy Agency (IEA), which announced in October that global fossil fuel use might peak this year, two years earlier than predicted just 12 months ago. More than 120 countries, including the world's two largest carbon emitters, China and the United States, also agreed to aim to triple renewable energy and double energy efficiency by 2030 - a target that, if met, would keep the world on track for 1.5°C.
50. Solar installations changed our climate future
Humanity will install an astonishing 413 GW of solar this year, 58% more than in 2022, which marked an almost 42% increase from 2021. That means the world's solar capacity has doubled in the last 18 months and is now the fastest-growing energy technology in history. In September, the IEA announced that solar photovoltaic installations are ahead of the trajectory required to reach net zero by 2050. If solar energy maintains this kind of growth, it will become the world's main energy source before the end of this decade.
51. China's carbon emissions are likely to start falling next year
This, not COP28, might have been the most significant climate change story of the year because China is the world's largest carbon polluter and was supposed to still be six years away from peak emissions. The reason for this epochal shift? The country's unprecedented buildout of 300 GW of solar and wind energy in 2023 is almost double its 2022 total. It's the largest ever single-year deployment of energy in our species' history. “There’s nothing you can benchmark this against."
Year-on-year change in China’s annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and cement, million tonnes. Emissions are estimated from National Bureau of Statistics data on the production of different fuels and cement, China Customs data on imports and exports, and WIND Information data on changes in inventories. Graphic: Carbon Brief
52. A green manufacturing boom in the US
The Inflation Reduction Act is the single most significant commitment any government has yet made to vie for leadership in the next energy economy, and has resulted in the largest manufacturing drive in the United States since WW2. The legislation has already yielded commitments of more than $300 billion in new battery, solar, and hydrogen electrolyzer plants, with Georgia, Michigan, Texas, Tennessee, and Kentucky in the lead. This year, a record 33 GW of solar was installed across the country, carbon emissions are set to fall by around 3%, Texas is undergoing the fastest pace of clean energy expansion anywhere in the world outside China, California's battery storage capacity has surged tenfold in just three years, and 12 states have now passed laws requiring a shift to 100% clean electricity.
53. Europe knocked years off its decarbonization timeline
Coal generation in Europe plummeted in 2023, leading to fossil fuels' share of electricity generation falling to a record low of 17% in the first half of the year, while solar installations increased by 40% for the third year. The continent has also managed to kick its addiction to Russian fossil fuels, phasing out coal imports, reducing oil imports by 90%, and reducing fossil gas imports from 155 billion cubic meters in 2021 to an estimated 45 billion cubic meters in 2023.
54. The clean energy revolution ramped up in many countries
Rooftop solar overtook coal as Australia's most significant source of electricity capacity. The Philippines saw explosive growth in offshore wind, South Africa's rooftop solar sector became the fastest growing in the world, Canada became the second-most attractive place in the world for renewables developers (after the United States), Brazil invested billions into grid transmission, the United Kingdom reported that carbon emissions have fallen by more than two-thirds in a decade. Vietnam finalized its Just Transition agreement, including no new coal, which is excellent news for the Planet because it has the world's third-largest coal pipeline.
France’s BW Ideol, a floating offshore wind company uses a square of concrete for its floating platform. The steadiest, strongest winds blow over deep ocean water, and a new generation of floating wind turbines designed to exploit that huge potential became a global phenomenon in 2023. Photo: IEEE Spectrum
55. No signs of an electric vehicle slowdown
Global electric vehicle sales increased by 36% this year, bringing the world's total to 41 million electric vehicles. The shift is remarkable: two years ago, one in 25 cars sold globally was an electric vehicle. This year, it will be one in five, and by 2025, one in two. The IEA now says electric vehicle sales, like solar installations, are tracking ahead of its net zero scenarios. In the United States, where the media spent much of the year insisting there's been a slowdown, sales were up 50%, and growth in China was even more explosive; two in every five new cars sold was electric, and gasoline demand peaked two years earlier than expected. Oh, and the Tesla Model Y became the best-selling car in the world in 2023.
56. Battery technology made some big leaps forward
CATL, the world's biggest battery maker, announced a new battery with double the density of Tesla's batteries which it said would go into mass production imminently; Toyota, the world's largest carmaker, claimed it had developed a solid-state battery with over 1,000 km of range (and then got trumped by Chinese EV maker NIO which pulled off an actual demo of 1,000 km battery). Swedish manufacturer Northvolt announced a breakthrough in sodium batteries, an element that's cheaper, more abundant, and more sustainable than lithium.
57. We found plenty of raw materials for the transition
After years of hand-wringing about the lack of critical materials, this year saw the discovery of substantial new deposits of lithium in the United States and phosphate in Norway, a plunge in lithium and cobalt prices as new mines and processing plants solved shortages sooner than expected, and multiple studies showing that the world has more than enough materials for the clean energy transition. Reaching net zero will only take one-quarter of today’s lithium, one-third of nickel, and a quarter of known cobalt resources.
58. Geothermal had a breakout year
In April, Lazard, widely regarded as the industry standard for the average cost of energy technologies, shocked analysts with the news that geothermal, the dark horse of the clean energy revolution, was competitive with fossil gas. Everyone was even more surprised in November when a startup announced that its next-generation geothermal plant had started sending carbon-free electricity to the grid in Nevada, proving that the earth’s heat could be a commercially viable, massive source of carbon-free power.
59. The US and Europe got serious about transmission
In one of the most important and least appreciated energy stories of the year, the US government approved major reforms governing new connections to the nation’s grids, broke ground on thousands of kilometers of high-voltage power lines, and made its most significant transmission investment ever into 58 projects across 44 states. Regulators in Europe also got the memo - the European Commission drafted plans to scale up investment into Europe's power grids, giving special status to at least 68 projects, with access to faster permits and funding.
60. Methane news
Methane is the second-biggest cause of climate change after carbon dioxide, so it was excellent news when, towards the end of the year, the EU launched a continent-wide tax on carbon in imported goods, the first time such a tax has been tried at this scale anywhere in the world, and then reached a deal on a law to place methane emissions limits on oil and gas imports starting in 2030. Even better, just before COP28, the United States implemented the world’s most protective methane pollution limits.
61. Finance fled from coal, gas, and oil
Over three-quarters of coal-fired electricity in the OECD is now on track to close by 2030, and the IEA's estimates for fossil gas deployment have halved in the last five years. Danske, the second-largest bank in the Nordic region, declared an end to fossil fuel financing, SMBC Group, Japan's second-largest bank, said it will phase out all exposure to coal mining by 2040, CBA, Australia’s largest bank, ruled out finance for new oil and gas extraction.
HSBC and BNP Parabis said they would no longer provide finance for metallurgical coal, Citi, the world's second-largest funder of fossil fuels, committed to cut lending to the thermal coal mining sector by 90% by 2030, and Chubb, the world's most prominent property and casualty insurer, said it would no longer provide coverage for oil and gas projects without a plan to reduce methane emissions, or if they are located in any of the world’s 284,122 protected areas.
62. Some improvements in shipping and steel industry
Last year saw a record 59% of new ships ordered capable of using clean fuels, this year the global shipping industry agreed to cut total annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 70% by 2040, and in October, the world's biggest shipping company, Maersk, unveiled its first container ship powered by green methanol. Meanwhile, massive investments into steel decarbonization were announced in Sweden, the United States, and Japan; 43% of planned steelmaking capacity globally is now slated to use electric-arc furnaces, and the UK, India, Canada, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, and UAE established the Industrial Deep Decarbonization Initiative which requires governments to commit to procuring low-emission steel, cement, and concrete.
63. These Indian Muslims take care of synagogues
In eastern India’s Kolkata, Muslim caretakers have managed synagogues for generations. The Israel war won’t change that, they say. “For me, this [synagogue] is the house of ‘Khuda’ [God] just like our own ‘Khuda ka ghar’ [mosque],” says Anwar Khan, one of the synangogue caretakers. “It is very sad that Muslims and Jewish people are fighting today in Gaza and Israel. But their house of God is also our house of God. We will take care of it all our life.”
64. This Gaza mom is suing the U.S. over Israel's military aid
Award-winning Palestinian American author Laila Elhaddad is one of the lead plaintiffs suing the Biden administration over its funding of Israel’s unfolding genocide in Gaza. “When you have a situation where a country is in a position of power to influence Israel," she says "and it directly decides not to do so, then it too, or its representatives, President Biden, and Secretary of State Blinken, and Secretary of Defence Lloyd must be held into account.”
64. Young Israelis who refuse to participate in war
These young people refuse to participate in the Gaza genocide; they are refusing to serve in the IDF and are speaking out against their government. Their actions, despite the high risks, are inspiring. “Palestinians deserve freedom just as much as the Israelis,” says one of the activists in a video.
65. These artists are making communities stronger and brighter, one wall at a time
Ithaca Murals artists connect with homeowners to create images of inspiration and social change. They focus on supporting artists of color, women, people with jail experience, and others who have been underrepresented. Noticing that numerous city streets, parks, and buildings were named after rich white men, Caleb Thomas, who founded the project, wanted to ensure that public spaces reflected the entire community. Scattered throughout the city, Ithaca Murals created 70 new paintings in 2022 alone!
66. These Ukrainian civilians are resisting military force
Unarmed Ukrainians changing road signs, blocking tanks, and confronting the Russian military are showing their bravery and strategic brilliance. History shows that successful resistance against a militarily stronger opponent often requires a wide variety of resistance, including from those who are unarmed—a role that is often given less attention by the mainstream media.
For example, Ukraine’s streets agency, Ukravtodor, called for “all road organizations, territorial communities, local governments to immediately begin dismantling nearby road signs” to confuse the invaders.
67. The butterflies of Liberia: transforming the lives of former child soldiers
What happens to child soldiers once the war ends? In Liberia, two brutal civil wars have produced a generation of traumatized young men. A project started by a former teen soldier that offers CBT therapy and support to violent street criminals is transforming lives.
“I tell the men that their true colors are there, hidden within them,” says Kamara, a former street drug user and a facilitator for a radical Liberian mental health nonprofit Network for Empowerment and Programme Initiatives (Nepi).
68. US army vets push back against military recruitment in schools
The U.S. military is facing its worst recruitment crisis since the end of the Vietnam War. The Defense Department’s budget proposal for 2024 outlines a plan for the military to slightly cut back on its ranks, but to reach its projected numbers, it will still need to embark on a heavy recruitment push. Across the country, anti-war veterans and their allies are working together to stop the U.S. military from reaching its goal.
We Are Not Your Soldiers is a project of New York City-based nonprofit World Can’t Wait. The organization sends military veterans into schools to share honest stories of the harm they have caused and suffered. In doing so, they hope to prevent young people from signing up.
69. And, in India, peace building goes ultimate
Compassion, respect, and communication are all essential for lasting peace. In a conflict-wracked area of northeast India, an unfamiliar sport is helping foster these skills.
The flying disc game known as "ultimate frisbee", was virtually unheard of in this part of the world till a few years ago. But it’s rapidly gaining popularity throughout northeast India.
That includes Assam’s Chirang district, where over 30 girls and boys, some of the best players from the hundreds of ultimate teams, gather for coaching sessions. Players can graduate to the more competitive Rainbow League, with more peace-building rules. Each team must include players from a minimum of three different villages, three different ethnicities, and three mother tongues.
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