99 Good News Stories From 2020 You Probably Didn’t Hear About

Angus Hervey
Future Crunch
Published in
26 min readDec 21, 2020


Even during the darkest of times, there’s been hope.

Maria Sole, age 4, dressed in a nurse’s outfit, holds up a rainbow drawing with the words “Thank You” on it as NHS staff and members of the public took part in the weekly “Clap for Our Carers” event at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital on May 28, 2020, in London. Dan Kitwood/Getty

If we want more people to devote their energy to making progress against large global problems, we should make sure that more people know that it is possible to make progress against such problems.


There’s been so much loss, grief and heartbreak in 2020 that it feels almost wrong to be compiling our traditional annual list of good news. Things can and do fall apart, and this year it felt like they really did. Amazing as it may seem however, there were also big wins for conservation, living standards, peace, safety and human rights, clean energy, and yes, even global health. The reason you didn’t hear about them is because good news doesn’t sell advertisements or generate clicks, and that was more true in 2020 than ever before.

Progress isn’t a straight line and it doesn’t happen by magic. It depends on people who, even during the darkest of times, believe that it’s possible to make the world a better place and who are willing to roll up their sleeves to do the work, even when the cameras aren’t watching. These are their stories, and off the back of a horrible year, we think it’s more important than ever to celebrate them. We hope you agree.

A seabird flies over Tristan da Cunha Island, a critical foraging ground for tens of millions of seabirds and and other marine species. Dan Myers, Pristine Seas


1. The British territory of Tristan da Cunha created the largest ever protected area in the Atlantic Ocean, and the fourth largest in the world. The 687,000 km² sanctuary is a no-take zone, meaning fishing and other harmful activities are now prohibited, to protect wildlife found on and around the chain of islands, including albatross, penguins, whales, sharks and seals. Nat Geo

2. Belize added another jewel in its crown as a global leader in ocean conservation. In August, it increased the size of its Sapodilla Cayes reserve to 1,300 km² to encompass the Cayman Crown, one of the best preserved reef ecosystems in the region, home to many endangered species of corals, as well as previously undocumented reef types. EDF

3. In October, the Seychelles reported that one third of its territorial waters are now protected, covering 410,000 km² of ocean (an area larger than Germany) and Samoa launched an ambitious new ocean conservation strategy, with a commitment to create 36,000 km² of new fully-protected marine protected areas by 2025, 30% of its territorial waters. BBC

4. In November, 14 countries, responsible for 40% of the world’s coastlines, signed a new pledge to end overfishing, restore fish populations and stop the flow of ocean plastic in the next 10 years. Each of the countries also committed to making sure all oceans within their national jurisdictions, a combined area roughly the size of Africa, are managed sustainably by 2025. Guardian

5. The most incredible environmental group you’ve never heard of, Pristine Seas, revealed this year that in the past decade they’ve inspired the creation of 23 marine reserves — two-thirds of the world’s fully protected marine areas, covering an area of more than five million square kilometers. In the next decade they believe they can double what’s already been accomplished. Nat Geo

6. In December, a new report by the UN’s FAO revealed that after decades of pressure, fisheries in the Mediterranean and Black Sea are turning the corner. The percentage of overexploited stocks fell from 88% to 75% between 2014 and 2018, and since 2018, the number of fish stocks with high relative biomass has doubled.

7. In perhaps one of the most globally consequential yet under-reported stories of 2020, China issued new rules for its distant water fishing fleet. The country’s Wildlife Protection Law will now apply at sea, ships will no longer be allowed to ‘go dark’ or approach marine protected areas, ship captains who break the rules will lose their license for five years and company managers will be banned for three years. Earth.org

8. In the Pacific Northwest, the Yurok tribe began the reintroduction of the Californian Condor to its ancestral lands along the Klamath River, and also signed a historic deal to begin the largest dam removal project in US history, freeing up 600km of spawning grounds for salmon and other migratory species like steelhead trout and Pacific lamprey. “These efforts are as much about ecology as they are to right the wrongs that took place in this country for the last 200 years.”

9. At the turn of this century, Staten Island’s landfill was the largest garbage dump in the world, three times larger than Central Park, with trash mounds 20 stories high. Today, it’s a green oasis, and one of the most unlikely urban ecological restoration success stories of all time. The radical fix? Bury the rubbish, plant some grass and do nothing for 20 years. NYT

10. A new study from Yale revealed that the mass of electronic waste generated by Americans has been declining since 2015. The biggest contributor is the disappearance of large, bulky cathode-ray tube TVs and computer monitors. The total number of electronic devices entering the waste stream is also levelling off, due to ‘convergence’ e.g. smartphones doubling up as cameras.

Annual waste flow (in million metric tons) of the 20 most common product categories making up the electronic product ecosystem in the average US household. Source: Althaf, Babbitt, Chen (2020)

11. New satellite data revealed this year that the UK’s woodlands now cover as much of the country as they did during the Middle Ages, thanks to 20th-century forestry and rewilding practices (Robin Hood eat your heart out). There’s plenty more space too — researchers say the area could be doubled without impacting important habitats, arable farmland or peat bogs.

12. For the last 20 years the world’s largest seagrass restoration project has been running off the coast of Virginia, and during that time the ecosystem has gone from near death to full flowering. Over 70 million eelgrass seeds have been planted by volunteers. “Today, as far as I can swim, I see lush meadows, rays, the occasional seahorse. It’s beautiful.” Science News

13. A grassroots effort to restore Appalachia’s mountaintops has now seen over 187 million trees planted on over 1,000 km² of former mining sites, and following a concerted reintroduction effort, those sites are now home to the largest population of elk east of the Mississippi. NYT

14. More than 2 million people in northern India planted over 250 million trees as part of a government plan to tackle climate change, Pakistan announced the creation of 15 new national parks, expanding protected areas from 12% to 15% of the country, and Afghanistan announced the creation of the Bamyan Plateau National Park, its fifth ever protected area, and the second-biggest at 4,200 km², home to the ibex, urial and the Persian leopard.

15. Singapore created its new 400 ha Sungei Buloh Park, part of a wider initiative to convert industrial areas back to natural landscapes, and Vietnam established a new 22,132 ha tropical forest nature reserve called Dong Chau-Khe Nuoc Trong, whose name means “clear water in the ravine.” It is home to 40 globally threatened species, including the singing gibbon and the saola, a mysterious antelope-like bovine with a pair of long, straight horns known as the Asian unicorn.

16. Attitudes in China towards the eating of wild animals changed drastically in 2020. Up to 90% of the public now supports strict bans on the trade and consumption of wildlife, and more than 15,000 people were prosecuted for wildlife crimes this year, a 66% increase from 2019. China also removed dogs from the list of animals that can be treated as livestock, signalling the beginning of the end of the sale of live dogs for food and fur across the country.

A man walks by a poster promoting the protection of wild animals in Beijing on March 11, 2020. Authorities have cracked down on the sale of wild animals for food. SCMP

17. Vietnam banned the sale of protected wildlife at wildlife markets as well as all imports of wildlife dead or alive, including eggs and larvae. The new directive included recommendations that conservationists have been trying to get passed for years, including tougher penalties for crimes involving wildlife trade and cracking down on domestic markets. WaPo

18. Global meat production fell by more than 1% in 2020. This came off the back of a decline in 2019 too (there have never been two consecutive years of decline). We’re already at peak pasture, and it now looks like we might be approaching peak pork and beef. Bloomberg

19. Poland, the world’s third-largest fur producer after China and Denmark, banned fur farming (a law that will spare the lives of more than five million animals) and Kopenhagen Fur, the world’s largest fur auction house, announced it would close its doors within the next three years, citing the impact of COVID-19 and years of steep price drops.

20. Germany started converting 62 military bases west of the old Iron Curtain into nature reserves for eagles, woodpeckers, bats, and beetles, Peru began reforesting the area around Machu Picchu, and Seattle reported that after two decades of clean up efforts, the Duwamish River is the cleanest it’s been in 100 years.

21. Senegal revealed that over 152 million mangrove buds have been planted in the Casamance Delta in the past decade, Madagascar launched a drive to plant 60 million trees to mark 60 years of independence, and Uganda launched a project to restore 3 million trees to the Albertine Rift Forests, close to where Dr. Jane Goodall began her career.

22. Kenya reported that its elephant population has more than doubled from 16,000 in 1989 to 34,000 today. The number of elephants poached is also down significantly from previous years — just seven in 2020, compared to 34 in 2019 and 80 in 2018. The number of lions living in the country has increased by 25% too, from 2,000 in 2010 to 2,489 in 2020. DW

Elephants wander against the backdrop of Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya’s iconic Ambesoli Park, where almost 140 baby elephants were born in 2020. Safari Desire

23. Spain reported that there are now 894 Iberian lynx in the wild, up from just 92 in 2002, one of the best conservation success stories of modern times. The EU also earmarked €18 million to keep the project running for the next five years, giving conservationists a real shot at restoring a stable, genetically diverse population. La Vanguardia

24. Two decades ago, the Burmese roofed turtle was thought to be extinct. Conservationists have since helped the population recover to nearly 1,000 animals, some of which have now been successfully released into the wild in Myanmar. “This is one of the best global turtle conservation successes we have. We came so close to losing them.” NYT

25. Blue whales — the giants of the sea — appear to be returning to South Georgia. The subspecies was heavily exploited by commercial whalers in the early 1900s, and though hunting blue whales was banned in 1965, the leviathans have remained rare visitors to Antarctica — until now. A 2020 survey by the British Antarctic Survey recorded 58 sightings, reinforcing other indications that the blues are coming back.

26. For the second year in a row Iceland, one of three remaining whaling nations, decided not to hunt any whales, thanks to changing public opinion and falling consumption of whale meat. Announcements by the country’s two whaling companies suggested this may be the permanent end of the annual hunt. NatGeo

27. Bowhead whales — the only baleen whale that lives in the Arctic year-round — are approaching pre-commercial whaling numbers in US waters. Once hunted to just a few thousand individuals, and on the brink of disappearing forever, their numbers rebounded to about 10,000 by the turn of the 21st century and have now reached at least 16,800. “This is really one of the great conservation successes of the last century.” Guardian

Margaret Keenan, 90, is applauded after becoming the first person in the United Kingdom to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine. “It’s the best early birthday present I could wish for. I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends after being on my own for most of the year.” Jacob King/Pool/Getty Images

Global Health

28. At the beginning of this year, the only thing the world’s scientists knew about the novel coronavirus was its genetic profile. Less than twelve months later, Margaret Keenan rolled up her sleeve at a hospital in Coventry, a week before her 91st birthday, to become the first patient injected with a globally approved Covid-19 vaccine, effectively kickstarting humanity’s fightback. It’s one of the greatest medical achievements of all time. FT

29. In 2020 Myanmar became the second country in southeast Asia to completely eliminate trachoma, the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness. The achievement was part of a bigger global trend: the number of people at risk from trachoma has been reduced by 92% in the last 17 years, from 1.5 billion in 2002 to 137 million in 2020, and 13 countries have now eliminated it altogether. WHO.

30. Togo became the first African country to officially eliminate sleeping sickness, a parasitic disease that’s fatal if untreated. The achievement comes after more than two decades of sustained political commitment, surveillance and screening, and is also part of a bigger success story — there are now fewer than 1,000 cases of sleeping sickness globally. WHO

31. Senegal reported that it has cut its rate of stunting prevalence in half, from 34.4% to 18.8%, since 2002. Improved access to post-natal care, education, water and sanitation now means the country has the lowest stunting burden in French-speaking West Africa. Exemplars

32. Africa announced this year that it is officially free from wild polio. 25 years ago the disease still paralyzed more than 75,000 children across the continent every year. Since then, billions of oral vaccines have been provided, preventing 1.8 million cases. It’s one of the greatest healthcare success stories of all time, and an extraordinary human achievement. BBC

33. There was a major breakthrough in 2020 in the fight against AIDS. A new antiretroviral administered as an injection six times a year was shown to be 89% more effective at preventing HIV in women compared to standard ARVs, which are taken as a daily pill. “A major, major advance. I don’t think we can overemphasize its importance.” NYT

34. Meanwhile, AIDS deaths continue to fall. The number of people dying from the disease has fallen by 5.4% in the last year, reaching the lowest level since 1993. Also crucially, for the first time ever, more than two thirds of HIV-positive people around the world now have access to anti-retroviral treatments. UNAIDS

35. The WHO revealed that malaria deaths have reached the lowest level ever recorded, a drop of almost 60% in the last two decades. Take a moment to let this sink in: between 2000 and 2019, 1.5 billion malaria cases and 7.6 million malaria deaths were averted globally.

Yonta, 6, rests with her brother Leakhena, 4 months, under a mosquito bed net in the Pailin province of Cambodia. In the first nine months of 2020, the country saw a 70% decrease in malaria cases compared to the same period last year.

36. The WHO also published its annual tuberculosis report this year, showing that between 2015 and 2019, global deaths fell by 14%. In fact, progress against TB puts malaria in the shade — since 2000, treatments have averted more than 60 million deaths.

37. What’s the biggest threat to children around the world? It’s not AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis — it’s pneumonia. In 2011 the disease claimed the lives of 1.3 million children before their fifth birthday (18% of all child deaths around the world). Last year, that number dropped to 672,000, a fall of almost 50% in less than a decade. Stop Pneumonia

38. In 2020 we discovered that humanity is winning its fight against the second leading cause of disability in the world — elephantiasis, a horrible parasitic disease causing irreversible disfigurement. In the last 20 years, the number of annual infections has fallen by three quarters, from 199 million to 51.4 million, and last year three countries, Malawi, Kiribati and Yemen, eliminated it altogether. The Lancet

39. The proportion of the world’s children under the age of five infected with hepatitis B has now dropped to just under 1%, down from 5% in the early 2000s. 85% of kids around the world are now getting all three doses of the HBV vaccine — and Gavi says it is on track to avert a further 1.2 million infection-related deaths between 2021 and 2035. WHO

40. Speaking of Gavi (the global vaccines alliance), in June it announced that it had raised $8.8 billion to fund its immunization programs for the next five years, exceeding its original target of $7.4 billion. This will help immunize 300 million more children by 2025 against measles, polio and diphtheria. Reuters

41. More than one million people in the UK gave up smoking during the COVID-19 pandemic. More people quit smoking in the year to June 2020 than in any year since surveys began in 2007. BBC

42. Four years after Chile embraced the world’s most sweeping measures to combat mounting obesity, consumption of sweetened drinks has dropped by nearly 25%. During the same period, there’s been a 5% increase in purchases of water, diet soft drinks and fruit juices without added sugar. NYT

43. How many times have you heard someone say that because we’re living longer, we’re more likely to experience cognitive decline? Not true. New research this year showed that the risk of a person developing dementia in the US and Europe is now 13% lower than it was in 2010 (Alzheimer’s is falling too, by 16% per decade). Researchers think it’s down to less smoking, better cardiovascular health, and better education. NYT

People holding rainbow umbrellas participate in Taiwan’s Pride Parade on the 31st October 2020. Ceng Shou Yi/Sipa USA

Peace, Safety & Human Rights

44. A new report by the Global Peace Index showed that since 2007, the majority of the world’s countries — 113 countries — have reduced their armed forces, 100 have reduced military expenditure and both imports and exports of weapons have reached their lowest levels since 2009.

45. Remember the good old days when terrorism was front page news? The 2020 Global Terrorism Index reported that deaths from terrorism fell for the fifth consecutive year, and that the terrorism situation had improved in 103 countries — the highest number of countries to record a year-on-year improvement since the inception of the index.

46. The Falkland Islands announced this year that it had cleared all its landmines, nearly 40 years after the end of the war between Britain and Argentina. Tens of thousands of mines and bombs have been removed since 2009 by a team of specialist de-miners, many of them from Zimbabwe. “We never thought the islands would be completely mine free, this is a momentous change.” BBC

47. Italy abolished anti-immigrant decrees installed by former populists, and reinstated humanitarian protection for migrants and refugees. The government has also cut the time needed for citizenship applications from four years to three. “Tonight a wall comes down. Onward towards a country with more humanity.” The Local

48. Mexico changed its laws to prohibit holding children in immigration detention centers, shifting responsibility to the country’s family development agency, and Colombia allowed hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants to legalize their presence in the country through work permits.

49. Over the past five years Germany has opened its borders to 1.7 million people fleeing war and persecution: arguably the greatest humanitarian act of the 21st century. The decision has paid off. In August, the country revealed that more than half are employed and paying taxes, and over 80% say they feel a strong sense of belonging. Guardian

50. Kazakhstan joined an international protocol on the abolition of the death penalty, the 88th nation to become a signatory, which fulfils a fundamental right to life and human dignity. The country’s head of state, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, quoted Kazakh poet and philosopher Abai, stressing the need for “love, compassion, bold actions, deeds and thoughtfulness.” Astana Times

51. Saudi Arabia and Palestine banned child marriage in 2020, making 18 the minimum age for weddings, and Bangladesh reported progress too. The proportion of girls being married there before the age of 18 has dropped from 64% in 2010 to just over 50% today. In actual numbers, that means 10 million girls in Bangladesh have been saved from child marriage in the past decade. UNICEF

52. Iran approved a measure to criminalize child abuse and neglect, Saudi Arabia abolished the practice of flogging convicts and banned the death sentence for minors, and the United Arab Emirates overhauled some of its strictest Islamic laws, including the criminalization of ‘honour killings’, tougher penalties for sexual harassment and the decriminalization of suicide and attempted suicide.

53. Pakistan approved a new anti-rape law, prohibiting the disclosure of the identity of rape victims, creating a national sex offenders register, abolishing antiquated two-finger testing, and setting up special courts for rape cases, and in Sierra Leone a five year old ban preventing pregnant teenagers from attending school was reversed.

54. Sudan officially ended 30 years of Islamic state rule, deposing its dictator and ushering in combined military and civilian government. It also outlined wide-reaching human rights reforms including abolishing public flogging, scrapping the death penalty for renouncing Islam, and outlawing the practice of female genital mutilation, a major victory for women’s rights campaigners. NYT

Womens rights activists celebrate in Khartoum, September 2020. Ala Kheir/DPA/PA Images.

55. New Zealand started providing free sanitary products in schools across the country in an effort to tackle period poverty, and a few months later, Scotland became the first country in the world to introduce free universal access to period products, making access to tampons and sanitary pads in public buildings a legal right. “Scotland will not be the last country to make period poverty history — but it now has a chance to be the first.

56. Amidst the craziness of the US election, this one didn’t make the headlines. Since 1965, Gallup has been polling Americans about whether they want immigration levels to decrease, increase, or remain the same. In 2020, for the first time in the poll’s history, more Americans said they wanted to increase immigration than decrease it. Cato

57. We had to dig for this one, seeing as it did not appear in a single mainstream news publication. The US Justice Department released its most recent crime data, showing that violent crime in the United States decreased by 0.5% last year, the third consecutive year of declines, and property crime dropped by 4.1%, the 17th consecutive year of declines. Hellholes, anyone?

58. Crime is declining in France too. While the idea of ensauvagement — long a dog whistle of the far right — is now being parroted by all sides of French politics, the truth is that nearly all major crimes are lower than they were a decade ago. Since 2006, acts of physical violence outside the home have decreased by 8% and thefts with physical violence or threat have dropped by 61% in the same period. NYT

59. Costa Rica legalized same-sex marriage in May, becoming the 28th country to do so. In June, the US Supreme Court passed a landmark ruling protecting LGBTQIA+ citizens from workplace discrimination. Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch authored the decision: “It is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that person based on sex.” BBC

60. Later that month, lawmakers in Gabon voted to decriminalize homosexuality, reversing a 2019 law. Sylvia Bongo, Gabon’s First Lady, said that parliament had “restored a fundamental human right: that of loving, freely, without being condemned.” Thomson Reuters

61. In July, Montenegro became the first country in the Balkans to allow same-sex civil unions. That made it the first European country outside both Western Europe and the EU to legalize same-sex civil partnerships. “A big step has been taken towards equality, but the road to real equality is still ahead of us.” Euro News

62. In October, more than 130,000 people turned out for Taiwan’s LGBTQIA+ pride rally, marching through the streets of Taipei in a colourful celebration of equality made possible by the island’s successful vanquishing of the coronavirus. The parade came a day after two same-sex couples joined a mass wedding hosted by the military for the first time, another gay rights landmark in Asia. SBS

63. In December, Bhutan became the second Asian country after Taiwan to legalize same-sex relationships and in Nepal, authorities said they would count LGBTQIA+ people for the first time in the national census to help sexual minorities gain better access to education and health schemes. Reuters

Democracies led by women performed systematically and significantly better in handling the pandemic than countries led by men. From left: Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen; New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern; the German chancellor, Angela Merkel; Denmark’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen; and Sanna Marin, the Finnish prime minister. Reuters/Getty/Rex/Shutterstock

Living Standards

64. The coronavirus pandemic raised serious questions about whether authoritarian regimes were better at handling pandemics than democratic societies. They weren’t. Eight of the top 10 most successful responses came from democracies. Success appeared to rely less on being able to order people into submission, and more on having a high degree of trust and societal compliance. Bloomberg

65. China birthrate fell to its lowest level since 1949, and is now below that of England and Wales. That’s representative of a bigger global trend — a major new study revealed that the average number of children a woman gives birth to has fallen from 4.7 in 1950 to 2.4 in 2017, and will drop below 1.7 by 2100. That means that global population is now on track to peak in the middle of the 21st century. BBC

66. Did global inequality in the last two decades get worse, or better? New research this year showed that during the 2000s and 2010s, the global Gini coefficient dropped by 15 points and the earnings share of the world’s poorest half doubled. The reason this feels so surprising is that most of us hardly ever read journalism written by people from Asia, Africa and South America. Uppsala

67. This year’s Social Progress Index, which measures the social and economic performance of all the world’s countries over time, revealed that the world had improved on 8 of 12 key measures in the past decade. 95% of countries improved by one point or more, and only 2% declined.

68. What once sounded like a progressive pipe dream — legalize it — took a big step towards reality in 2020. In the United States, New Jersey, Arizona, Montana, Mississippi and South Dakota all legalized either recreational or medical marijuana, Washington DC decriminalized psilocybin, and Oregon became the first US state to decriminalize the personal possession of all drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamine and opioids. Wired

69. Argentina broadened the use of medicinal cannabis, allowing it to be prescribed for any condition backed by scientific evidence, and letting people grow it at home. New rules also state that cannabis should be made available for free in the country’s public health system for patients without insurance. Yes, you heard that right. Publicly funded medical marijuana. Vice

70. The UN removed cannabis for medicinal purposes from a category of the world’s most dangerous drugs. It’s a watershed moment; a highly anticipated and long-delayed decision that will clear the way for a global expansion of marijuana research and medical use, and bolster legalization efforts around the world. The New York Times

71. A UNICEF report on the Swachh Bharat Mission, India’s massive sanitation drive, showed that it has brought major benefits to poor households across the country. The average benefit per household was US$727 per year, mainly from health savings such as reduced diarrhoea incidence (55%) and savings from sanitation access time (45%).

72. Indonesia, the fourth most populated country in the world, reported a significant decline in its number of illiterate people, from 4.63% of the population in 2011 to 1.78% in 2019. That means that almost 8 million adults there have gained the ability to read and write in the last decade. Jakarta Post

An Indonesian student wears a mask and face shield as a precaution against the coronavirus during a class in Bekasi on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia, 3rd August 2020. Achmad Ibrahim/AP

73. UNESCO reported that since 1995, the proportion of girls receiving primary and secondary education has increased from 73% to 89%. In actual numbers, that’s an extra 180 million girls in school compared to a generation ago (and three times more women are also now enrolled in universities). Reminder — educating girls and empowering women is the single most effective way to combat climate change.

74. The IEA’s annual report contained a hidden nugget of very, very good news this year. The number of people without access to electricity dropped from 860 million to 770 million, a new record low. Africa has made particularly good progress; the number of people gaining access to electricity doubled from 9 million a year in 2013, to 20 million a year by 2019.

75. China reported that it has lifted over 50 million people out of poverty in the last five years. The country’s requirements are stricter than the World Bank’s; in addition to having sufficient income, China doesn’t consider people to be out of poverty until they have enough food and clothing, guaranteed basic healthcare, access to compulsory education and safe housing. Bloomberg

76. The US imprisonment rate reached its lowest level in more than two decades, with the greatest decline coming among black Americans, whose imprisonment rate has decreased 34% since 2006. As rates have fallen, former prisons, jails, and detention centers are being converted from facilities that confine people into ones that support them, such as mental health clinics, community centres and homes for former convicts.

77. A new study showed that air quality in Europe has improved dramatically in the past decade. Thanks to the implementation of better environmental and climate policies, around 60,000 fewer people died prematurely due to fine particulate matter pollution in 2018, compared with 2009. For nitrogen dioxide, the reduction is even greater; premature deaths have declined by about 54%. EEA

78. A new analysis of NASA satellite data showed that global sulfur dioxide pollution levels fell by 6% last year. SO2 emissions fell in all three of the world’s top emitter countries — India, Russia and China, only the second time ever that this has happened. Researchers said it was due to falling coal usage, especially in India. Air Quality News

Workers inspect the blade of one of GE’s new monster wind turbines, the 12MW Haliade X, in Cherbourg, France, on the 18th June 2020. General Electric, France

Clean Energy

79. 2020 put humanity back in the global climate change fight. Carbon emissions fell by 2.4 billion tons, or 7%, the largest drop ever recorded. The decline was most pronounced in the United States (-12%) Europe (-11%) and India (-9%). It’s important not to be triumphalist: these reductions have come at the expense of a great deal of human suffering. But we can welcome the result, even if we abhor the way in which it has been delivered. DW

80. Although overall energy demand plummeted this year, clean energy proved remarkably resilient. Wind, solar and hydro accounted for nearly 90% of new electricity infrastructure installed in 2020 and net installed renewable capacity grew by 4% overall, reaching almost 200 GW.

81. Prices continued to fall too. Industry benchmarks showed that the average cost of onshore wind around the world is $26 a megawatt-hour and utility scale solar is $29. Forget coal — that means that building new wind and solar is now cheaper than keeping many of the world’s existing gas plants running (gas-led recovery, anyone?) Lazard

82. 2020 saw an unprecedented acceleration in national climate pledges. South Korea became the first Asian country to set a 2050 net zero emissions goal, followed by Japan, and then most importantly, China, which committed to net zero by 2060 — perhaps the single most important development in climate policy since the Paris Agreement.

83. The list goes on. Argentina also committed to net zero by 2050, Finland, Austria and Sweden brought their net zero dates forward, the UK pledged to reduce emissions by 68% in the next decade, and the EU set a new goal of reducing emissions by 55% in the same time period. Countries representing around 42% of global carbon emissions now have ‘somewhat credible’ net-zero targets. Global Citizen

84. It wasn’t just governments. The number of major global companies committed to reducing their environmental impact increased by 46% in the last twelve months. That included Apple, the world’s most valuable company, which committed this year to becoming carbon neutral across its entire supply chain by 2030, and Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, which is targeting zero emissions by 2040, without offsets.

85. Despite the global auto market being turned inside out, global electric vehicle sales grew by 28% this year. That was largely thanks to sales in Europe, which exceeded even the most optimistic forecasts by experts in 2020. One in 10 new cars sold were electric or hybrid, triple last year’s sales, and forecasts suggest market share will hit 15% in 2021, as manufacturers scramble to comply with tighter emissions standards. Ars Technica

86. California became the first US state to say it would ban the sale of new internal combustion engines by 2035, starting the clock on a future that would’ve been unthinkable a few years ago. Automakers now have 15 years left until their products become illegal in one of their most important markets. It’s a big deal. California consumes about 1% of global oil production. NP

87. In 2020, the world’s one-millionth public electric vehicle outlet was installed, Germany extended its subsidies for electric vehicles by four years and made it mandatory for all gas stations to include electric chargers, and the EU committed to one million public chargers by 2025, from fewer than 200,000 today.

88. Notorious latte-sipping, radical greenies, BP said that as a result of the pandemic the world has reached peak oil. The company now estimates demand will fall by at 10% this decade and by as much as 50% over the next 20 years. Bloomberg

89. In 2012, Exxon was the most valuable company in the world, an unassailable colossus at the height of its power. This year, it got booted off the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and wrote off $17bn-$20bn worth of its natural gas assets, the biggest write-down in the company’s history. FT

Florida-based NextEra Energy Inc., the world’s most valuable utility, briefly surpassed Exxon Mobil Corp. in market capitalization in early October. It wasn’t a one-off. Enel, Iberdrola and Orsted are now worth more than comparable oil majors, underscoring how mainstream clean energy bets have become for investors. Bloomberg

90. Denmark, the EU’s biggest oil producer, announced an end to all new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea as part of its broader plan to phase out fossil fuel extraction by 2050. It’s the first major oil-producing country to take such a step, another body blow to the global oil industry. “It’s a tough decision, it’s an expensive decision, but it’s the right decision.” Vox

91. The size of the global coal power fleet fell for the first time ever in 2020, with more plants shutting down than starting operations. Sweden and Austria became the second and third European countries to exit coal altogether, India said it would stop importing thermal coal in the next four years, Pakistan and the Phillipines said they would no longer approve new coal plants, and Bangladesh put 28GW of coal on the chopping block — more than Australia’s entire capacity.

92. This year saw blacklistings of coal by BlackRock, Standard Chartered, Morgan Stanley, HSBC, Citi, BNP Paribas, and Japan’s three mega banks, the largest private financiers of coal in the world. 138 globally significant banks, insurers, and asset managers have now announced their exit from coal, 46 of them coming in 2020 alone. The rate accelerated by 50% this year. IIEFA

93. The United States passed legislation to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas that is widely used in air conditioners and refrigeration. Lawmakers were swayed by a combined push from industry and environmentalists (unlike coal, oil and natural gas, HFCs don’t have a lobby). WaPo

94. In Canada and the United States, climate activists and indigenous groups won a number of major battles. In February, Canadian company Teck Resources pulled out of planned operations in the oil sands, in June the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Keystone XL pipeline were shut down, and in November all six major US banks ruled out financing for oil and gas development in the Arctic.

Protesters block train tracks in Toronto on Feb. 8 amid demonstrations across Canada against the planned route of the Coastal Gaslink pipeline on the 11th February 2020. Jason Hargrove/Flickr

95. The UK’s biggest pension fund, with over nine million members, divested from fossil fuels, and after an eight year fight, New York announced it would be getting rid of all oil and gas stocks from its $226 billion financial portfolio. It’s the first US state to do so, and the largest pension fund to dump fossil fuel investments ― ever, in the entire world. NYT

96. Hydrogen, the universe’s most abundant element, had a great year. The project pipeline for green hydrogen expanded from 3.5 GW to 15 GW in 2020, and dozens of countries announced new policies, meaning that about half of the world’s gross domestic product now has credible hydrogen strategies. Bloomberg

97. The world’s largest cement producer, LafargeHolcim, became the the first global building materials company to commit to reducing its emissions, and committed to 100% carbon neutrality by 2050 (reminder: the cement industry causes 8% of global carbon emissions). FT

98. Two of the world’s largest steel producers, Nippon Steel and POSCO, announced carbon neutral goals by 2050, and Swedish iron-ore giant, LKAB, announced it would be investing €39bn to decarbonize, the largest industrial investment ever made in Sweden. It’s one of the most consequential energy investments of all time — because it moves us a lot closer to decarbonizing the steel industry, which is also responsible for 8% of carbon emissions.

99. and finally we’re sorry, but we couldn’t resist. After four years of no pets in the White House (the longest stretch since 1840) two German shepherds, Champ and Major, are moving in. Major will be the first ‘First Dog’ from a shelter, reflecting a growing embrace by Americans of shelter dogs — more than 1.6 million were adopted last year, and forced euthanasia has fallen by more than two thirds since 2011. Nat Geo

The new US president will bring with him to the White House his two German shepherds: Champ, pictured here, and Major, who will be the first shelter dog to ever live in the White House. Win McNamee/Getty Images

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Angus Hervey
Future Crunch

From Melbourne and Cape Town, with love. Political economist and journalist, and co-founder of futurecrun.ch