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Our Top 25 Good News Stories of the Year

Updated: Jan 13, 2022

Even as the pandemic rumbled on and the climate crisis intensified, there was much progress to report on. Here are our top positive news stories of 2021 courtesy of Postive News

Photo by Vitolda Klein, Unsplash

1. A year when there was real hope for stabilising the climate

It was a massive year for the climate, and reminders about what’s at stake came thick and fast: the IPCC’s ‘code red’ report, Siberian wildfires, heat domes, floods. Alarm bells became deafening, but there were beacons of hope, too.

In January, the US – the world’s second largest emitter after China – re-joined the Paris agreement, injecting fresh urgency into the climate conversation.

Then there was COP26. Though dismissed (not entirely unfairly) by Greta Thunberg as a load of “blah, blah, blah”:

The climate summit offered signs of progress that can’t just be written off as greenwash.

It didn’t go far enough, but analysis suggests it may have been enough to keep the climate stable – if countries stick to their commitments.

There were signs of breakthroughs elsewhere, too …

2. A record year for renewables

In January a report revealed that, for the first time, renewables generated more electricity than fossil fuels in Europe for the whole of 2020 – a sign of how quickly wind and solar are scaling up.

Records also tumbled in the UK, which recorded its “greenest day ever” in April. Meanwhile, another report revealed that:

Wind and solar are now outperforming fossil fuels financially, as the smart money shifts towards renewable energy.

All good news for the climate.

3. A year when many controversial fossil fuel projects were axed

To the delight of climate activists, some high-profile fossil fuel projects were canned in 2021. President Biden pulled the plug on the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline; Drax axed what would have been the largest gas power plant in Europe; Shell abandoned plans to exploit Cambo oil field in Scotland; China pledged to stop funding overseas coal projects; and Portugal became the latest European country to quit coal.

The scope of the retreat from coal was revealed in a report in September. It found that three-quarters of planned coal power plants had been cancelled since the Paris agreement – not enough, but a start.

Then there was the landmark court ruling against Shell in the Netherlands. The oil giant was ordered to slash emissions by 45 per cent by 2030. It’s appealing, but the case is likely to set a precedent.

4. A year when alternative therapies showed great promise

Researchers examining whether psychedelics can treat depression and other mental health conditions continued to break new ground in 2021.

In March, a potent hallucinogen used in shamanic rituals – DMT – was mooted as a potential cure for depression. A trial launched to find out more.

Other clinical trials showed promise, including one that used talking therapy and psilocybin – the psychoactive ingredient found in magic mushrooms – to treat depression. It concluded in November and was found to have reduced depressive symptoms in participants. More research is needed, but early data looks encouraging.

There was also evidence that social prescribing can reduce depression in people with dementia, while meditating was touted as a way to make your brain quicker.

Photo by Wix

5. A year when medical advances brought hope to millions

While Covid dominated health news, there were many other medical developments in 2021. A malaria vaccine was approved, with the potential to save thousands of lives in Africa; a breast cancer vaccine trial launched in the US; and brain-reading computer software allowed a paralysed man to compose sentences on a computer for the first time.

Elsewhere, HIV jabs were approved for use in Britain, negating the need for daily pills; a ‘game changing’ brain cancer drug showed promise; and whole genome sequencing was found to improve rare disease diagnosis.

6. A year when the world became more socially progressive

Despite the culture wars, creeping nationalism and rise of authoritarianism, the world has become more socially progressive.

That’s according to the latest Social Progress Index. Since 2011, it has charted the progress of 167 nations, assessing them on things like rights, access to education, quality of healthcare, personal safety, and quality of environment.

The result? Good news, largely: 147 nations recorded a better score in 2021 than they did a decade ago, with just four countries (the US, Brazil, Syria, and South Sudan) regressing.

“Social progress is advancing across the world,” a report concluded.

7. A year when more nations strengthened LGBTQ+ rights

The year saw more nations introduce legislation to tackle discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, although there’s much work to do.

Switzerland (finally) said ‘yes’ to same-sex marriages; Canada passed a bill to ban conversion therapy; Montenegro registered its first same-sex partnership; and Botswana upheld a ruling decriminalising homosexuality, rejecting a government appeal to overturn the law.

Elsewhere, members of the LGBTQ+ community rose to prominence in politics. Tessa Ganserer and Nyke Slawik became the first transgender women to win parliamentary seats in Germany; Eduardo Leite became Brazil’s first openly gay governor; and Sarah McBride was sworn in as the first transgender US state senator.

Photo by Siora Photography, Unsplash

8. A year when there was significant wins for indigenous groups

Indigenous people continued to face persecution in many parts of the world in 2021, but there were some signs of progress.

Australia finally pledged to pay reparations to Indigenous Australians who had been forcibly removed from their parents as children. More than 100,000 indigenous children – known as the Stolen Generation – were taken from their families between 1900 and 1970. The reparations won’t make up for what happened, but they mark a shift in tone.

Elsewhere, indigenous politicians rose to prominent leadership roles. Deb Haaland became the first indigenous US cabinet secretary; Canada appointed its first indigenous governor general (Mary Simon); and so, did New Zealand (Dame Cindy Kiro).

9. A year which marked significant progress on female representation

Female politicians were chosen to lead Estonia, Honduras, Samoa, Sweden, Tanzania and Tunisia for the first time in 2021.

Meanwhile, Nigerian economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala became the first female and first African leader of the World Trade Organization.

In the corporate world, efforts to boost female leadership in UK boardrooms bore some fruit. A report revealed that the number of female FTSE100 directors has doubled in five years.

Among other signs of progress was the Muslim Council of Britain electing Zara Mohammed as its first female leader.

Photo by Gabrielle Henderson, Unsplash

10. A year when more progress was made on racial diversity

In March, the most diverse Oscar’s nominee list in history was unveiled – a sign that the Academy Awards is finally shedding its reputation for being pale and male.

That same month, Wales announced that black history lessons are to be mandatory in schools. And in the UK local elections, Joanne Anderson became the first black woman to lead a major city (Liverpool).

The UK’s Royal Society of Literature also had some good news: in December, it appointed Booker prize-winning author Bernardine Evaristo as its new president. She is the first writer of colour to hold the position.

11. A year when major multinational took aim at class inequality

You’ve heard of the gender pay gap, but what about the socio-economic pay gap? Well, you may hear more about it soon, after KPMG, an accounting firm, became the first major business in the UK to publish one.

The result? An 8.6 per cent median pay gap between employees from working-class backgrounds and those from middle-class families.

The good news is that KPMG promised to address that. It also called on other firms to publish socio-economic pay gaps to help tackle class inequality.

12. A year when the G7 backed a deal to tax multinationals

The UK, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Canada, and the US reached a “historic” deal in June to make multinationals pay more tax. The seven nations agreed to tackle tax avoidance by making companies pay more in the countries where they do business. They also agreed to a minimum corporate tax rate of 15 per cent.

The rules will only apply in the G7, and 15 per cent is on the low side compared to existing tax rates. Nevertheless, the move is considered a progressive step towards a global agreement on tax reform, which once seemed unlikely.

13. A year when the UK tamed big tech to protect children online

In September, the UK introduced pioneering legislation to make the digital world safer for children. The “Age-Appropriate Design Code” is the first of its kind in the world and represents a significant taming of big tech.

Among other things, it requires online firms – including social media platforms and search engines – to respect children’s privacy and personal data. Campaigners described the introduction of the law as “a great day for children”.

14. A year when basic incomes went mainstream

With furlough schemes making the idea of a guaranteed, state-backed salary seem less radical, the concept of a universal basic income moved from the realm of utopian thinkers into mainstream discourse in 2021.

Basic income trials were pledged for Wales, for a South Korean province and for some cities in the US, a country that has not traditionally been a bastion of progressive welfare initiatives. Meanwhile, Ireland announced a basic income for artists to help them recover from the pandemic.

The preliminary results of a basic income trial in Stockton, California, were also published. And there was good news: far from disincentivising work, as naysayers warned it would, people on the income found full-time work at more than twice the rate of non-recipients. They also reported significant improvements in mental health.