Too often, it’s easy to get bogged down with disheartening environmental news, but these past weeks gave us many things to smile about and be grateful for. Here is a round up of our favorite recent conservation wins:

Panama’s government will now be required to consider the impact of all laws and policies on the natural world.

After a year of debate, Panama triumphantly joined Colombia, New Zealand, Chile, Italy and Mexico as countries that have granted nature legal protection, either through their constitutions or the court system. In groundbreaking new legislation, President Laurentino Cortizo signed off last week on a new ruling that states that nature has “the right to exist, persist and regenerate its life cycles.” Sounds good in theory, but what does all that mean in action? Basically, starting in 2023, Panama’s parliament will have to consider the impact of its laws and policies on the natural world and will also be legally on the hook for enforcing the rights of nature through its foreign policies. The legislative text defines nature as “a unique, indivisible and self-regulating community of living beings, elements and ecosystems interrelated to each other that sustains, contains and reproduces all beings.” Well done, Panama!

Detail of hands showing microplastics on the beach

In one of the most significant treaties since the Paris Climate Agreement, the UN will now put restrictions on plastic pollution, use or design. 

Member states held intense meetings for over a week in Nairobi, Kenya, and finally agreed on the outline of a pact that aims to cut down on plastic pollution. Government officials cheered wildly (and with good reason!) after the successful adoption of a resolution to create a legally binding plastic pollution treaty, set to be finalized by 2024. Plastic pollution is a global environmental crisis that affects every country. Approximately 7 billion of the 9.2 billion tons of plastic produced over the past 70 years became waste, ending up in landfills or dumped in the ocean (for perspective, every minute, the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into the ocean). Plastic pollution alters natural processes, reducing ecosystems’ ability to adapt and putting many animals at risk. Thousands of seabirds and sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals are killed every year after ingesting plastic or getting entangled in it. “We’re making history today, and you should all be proud,” said Espen Barth Eide, President of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA). “Plastic pollution has grown into an epidemic. With today’s resolution, we are officially on track for a cure.” The UNEA calls the resolution “the most significant environmental deal since the Paris accord.” Now, an intergovernmental committee has the responsibility of negotiating a deal that will have ripple effects on businesses (especially those companies centered on oil or chemicals) and economies around the world that are major plastic producers, including the United States, China, India, Saudi Arabia and Japan, all of which are heavy users of single-use plastic.

The SEC has proposed sweeping new rules on company climate disclosures.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted on massive rule changes that would require public companies to disclose climate-related risks and greenhouse gas emissions. Nat Hab happens to be way ahead of the pack on this and will be viewed as a leader in not just travel but in the U.S. Stock Exchange, too. Though some other companies choose to voluntarily report some of this information, there are no mandatory standards in place, which makes it open concerns about greenwashing and difficult for investors to compare data across companies. “There’s an efficiency that comes from standardization,” the SEC chair Gary Gensler told reporters after the vote. While it’s off to a good start, this new rule could take a while to finalize. The SEC is taking public comment on the proposals for 60 days, and Gensler was hesitant to state a clear time frame for the final adoption of a rule. “We’ll take the time it takes to get it right,” he said. Gensler bravely faced some heavy criticism that the SEC is overreaching. “It’s a disclosure regime within a long tradition of disclosure regimes,” he said, noting that the agency was simply responding to investor demand for more information on climate risks. Many representatives put forth their opinion that this type of information “is not material for most companies,” but Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island defiantly stood up to say that the SEC didn’t go far enough because the proposal omits disclosures on “climate-related lobbying and influencing activities,” which he called “the single most material disclosures a company could make to achieve climate safety.” While we applaud Senator Whitehouse’s forthright declaration, we are still happy to hear that the SEC is moving in a more conscientious direction on this matter.

Monarch Butterflies on tree branch in blue sky background, Michoacan, Mexico

Western monarch butterflies make a spectacular recovery in CA.

Let’s give a big hurrah for these numbers: according to an annual count, more than 247,000 monarch butterflies overwintering in California were counted in 2021, up from a mere 2,000 butterflies in 2020!  That’s a mind-blowing increase of a hundredfold. “We’re ecstatic with the results and hope this trend continues,” said Emma Pelton, the western monarch lead with Xerces Society, the organization that heads up the annual count. Scientists aren’t quite sure why numbers have skyrocketed so much for Danaus plexippus but think that perhaps it’s due to an array of environmental factors, including climate and food resources. For example, it may have been weather-related, which could have caused an increase in the milkweed plants that the butterflies feed on and lay their eggs in. Less agricultural activity during the COVID-19 pandemic means less pesticide use, and pesticides are notoriously bad for butterflies. California wildfires could have caused a fantastic year for wildflowers, creating more food for the butterflies. Whatever caused this population boom, we at Nat Hab are here for it!