A spirit bear in the Great Bear Rainforest (photo: Ian McAllister)

As 2016 draws to a close, we reflect on the highlights, surprises, challenges and tragedies of the year that was. If we are to believe popular opinion, 2016 was a terrible year. The war in Syria became increasingly catastrophic. A man who has repeatedly denied the existence of climate change became President of the World’s largest democracy. We lost the artistic genius of Prince, David Bowie, George Michael, Leonard Cohen, Carrie Fisher and many others.

What’s left to celebrate?

I worked with my team at MODUS to develop a list of some of our favorite things that happened in 2016, especially those things that strengthened our communities and our world. 

All of these stories serve to remind us that our governments, businesses, non-profits and we as citizens have the power to save the planet.

1. The Paris Agreement – At the Paris climate conference, 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal and legally-binding global climate deal. The agreement sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C.

2. Canada’s Commitment to the Paris Agreement - For the first time in Canada, the government is pricing carbon pollution as part of the country’s commitment to the Paris Agreement. In March 2016, all Canadian provinces adopted the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change to invest in clean energy and reduce carbon emissions.

3. Robson Square Plaza - The City of Vancouver made a monumental decision this year to close the 800 block of Robson Street, which runs through Robson Square, Vancouver’s main public plaza in the heart of downtown. With this closure, Robson Square will become downtown Vancouver’s largest public space. And the north side of the Art Gallery is getting a fresh new plaza design as well.

4. Renewable Energy is “Crushing” Fossil FuelsClean energy investment broke new records in 2015 and is now seeing twice as much global funding as fossil fuels. To prove this, California is now powering over 6 million homes with solar power, a record in the US, and Portugal ran its entire nation solely on renewable energy for four days straight.

5. Public Transit Investments – The Lower Mainland’s transit referendum may have failed, but Los Angeles residents voted in favour of a permanent sales tax increase to fund a major expansion of the county’s public transit system. Measure M will bring in $860 million annually for decades and will fund expanded subway lines, sidewalk improvements, cycling infrastructure, bike share expansion, and a network of greenways. Locally, Metro Vancouver celebrated the expansion of its rapid transit network with the opening of the Evergreen Line in December.

6. Zero Waste in Vancouver – The City of Vancouver is the first large city in the world to commit to a zero waste target. As part of its ambitious goal to become the Greenest City in the World by 2020, Vancouver has already reduced solid waste going to landfills by 23%  – almost halfway towards the 2020 target of a 50% reduction. With help from MODUS, the City is now creating a long-term Zero Waste Strategy (with a target of 0 waste by 2040).

AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh

7. Reforestation in India and Beyond – on July 11th, 2016, 800,00 volunteers in India planted 50 million trees in 24 hours to combat climate change, smashing world records for the most trees planted in a single day. In December, African nations pledged to reforest 100 million hectares. A wide range of stakeholders, from countries to companies, also signed on to the non-binding New York Declaration of Forests with the goal of halving deforestation by 2020 and ending it by 2030.

8. Endangered Species are Rebounding - Endangered tiger, panda and manatee populations grew in 2016, demonstrating that conservation efforts really work. The giant panda is no longer an endangered species, following decades of work by conservationists. Wild tiger populations appear to be slowly rebounding thanks to efforts to crack down on poaching and protect wildlife reserves in places like India, Russia, Nepal, and Bhutan.  The Florida manatee population now hovers around 6,300, a 500 percent increase from 1991, thanks to conservation efforts.

9. The Great Bear Rainforest - On February 1, 2016, Premier Christy Clark announced an agreement between the province of British Columbia,  First Nations, environmentalists and the forestry industry to protect 85% of the 6.4 million hectare Great Bear Rainforest from industrial logging. In December 2016, Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, officially ended its greatest threat, the Northern Gateway Project.

10. Syrian Refugees - While the war in Syria rages on, Canada has welcomed 38,713 Syrian refugees since November 4, 2015.

All of these good news stories demonstrate real momentum in efforts to make the world a better place. Let’s keep moving forward in 2017.