Points of Progress: Serbia’s tech boom draws workers, and more

Noah Robertson


Carbon emissions from the global electricity system fell by 2% in 2019, the largest such drop in 30 years, according to a report from the climate think tank Ember. The decrease comes as the United States and European Union increasingly eschew coal-generated electricity in favor of gas and renewables. Worldwide output from coal power plants contracted by 3% last year, falling by a quarter in the EU and 16% in the U.S. Solar and wind power, meanwhile, rose 15%, accounting for 8% of the world’s electricity generation. The report warned that some of the recent decrease is a product of mild winters and that much more dramatic action is needed from governments and businesses to avoid the worst effects of climate change. (The Guardian)

1. Ireland

The Pritzker Architecture Prize, the field’s highest award, was jointly awarded to two women for the first time. Irish architects Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell received the prize after 42 years of working together at their Dublin-based firm, Grafton Architects. Only three other women, two of them in collaboration with male architects, have received the award since its establishment in 1979. Sarah Whiting, dean of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, says this year’s prize reflects the increased number of women in architecture. (NPR)

2. United Kingdom

Across the United Kingdom, 104 communities have been awarded Plastic Free Community status, up from just one in 2017, and more than 500 others are seeking the accreditation. The increase is largely a product of the Plastic Free Communities initiative, a grassroots campaign led by Surfers Against Sewage, a Cornwall-based conservation nonprofit that awards the accreditation. To receive the status, which does not mean the area is completely devoid of single-use plastics, locales must follow a five-point plan focused on community-based advocacy and regulation. Totally eliminating single-use plastics in these areas, advocates say, will require wider reform from larger corporations. (HuffPost)

3. The Netherlands

Around 75% of commercial vessels on the waters of Amsterdam are now emissions-free. Canal boats, the city’s most popular tourist attraction, are converting to electric power as part of a push from Amsterdam’s new mayor, who has called for a ban on diesel engines in city waters by 2025. Retrofitting existing craft with new electric engines is much cheaper than building new vessels, and the government aims to have 100 boat-charging stations operational by the end of next year. The city estimates that only about 5% of Amsterdam’s total 12,000 recreational vessels qualify as emissions-free. (Reuters)

4. Serbia

A surprising tech renaissance in Serbia is helping reverse brain drain in the Balkan country’s economy. Serbia’s technology industry now accounts for at least 6% of gross domestic product and employs around 45,000 people. Tech exports reached $1.5 billion in 2019, up 55% from two years before. The sector’s growth has attracted investment from large corporations such as Microsoft, and the national government, which has poured tens of millions of dollars into improved tech education and digital infrastructure. While hundreds of thousands of well-educated Serbs have emigrated since strongman Slobodan Milosevic lost power in 2000, new opportunities for employment in information technology are encouraging citizens to return to or stay in their country of birth. (The Economist and Reuters)

5. Hong Kong

A Hong Kong court ruled that married same-sex couples have the right to apply for public housing. In one of the world’s most expensive cities – where almost half of the population of 7 million relies on public housing – the ruling will increase access to affordable housing for LGBTQ residents. While Hong Kong decriminalized homosexuality in 1991, it still does not recognize same-sex marriage. Despite maintaining a ban on same-sex civil partnerships last year, Hong Kong has seen a recent uptick in LGBTQ rights, with court rulings granting same-sex partners the right to dependent visas and spousal benefits. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

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