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(Image: AAP/Dean Lewins)

A COVID-19 vaccine has given the world a glimmer of hope that life might return to normal in 2021. But are we being overly optimistic about what the new year will bring?

According to some experts, yes. World Food Programme executive director David Beasley has warned 2021 “is literally going to be catastrophic” as the pandemic and its economic impact ravages poor countries and fuels a spike in famine.

And while the vaccine might slow the spread of the virus, it is still largely unknown whether it will prevent transmission of COVID-19 or just protect against the illness.

Here are some other things we will have to worry about in 2021.

Climate crisis

2020 is shaping up to be the third-hottest year on record (even despite massive declines in carbon dioxide emissions due to the widespread economic shutdowns) and we are still nowhere near where we need to be in terms of reducing emissions to reach the 2015 Paris agreement goals.

Unless the world takes radical action, we are heading towards “catastrophic” global temperature rises, a UN-backed report warned earlier this month. And in the meantime Australia is staring down a wet, dangerous summer as La Nina threatens flooding and storms across the country. You don’t have to look any further than Byron Bay to see what that could mean for us.

Biden v the Senate

Joe Biden’s win has brought hope that 2021 will see an end to much of the turmoil created by the Trump presidency. But what if Biden doesn’t have control of the Senate?

Moreover, even if the Democrats win in both crucial Senate runoff elections on January 5, Biden will still have a conservative Supreme Court to deal with. Here he faces a battle over the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) as well as a legitimacy crisis over the conservative stacking of the court.

All this on top of healing a nation torn apart by a deadly pandemic, racial injustice and a deep political divide.

Trump on the loose

Whether or not Trump remains on the political scene after Biden’s inauguration on January 20, experts say he still poses a unique threat to a Biden presidency — and the world — in 2021.

There are many ways in which Trump could continue to be a destabilising force, including by releasing highly classified information. His relationships with foreign powers including Russia could also pose geopolitical risks even once he leaves the White House.


What’s in store for Australia if its relationship with China continues to deteriorate? Australia is in many ways the canary in the coalmine when it comes to China’s dominant presence on the world stage and how that plays out in a post-COVID world.

Will our current trade war trigger a broader geopolitical conflict? Is China testing us ahead of a bigger confrontation with the West? As parts of Australia’s economy start to open up again, particularly the university sector, China’s trade threats pose a huge problem for the government, with an all-out trade war threatening to cost Australia 6% of GDP.

Cyber attack

In case all that’s not enough to worry about, the International Monetary Fund has released research that shows the world’s financial system could collapse if growing fears of a devastating cyber-security hack are realised. Is this the Y2K of the 2020s, or a legitimate threat? We’ll just have to wait to find out.