(Council on Foreign Relations) The Ten Most Significant World Events in 2021

2. COVID-19 Vaccines Arrive as the Virus Mutates. The vaccines created to address the novel coronavirus may join the smallpox, polio, and measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines as major advances in saving lives and diminishing morbidity. The speed at which COVID-19 vaccines were developed was stunning. Vaccines historically took ten to fifteen years to develop. The quickest any vaccine had been developed previously was the four years it took to create the mumps vaccine. COVID-19 vaccines were created in less than a year. Just as important, the leading COVID-19 vaccines worked stunningly well; the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both more than 90 percent effective against early COVID-19 variants. More than 7.4 billion vaccine doses were administered in 184 countries in the first eleven months of 2021, with seventy countries making donations. Unfortunately, too many people who could have been vaccinated chose not to, and too many people who wanted to get vaccinated couldn’t. That was deadly because COVID-19 is incredibly adaptive. The Delta variant, first identified in December 2020 in India, was more infectious than its predecessors and soon became the dominant strain around the world. In November 2021, South African scientists identified the emergence of the Omicron variant. Within weeks it had been found around the world. As 2021 ended, it was unclear whether Omicron presented a greater health threat or would send the global economy into another tailspin. What was clear is that more than 5 million people globally and 800,000 Americans had died from COVID-19.

1. Countries Fail the Climate Change Challenge—Again. “A code red for humanity.” That’s how UN Secretary General António Guterres’ described the UN report released in August that concluded that humanity faces catastrophic climate change unless the emission of heat-trapping gases is slashed. But one didn’t need to read the 4,000-page report to know that. Extreme weather dominated the news in 2021, as it has for much of the past decade. Record drought wracked the American southwest. Record flooding devastated Belgium and western Germany. Epic wildfires tore through Greece. Late season monsoons ravaged India and Nepal. Climate optimists could find some developments to cheer in 2021. President Biden committed the United States to rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day in office. China agreed in September to discontinue financing coal-fired power plants overseas, and Iceland opened a facility to take carbon dioxide out of the air. At the COP-26 meeting in Glasgow in November countries pledged to take steps to address climate change, including by cutting methane emissions. But pledges aren’t accomplishments. Carbon emissions jumped in 2021 as the global economy roared back to life. Even as President Biden pushed Congress to address climate change in a major infrastructure bill, he asked OPEC to increase oil production in a bid to lower gasoline prices. He was hardly the only world leader hoping to have his cake and eat it too. The transition away from fossil fuels poses difficult choices. Mother Nature, however, doesn’t give credit for degree of difficulty.

Read it all and see what you make of their choices.


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