Sikander Bakht Abbasi
IN 2020, one story dominated everything — Covid-19. In the immediate months that followed the outbreak of Coronavrius, the world as we knew it was completely turned upside down. This outbreak has exposed myths about global economic stability and integration of socio-economic lives. But behind these headlines, one should start looking out to the world beyond the pandemic and converge on myriad challenges that lie ahead. So, what stories will shape the post-Covid world? Four burning issues will consume news headlines in 2021.
1. Democracy is under threat: According to the US think-tank ‘Freedom House’, more or less eighty countries are witnessing democracy ‘backsliding’, most of which are from Africa. Actions of populist-cum-authoritarian regimes in countries such as, Belarus, Brazil and some others have polarized their societies into distinct politico-ideological views. In Asia, India held the unenviable top spot for impeding freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom of press. The pandemic has proved to be an excuse for these regimes to crackdown on contradictory opinions on the pretext of curbing exposure to the virus. Draconian internet laws and acts were enacted in Bangladesh and Pakistan to suppress dissenting voices, and Parliament was turned into a battleground for central and opposition governments. In sum, there is a real danger that democracy will continue to retreat in 2021. Widespread and equitable distribution of vaccines, however, will make it easier for general populace to gather and organize with a view to resisting democracy backsliding.
2. A chance to turn attention towards climate change: A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that was ensued by shuttering down of economic activities is not ample to meet the targets set under the Paris Agreement. In 2021, all eyes will be on Glasgow, United Kingdom, which will host a UN’s Climate Change Summit, entitled as ‘COP-26’. The year has already marked five years since the pledge made to bring rising global temperature down to 2 degree Celsius or ideally to 1.5 degree Celsius, above the pre-industrial levels. Climate experts predicted that the pledges made in 2015 by the world leaders, and subsequent actions taken thus far, will not be enough to combat the menace posed by extreme weather patterns. What is needed to get control of climate threat is a multilateral approach and sincere actions to reduce exorbitant emissions. With the newly elected US President Joe Biden is all set to enter the Oval Office, one of the major policies of his Administration is to put America back into the Paris Agreement in order to jointly take the lead in climate action. Such undertakings must give confidence to the rest of the countries that they can also meet their respective targets. It can be inferred that 2021 will be a huge tipping point in global climate negotiations.
3. US-China disputation: Any comprehensive debate about the post-Covid-19 world outlook is incomplete without witnessing continual fissures between the US and China on economic and technological fronts. The Trump Administration hurled intermittent blames and imposed sanctions on China for the latter’s alleged cyber attacks and technological theft across North America and Europe. On the economic front, the US has allied itself with Australia, Japan and India vis-à-vis ‘Indo-Pacific’ Strategy to look closer to China’s maritime activities. A number of Asian, European and African countries have already steeped toward China for economic advancement, and the ASEAN group is already ambiguous of inclining toward the US interests. Putting all the animosities aside, continuum of relations between the US and China is indispensable to resolve global health and climate problems. It is pertinent to mention that China assisted the US in 2005 during Hurricane ‘Katrina’ by providing a large sum of economic aid. Also, during the ongoing pandemic, both shared the data related to the cases emanating from the pandemic in order to jointly prevent it. Perhaps the most significant issue both can work on together is climate change. Thus, one of the foremost responsibilities of the incoming US President will be to take the China issue tacitly, which will eventually be meaningful in dealing with the most pressing economic, technological and environmental issues.
4. Contingency of vaccine nationalism: We are living in a desperate time of crisis. The outbreak of Coronavirus has widened economic instability, poverty and income gap, to name a few. Years of progress that was made with regard to dealing with multilateral health crisis has been emasculated, if not completely wiped out. In dealing with such exponential crisis, it is a major global responsibility that the most vulnerable communities which will require a major chunk of the distribution drives should not be left behind. This will be a crucial test for international health organizations and drug companies to subside any tragedy of ‘vaccine nationalism’. At a time when unity and assistance is the key to thwart social and economic repercussions of the pandemic, any move of ‘vaccine hoarding’ will further imperil the already fragile global cooperation. There remains a ray of hope that as soon as regular administration of vaccine doses rollout, cash-starved countries and communities will equally be reckoned to receive early vaccines. In a nutshell, only multilateral cooperation in terms of shared interests and delivery response will eventually end the pandemic for a better, safer future. Hope against hope.
—The writer is an M Phil scholar at Karachi University.