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Wash Post Columnist: ‘The world in 2030 may be worse than in 2020’ – World may be ‘on the brink of climate disaster’ – Touts World Economic Forum as ‘a bastion of optimism’

By Ishaan Tharoor – Columnist on the foreign desk of The Washington Post
The Washington Post
Jan. 4, 2021
Updated: Jan. 4, 2021 3:55 a.m.

If you’re like me, you were probably flooded with jubilant messages and memes about the end of 2020. Our black swan year of crisis and calamity, plague and polarization, is over. And in 2021, there are reasons for optimism, not least as countries around the world roll out the first phases of coronavirus vaccine plans.

But the broader picture could yet be quite grim. This past week marked the formal start of a new decade. To kick it off, I am spotlighting three trendlines that could define the years to come.

The deepening toll of climate change

2030 represents a major milestone for the international organizations and climate scientists that have been climate change’s doleful town criers. Two years ago, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that without huge, unprecedented cuts to carbon emissions over the next decade, the world would place itself on the brink of climate disaster. Subsequent studies suggested that, even if the demands of climate activists were met, it would take decades to measure any discernible effects.

There are reasons for hope. Myriad governments have embraced ambitious plans to transition their economies toward being carbon neutral. The incoming Biden administration intends to add momentum to global climate efforts abandoned by President Donald Trump, while Chinese President Xi Jinping said last month that China plans to decrease its carbon footprint to at least 65 percent of where it was in 2005 by 2030. The World Economic Forum – a bastion of optimism – foresees a future in 2030 in which urban centers are transformed into zones shaped by pedestrian activity, technology increasingly obviates the need to own cars, fewer people eat meat, people breathe cleaner air and renewable, clean energy dominates the energy sector.

That’s the rosy view. The demands of a rising middle class in the developing world may prove a challenge to decarbonization efforts, while climate skepticism may further drive a host of right-wing movements in the West as their opponents go green. Rather than a warning to the world, melting ice caps in the Arctic are already opening new trade lanes and avenues for exploration, stoking a new era of geopolitical competition. All the while, scientists predict an increasing number of extreme weather events wracking the world and destabilizing vulnerable communities.

The mess of global governance

The past decade shifted our view of global politics. Long gone is any certainty in the inexorability of liberal democracy – single-party states still flourish, while demagogic populism and far-right nationalism are powerful forces within many of the world’s major democracies. Rights groups warn of the erosion of once-healthy democracies and new threats to freedom and privacy posed by government cyber surveillance.