Much as individuals may want to consign 2020 to the dustbin of history, it taught many vital lessons and it sets the stage for the year ahead. It showed that a global pandemic is not just a health crisis, but also an economic and educational crisis full of inequity and much more. Everyone saw rising food insecurity, growing polarization, and surging mistrust of public institutions and leaders, not to mention a devastating and disproportionate toll on women, girls, and other marginalized communities. The same issues from 2020 carry on well into 2021. Climate change, ocial inequality, COVID-19, and other issues are all still prominent issues right now.
With COVID-19 still far from behind everyone, though, individuals must pay close attention to fault lines it has highlighted and deepened, and ones that lie ahead. Everyone has decisive choices to make that will determine whether the current system they’ve created, one already under siege, is sustainable going forward. With that in mind, here are global issues that should be prioritized in the year ahead.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable and marginalized communities around the world, particularly women and girls, people of color, and those already struggling to afford or access basic health care. The pandemic has also led to the world’s workers losing more than 10% of their income, or $3.5 trillion in the first three quarters of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. It is estimated that COVID-19 will push more than 71 million people into extreme poverty. Furthermore, issues of equality, on which there was already scant progress, have sadly regressed due to the pandemic. Twenty-five years since the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing declared that “women’s rights are human rights,” there is still no place or part of life where girls and women are treated equally to men and boys — and COVID-19 has made that discrepancy worse. Gender inequality is, as the United Nations Secretary-General put it, “the unfinished business of our time.”
Another area of burgeoning inequality in education, which should be the central equalizer. With classrooms going remote or shifting online, half of the world’s population, lacking a basic internet connection or computer, is put at an unfair disadvantage, one that will only worsen over time. According to the World Bank, 1.6 billion students were out of school at the first peek of the pandemic in April 2020. In low- and middle-income countries alone, 24 million children and youths may drop out or not have access to school next year.
Pandemic and poverty aside, everyone is facing a broader ecological crisis as ecosystems are collapsing, biodiversity is disappearing, and oceans are acidifying. Even though the slowdown in economic activity due to the pandemic created a brief drop in global carbon emissions, individuals cannot escape the cumulative effect of generations of unchecked human activity or ever afford to return to our pre-pandemic emission trajectory. The past year was on track to be one of the three warmest years on record globally, with record-breaking wildfires, hurricanes, floods, and droughts around the world. 2021 will be a decisive year for determining the health of the planet for centuries to come.
Do not mourn 2020. But instead, build on what it taught and showed everyone. While the pandemic knocked everyone even further off track to meet their goals, it feels like 2021 could offer a moment when vocal social movements, political will, economic necessity, and humanitarian emergency all align to give the momentum and urgency individuals need to kick-start transformative change for everyone everywhere. The risk of choosing a different path is great — but the opportunity ahead is inspiring.
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