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New Year 2022: Some of the events that could shape the world in the year ahead
January 1, 2022
Most news, by definition, is unpredictable.
But there are, in the course of a day, month, year, a number of events that journalists know are coming. We call these diary events.
Some are bigger than others. Some can be predicted to be significant, even seismic.
While we don’t know yet the full impact of these events on the world, we can predict with some certainty that the following will help shape the course of 2022 and, possibly, the years beyond:
On 6 February, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will have been on the throne for 70 years and later in the year the country will celebrate her platinum jubilee.
In time, her reign may define the epoch, as Britain has gone from a largely hierarchical imperial power to a culturally and socially diverse modern nation.
Much analysis will be written about how the lives of the people in the UK have changed throughout that period – forcing us, at times, to reflect on some darker times in the past.
Some of it will look at how the Queen’s role went from head of an empire to figurehead for a Commonwealth of nations that are now growing in power and confidence.
Only last month, Barbados – where the first 200 years of British colonial rule resulted in large number of Africans being enslaved in the sugar trade – became a republic, replacing the Queen as head of state with a president.
At the time, there were suggestions Barbados’ move may fuel fervour in other Commonwealth countries, such as Jamaica, to follow suit.
It comes amid growing calls for reparations – to help right the wrongs of the past – and a climate in which the impact of colonialism is being increasingly widely discussed.
While many Britons will look forward to the planned jubilee celebrations in June, some around the globe may use it as an opportunity to reassess their relationship with an institution some see as indivisible from the UK’s, at times, controversial history.
Others may look also to what will follow. Yet, amid a Christmas in which coronavirus fears are resurgent, it is too early to say whether the epoch that comes after the second Elizabethan age, will be the Charlesian, or post-COVID, era.
Donald Trump has claimed he expects to be able to launch his new social media platform by the end of the first quarter of 2022 – meaning by 31 March at the latest.
He has big ambitions. TRUTH Social, as it is to be called, aims to rival Twitter and other platforms that banned Mr Trump after the 6 January Capitol riots, along with Netflix and other streaming video services.
The platform has said that it has lined up $1bn (£750m) in investments from a group of unnamed institutional investors and has predicted it will have 81 million users by 2026.
What remains unclear are the platform’s user policies, and whether it will become a mecca for Mr Trump’s supporters and those who express extreme views.
Existing social media firms have been under significant pressure to crack down on misinformation, abuse and extremism on their sites – something they say they have acted on.
Whether TRUTH would be as sensitive to criticism as some of the other platforms – which some say haven’t gone far enough – remains to be seen.
In any case, it may be used as a platform by Mr Trump, or his allies, should any of them run for president in 2024.
The media venture has hit a number of hurdles, the most recent of which involves financial regulators in the US looking into a deal that would bring the company to the stock market.
Nonetheless, presuming the venture is able to overcome any legal issues it is facing, it is gearing up for launch, and is available for pre-order on the Apple app store, with the tag line “Follow the Truth”.
Emmanuel Macron arrived at the Elysee Palace in 2017 amid an upsurge of discontent against the status quo of French politics, heralding what some believed was a new era.
His emergence as a youthful centrist who united left and right to defeat the far-right candidate of Marine Le Pen was seen as a victory against extremism.
But, in the four years since he was elected, rather than fade into the background a beaten movement, the far-right has erupted into the mainstream, sending several challenges Mr Macron’s way ahead of his bid for re-election next April.
Added to that is the revival of the centre-right, which could see Mr Macron not even make the second round of the vote, assuming he eventually officially announces his candidacy.
The past four years have been dogged by unrest, with the ‘yellow vest’ protests among a series of sometimes violent clashes between French authorities and those angry at Mr Macron’s policies, such as proposals for new labour laws.
Observers have accused the French president of lurching to the right to counter the rise in far-right support, particularly following the apparently religiously motivated murder of a French teacher by a student.
In recent weeks, hordes of supporters of one of Mr Macron’s far-right challengers, Eric Zemmour, threw punches and chairs at a small group of protesters when they stood up at his rally wearing T-shirts that read “No to racism”.
So far, Mr Macron is ahead of his nearest rival, Ms Le Pen, but when her support is added to Mr Zemmour’s, it means around a third of potential voters support a far-right candidate in the first round.
It is likely to result in a rancorous election campaign, with controversial issues being discussed and divisive opinions being aired.
Even if Mr Macron wins, he may find it difficult to maintain the image of a unifier in an increasingly divided France.
ABBA tour – and Adele’s first big concerts in a long time
In 2021, two acts returned to the pop stage after significant hiatuses.
The longest off-stage was ABBA, who released their first album in 40 years – after such a gap that Agnetha, Benny, Bjorn, and Anna-Frid had to be digitally remastered for their promotional video.
Inevitably, Voyage soared to the top of the charts in most countries it was released but with many artists earning most of their income from live events, a tour is lined up.
But, with all the ABBA members now in their 70s, in a realisation of a long-term project masterminded by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, the tour is due feature the performers as virtual representations of themselves, as well as a 10-piece band on stage, in a bid to recreate the experience of seeing them live in their heyday.
It has been said the “digital entertainment experience” created for the Voyage tour cost £15m, but the band are certain to recoup the outlay as there are barely any seats left out of those offered for the original four-month run at the 3,000 capacity custom-built arena at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
This is perhaps remarkable considering the tickets cost upwards of £70.50, with a large number being sold at several hundred pounds. More have since gone on sale.
Yet, while some might say it is a concert series for our increasingly virtual age, others have asked whether it crosses a Rubicon. Abba may have been one of the first bands to have a professionally touring tribute band in Bjorn Again, but not many bands have charged their fans so much money for a performance from which they are actually absent.
After a two-year period when live performances have increasingly gone online, does this indicate a further direction of travel, in which live acts no longer have to be live, and only have to digitally immerse their audience to ensure they sell huge numbers of tickets?
Scotching that thought, perhaps, will be the comeback of another megastar returning after a period of absence – Adele, who will be performing live for two nights at the British Summer Time festival in July. That has also sold out.
Picking up on the buzz following the release of her first album in six years, 30, she is also set to embark on a residency in Las Vegas, for which some tickets cost thousands of dollars – a sum that has been attacked by her fans as “extortionate”.
After two years without the chance to see much live music, 2022 may be the year in which music lovers show they are increasingly flexible in what they will pay, and for what, in the future.
New space station
In August and September, rocket launches are planned that will enable the completion of a space craft that will change near-earth orbit forever.
Mengtian, a laboratory module, will be sent beyond the stratosphere to join Wentian (another lab module) and Tianhe, the core module of China’s new space station Tiangong.
Chinese astronauts have already been up to Tianhe to work on the growing orbiter, but once Mengtian is in place, China will become the third nation to be able to put people into space for lengthy periods of time, to conduct experiments and carry out missions.
It will be the first time in 21 years that orbiters from geopolitical rivals have both occupied the thermosphere. The Soviet-built Mir crashed back to earth in 2001, not long after the International Space Station (ISS) became operational.
While it is designed to carry out scientific research, it nonetheless marks a step-up in China’s space ambitions and will intensify concerns that space is again becoming a race with national pride as its driver.
China developed its own space station after it was excluded from the ISS project, due to the US Congress passing a law requiring any China-NASA co-operation to receive national security clearance from the FBI.
The law was a sign of US anxiety over its emerging superpower rival but, with no sign of tensions being eased, China’s determination to catch up only raises concern that the new space race could eventually result in a space conflict.
At the end of the year, in November and December, the world will be witness to a global football competition the like of which has never been seen before.
Never has the World Cup been staged in an Arab country, a Muslim country, in winter or in a country as small as Qatar.
The tiny gas-rich Gulf state has spent an estimated $220bn on facilities and infrastructure since it was controversially awarded the host-nation status in 2010.
It might suggest Qatar is determined to impress, as if the lavish new air-conditioned stadiums weren’t enough to do so.
Yet the row over allowing a country with little footballing history, and one with a highly questioned human rights record, to stage the biggest sporting contest on the planet has already had consequences.
Those at the top of the world footballing body FIFA at the time the decision was made have been replaced amid a series of scandals.
FIFA has been outspoken in its determination to shrug off the whiff of controversy and has been making efforts to be more transparent than ever.
The next World Cup, in 2026, will be held not in one nation, and certainly not one single rich one, but in three – Mexico, the US and Canada.
While it hasn’t been stated, some in FIFA may have been hoping that without organisational power being concentrated in the hands of one country’s footballing authorities, 2026’s three-country set-up could dilute the risk of corruption.
What is certain is that, by sharing the burden, it should improve sustainability and reduce the extent to which a major global sporting event will leave a legacy that becomes a ‘white elephant’.
Qatar, while promising the highest levels of sustainability, will be under considerable scrutiny to see what its multi-billion dollar outlay turns into.
Of course, the events highlighted here are only the ones we know are coming.
News is not predictable and neither is its ongoing relationship with change. Like COVID, the Metoo movement and the death of George Floyd have done in the last few years, other events will come and go that have the potential to cause great shifts in what the world thinks is important.
The one thing that is certain is that change will happen.