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COVID-19 and the Doomsday Clock

In 2021, the Doomsday Clock will remain at just 100 seconds to midnight, indicating an alarmingly high level of existential risk to humanity. Although some promising developments could have moved the clock back from the brink, the COVID-19 pandemic showed that we cannot take stability and competent governance for granted.

OSLO – Last January, my fellow Elders Mary Robinson and Ban Ki-moon participated in the unveiling of the Doomsday Clock, the annual indicator of global catastrophic risk published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. In 2020, the clock’s hands moved closer to “midnight” than they have ever been – just 100 seconds away – and they will remain there in 2021.

It is hardly reassuring that we came no closer to midnight this year. The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a stark and deadly demonstration of the precariousness of our way of life. We have made remarkable progress on vaccines, and a new US administration brings hope of renewed multilateral cooperation. But there is no doubt that the future will be rife with existential threats: new pandemics, the climate crisis, nuclear conflict, and other risks that we cannot ignore.

Post-pandemic political leadership will be a crucial test of the world’s ability to rise to these challenges. Too many of our leaders have been found wanting. The virus has claimed some two million lives and wrought economic devastation worldwide. While mass vaccine rollouts offer some people a glimmer of hope, most of the world’s population will remain unprotected for quite some time.

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