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Optimism for the New Year

There are at least five reasons for optimism in 2021. In the coming year, we can lay the foundations for a new era of sustainable development, peace, and cooperation, though we must also be vigilant to stop the forces of greed, ignorance, and hatred from hijacking the new technologies for their ulterior purposes.

NEW YORK – The year 2020 was a harrowing one, with the COVID-19 pandemic, worldwide economic reversals, widespread climate-related disasters, pervasive social unrest, and even US President Donald Trump’s phony claims about massive electoral fraud and calls among his backers for martial law. Yet, despite the grim news, the year also brought some powerful reasons for optimism. In the coming year, we can lay the foundations for a new era of sustainable development, peace, and cooperation. 

The first reason for optimism was the success of many countries in suppressing COVID-19. Countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region, as varied culturally and politically as Australia, China, South Korea, Laos, New Zealand, and Vietnam, deployed effective public health strategies to contain the pandemic. So, too, did some countries in other regions, including in Sub-Saharan Africa. While the headlines were dominated by the disastrous shortcomings of the pandemic response in the United States and Europe, the successes in the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere show us how the combination of good governance, a responsible citizenry, and evidence-based policies can solve big and urgent challenges. 

The second reason for optimism is the arrival of new vaccines, which are not only a source of great hope for saving lives and stopping the virus, but also a sign of the power of modern science to deliver technological breakthroughs in record time. The vaccine development exemplified the “mission approach” of targeting research and development in a public-private effort. The same mission approach should be deployed to address other global challenges, such as boosting renewable energy, sustainable farming, and the conservation of biodiversity.