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The Failures of 2021

At the end of last year, effective collective action on the major challenges confronting the world –  including the pandemic, climate change, and geopolitical tensions – seemed to be a real possibility. And yet, over the course of 2021, those challenges merely escalated and multiplied.

MADRID – The end of a year invites reflection on the events and trends that have shaped it. In 2021, they include the COVID-19 pandemic, recently reinvigorated by the Omicron variant; the steady march of climate change, which has intensified pressure to reach net-zero emissions; and geopolitical tensions, especially the great-power rivalry between the United States and China. On all of these fronts, 2021 was a year of deterioration.

As difficult as 2020 was, it concluded with grounds for hope. Effective COVID-19 vaccines were being deployed. The US had a new president, who, unlike his predecessor, recognized the threat climate change poses and the value of America’s alliances. NATO was developing its new Strategic Concept. Effective action to address the challenges confronting the West seemed to be a real possibility.

And yet, over the past year, those challenges have merely escalated and multiplied. The unprecedented global social experiment brought about by the pandemic – including people’s confinement to their homes – has placed severe strain on societies. Deepening polarization is tearing at democracies’ seams.

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