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The Year Ahead: 2022

Updated: Dec 9, 2021

✦ The dominant three "C's" that affect the world: COVID-19, China and Climate Change


2022: A perspective from Brilliant-Online


It is fair to say that many of us will be glad to see the back of 2021. It was a strange, turbulent year where our understanding of how society is structured and how we fit into it individually and collectively was turned upside down.


3 C's that affect the world: COVID-19, China, Climate Change, a perspective from Brilliant-Online
3 C's that affect the world: COVID-19, China, Climate Change

COVID-19 has, of course, been the defining factor, as it was the previous year. Since emerging in Wuhan, China in late 2019, the virus has caused havoc globally, decimating economies, effecting lockdowns and movement of people, infecting millions and, sadly, claiming the lives of far too many.


COVID-19 status as at 6th December 2021

  • Australia has reported 216,000 COVID cases and 2.006 deaths. (source)

  • Globally, there are 266,127,465 confirmed cases in 222 countries and territories and 5,270,942 deaths. (source)

We now operate in a redefined landscape, with many facets of our daily lives still clouded with uncertainty and indecision. Whereas, of course, we do not possess the luxury of a crystal ball, here we take a peek into what we anticipate will be some of the big topics defining headlines and setting trends in the year ahead.


No doubt, the three big “C” words of COVID-19, China and Climate Change will be the dominant topics, which we cover in extensive detail below, but we have started with slightly less heavy issues we expect to shape 2022...

OUT OF OFFICE


The work paradigm has changed dramatically in the past two years and it may never return to the norms that we were previously accustomed to.


Lockdowns, quarantines and all manner of restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic meant the majority of workers switched to a work from home approach, something that has continued for many. Research conducted by Stanford University last year showed that an estimated 42% of the US labour force was working remotely, a figure that has undoubtedly increased since then.


The odd child bursting into the room or the family cat sauntering across the screen mid-zoom call aside, working from home has generally proved to be extremely fruitful with no major adverse effects on productivity levels, which may well see the trend become the new norm as we progress.


For many workers it has been a welcome change, with enhanced schedule flexibility and reduced commuting being just a couple of the perks of not being confined to the office. Property prices are soaring in regional areas, like Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia and Dumfries, Scotland where workers can live the lifestyle and pursue their careers they desire.


On the other hand, there are people who have complained of cabin fever, of needing to have a separate space in which to work and live, of missing the social aspects of an office. Certain jobs demand that you are in the office or place of work and concerns have been raised about monitoring and tax issues with remote or home-based work.


There are pros and cons on both sides, for sure. Assuming we do not experience anymore enforced lockdowns in 2022, many companies are suggesting they will allow workers the choice to work from home or from the office, where available and applicable.


Perhaps this compromise will be the most common approach, a hybrid of sorts where we spend a couple of days at the office and a couple of days at home.





Something the pandemic has changed is certain people’s attitudes to work and careers.


A survey conducted by UK Insurance company Aviva earlier this year revealed that almost half of the UK’s 34 million strong workforce plan to make career changes as a result of COVID-19. Likewise a report by AP revealed that many workers don’t want to go back to the jobs they once had.


Similarly, it has affected the outlook for many Gen Z college students who are now reconsidering their career choices and aspirations. In this age of perpetual connection where it can often be difficult to detach from the demands of work, is the allure of the strenuous, stressful, taxing career all it is cracked up to be?


FLY ME TO THE MOON


Being able to literally play among the stars will gain even more traction in 2022 as the space race switches on the afterburners and goes into hyperdrive!


Next year will be the first time when more people travel to space as paying passengers than government employees, carried aloft by rival space-tourism firms.


According to Wikipedia, there have been 20 tourists that have paid to venture above the Kármán Line, the arbitrarily defined boundary of space, since 2001. Last year saw Amazon head honcho Jeff Bezos and William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk in the 1960s space adventure series Star Trek, among those that traversed the world’s atmosphere for a prime time view of the planet from up above. There is a further flight scheduled for December 8 with two tourists aboard and one for February next year with three tourists aboard.


With ambitious entrepreneurs like Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson constantly promising opportunities to travellers, it is merely a matter of time before space travel becomes a much more accessible option. Musk announced on November 18 that the Starship developed by his company SpaceX and selected by NASA for the Americans’ return to the Moon would attempt its first orbital flight early next year.


But the SpaceX chief has even bigger dreams for this “biggest rocket ever designed.”


“What we’re aiming to develop with starship is a generalized means of transporting large amounts of mass or people... anywhere in the solar system,” he said.

Watch this space (pun intended!)


TRAVEL AND TOURISM


Travel has become very much an alien concept to most during the last two years as the COVID pandemic really bit and enforced lockdowns and border closures.


Be it for business or pleasure, the travel industry suffered a mighty collapse in 2020 with figures provided by The New York Times stating that around the world, international arrivals dropped 381 million, down from 1.461 billion in 2019 — a 74% decline resulting in an estimated loss of US$1.3 trillion in global export revenues which is 11 times the loss that occurred in 2009 as a result of the global economic crisis.


A UN report estimates that figure could climb to US$4 trillion by the end of this year, something the recent Omicron strain of the virus is almost certainly to seal now countries are once again closing their borders to international travel.


Experts do not expect a return to pre-COVID-19 tourism levels until 2023 or later, meaning much of the same in 2022, unfortunately.



CRYPTOCURRENCY


Once a term only for those strictly in the know, expect cryptocurrency to become increasingly visible and prevalent in 2022 as the alternative investment class continues its journey into the mainstream.


Leading US-based investment banks such as JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America are hiring for the asset class, while Goldman Sachs has started trading crypto futures.


As is the case with all forms of disruptive technology, cryptocurrencies are being domesticated as regulators tighten rules and central banks look to launch their own, centralised, digital currencies.


Much of the hype surrounding cryptocurrency as an asset class is the quite staggering potential returns that have been earned by some investors; Bitcoin, for example, returned an eye-boggling 230% per annum between March 2011 and March 2021 so it is inevitable that more people will want a piece of the action.


Read our article, Cryptocurrency and tax




Bitcoin was the first and still remains the best-known cryptocurrency although there are literally thousands of other cryptos that have entered the scene in recent years. Expect to hear more on the likes of Ethereum, Cardano, Solana, Polkadot and Dogecoin, amongst others, in 2022 as the digital asset class continues to gain traction.


Expect more of Cryptocurrency in 2022, a perspective from Brilliant-Online
Expect more of Cryptocurrency in 2022

POLITICS VERSUS SPORTS


Sport undoubtedly serves as an uncanny medium to unite people, to transcend barriers of race, gender, religion while providing unrivalled joy and disappointment in equal measure.


In 2022, however, there are two major global sporting events that will put this theory to the test – two huge elephants in the room that could see all manner of explosive outcomes.


Firstly, we have the Winter Olympics in Beijing, due to run from February 4-20.


Let’s not pretend otherwise, the Olympics have a long track record of being clouded in controversy – think Hitler’s aspirations to position the 1936 Olympics all about Aryan racial superiority, African boycotts of the 1976 Montreal Olympics over apartheid, the American-led boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980 over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the black power salute and subsequent controversy in Mexico 1968 and the tragedy in Munich 1972 when 11 Israeli athletes were mercilessly killed by Palestinian terrorists.

Beijing 2022 is no different in its courting of controversy, in the build-up to the event anyway, and it comes at a time where China seems to be constantly taking centre stage for all the wrong reasons. We have detailed below a separate overview on China and how it may influence the world in 2022, and many of the issues touched upon are also casting a heavy shadow in the build-up to the upcoming Olympics.


The fallout from COVID-19 has left a very sour taste in the mouths of many resulting in not exactly cordial perceptions or relations with the host country. China’s human rights record, universally abhored, is also a major problem as is the political fallout with many countries after incessant agitation efforts.


Both Australia and the USA have confirmed they will employ a diplomatic boycott approach to the Games. This still allows the athletes to participate but means no government officials or representatives of national governing bodies will be present. Don't be surprised if more countires follow suite.


That aside, the spectre of COVID is also a major hurdle for organisers which will see overseas spectators banned and only those from mainland China permitted in an effort to create some form of atmosphere. This was a similar outcome for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo this year although it is fair to say that there were significant levels of sympathy for the host country on that occasion, something that one feels will be absolutely absent in Beijing.


To compound the troubles, there are worries that the proposed outdoor venue sites in China do not have reliable snowfall in winter for snow sports. Concerns have been raised that snow may need to be transported to the venues at great cost and with uncertain environmental consequences.


POLITICAL FOOTBALL


Later in the year we switch sports but the extreme levels of controversy still linger. The FIFA football World Cup will take place for the first time in the Middle East when Qatar hosts the centrepiece from November 21 to December 18.


However, the occasion has been dogged with controversy since the tournament was awarded to the tiny Gulf state, a desert nation with baking summer temperatures, no world-class stadiums, little interest in football but lots of money.


Allegations of bribery between the Qatar bid committee and FIFA members and executives have rumbled on in the background and huge questions have been raised about human rights, particularly regarding the two million migrant workers who have been brought in to assemble the gleaming new venues. The Guardian reports that in the last 10 years over 6,500 of these workers have died due to poor health and unsafe working conditions in extreme heat.


Additionally, the state’s stance on homosexuality as an illegal act has raised major concerns, especially as FIFA continually promotes the game as one accessible to all, regardless of gender, race, religion, etc. It does seem very much at odds with the LGBT+ movement which is making significant headway elsewhere.




Critics argue the World Cup is being used as just another cog in the country’s sport washing wheel, the practice of an individual, group, corporation, or nation-state using a major or prestigious international sport to improve its reputation and that beautiful game has already reared its ugly face on this occasion.

COVID-19


Whereas in the latter half of 2020 we witnessed very definite improvements in direct response to the global pandemic via vaccines and robust healthcare initiatives, and therefore a drop in numbers of infection and death, we cannot be fooled into complacency; COVID is here to stay and it will very much dominate the news headlines next year once again.




Omicron, the new COVID-19 strain detected in South Africa on November 26 and feared to be more infectious than the Delta strain which brought many countries to their knees earlier this year, has left scientists fearing it could combat efforts to beat the pandemic. We have seen its impact already as country upon country shut its borders to international travel at the end of November, bursting the balloon of optimism for those that felt a new normal was about to return.


It remains to be seen how serious a threat Omicron is and whether the existing vaccines prove an effective deterrent against it. However, for vaccinated people in the developed world, there is hope that the virus will no longer be the life-threatening spectre that it has been as increased and enhanced vaccination doses and additional treatments such as antiviral pills and improved antibody treatments become more widely available.


COVID-related infection rates and fatalities could well decrease lower than seasonal flu levels by the middle of next year, said Bill Gates in an interview at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore on November 18th.


“The vaccines are very good news, and the supply constraints will be largely solved as we get out in the middle of next year, and so we’ll be limited by the logistics and the demand,” Gates commented.


However, the outlook is not so positive for countries in the developing world, specifically places like Sub-Saharan Africa which has been very much left behind in the global vaccine drive thus far, leading to calls for increased support from the developed world in regards to shared screening, testing and vaccine technologies.


“We ask the advanced world not to forget Sub-Saharan Africa because the challenge that we see is while advanced economies are recovering relatively faster because they have the vaccines, we don’t have the vaccines,” Tanzanian vice president Philip Isdor Mpango said at the Bloomberg Forum in Singapore.

“The facilities that have been available to us are just too little. And the pandemic is global,” he added, intimating that a disparity of outcomes between rich and poor countries will emerge.


For those in the developed world there are still a myriad of unknowns. We have all experienced first-hand the disruption that the pandemic has caused and how enforced restrictions and new regulations have affected our daily lives and prior routines but it remains to be seen to what degree this will be sustained moving into 2022.


The early signs emerging from many countries is that being vaccinated against the virus is pretty much a prerequisite in order to travel, either in-country or overseas, to return to the workplace, to apply for certain jobs, even to enter bars, restaurants, shopping and entertainment venues. Those declining the vaccine, for whatever reasons, face the threat of being left behind.

CHINA

Whereas COVID will no doubt be the headline-hogger next year, you can guarantee one word will be hot on its tail. Or rather one country: China.


The most populous country on the planet has been very much in the spotlight for many years now as the Xi Jinping-led Communist Party continues its quest for global domination. And do not expect that to slow down in 2022 as their much vilified, aggressive approach continues to antagonise and isolate much of the world.


Conspiracy theorist or not, there is no escaping the fact that COVID-19 first emerged on Chinese shores and was allowed to spread and wreak its havoc globally due to negligent policies adopted by the CCP. The fact this has been refuted by China and no level of accountability has been apportioned is something that will continue to fester and continue to cause resentment as we go into and through 2022.


Aside from its role in the COVID-19 pandemic, however, China has been courting controversy in many, many other areas, something it will no doubt will continue to do so. Its handling of Hong Kong and Taiwan have been turbulent, and the latter could well explode into a potentially devastating scenario moving forward.


Its disputes in the South China Sea has seen relations strained with the likes of Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, despite Xi telling Asean nations at a Summit on November 22 that China would never seek hegemony nor take advantage of its size to coerce smaller countries. The fact that it has completely ignored legislation outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which China is a signatory, is worrisome to say the least.


Xi’s ongoing policy of seducing poorer nations into giving up their land and natural resources in exchange for financial loans seems to undermine his statement furthermore. Countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and several African states to name but a few have fallen into this trap as part of China’s Belt and Road initiative and when the time comes to pay back the debt, there will be only one outcome.


China’s human rights record, something that is continually under scrutiny and criticism, will remain in focus in 2022. Detention of those that have questioned the state is well documented and the recent case of female tennis star Peng Shuai did nothing to reassure critics that its policies on free speech, equality or sexual assault are acceptable.


Expect the ongoing controversy surrounding China’s treatment of the Uyghur population in the north-western region of Xinjiang to continue. In what the country refers to as “re-education camps”, over one million muslims have been taken and imprisoned against their will as the state strives to eradicate centuries of language, identity, culture, and religion. Whole families have been divided and stories of torture and forced sterilisation of women is common. China claims the camps are there to combat separatism and Islamist militancy in the region, although many have serious trouble believing let alone accepting this leading to accusations of genocide. Next year will tell us whether we see tangible pressure from the West and continued intervention from Human Rights groups in an effort to deal with this very concerning issue.


Relations between China and the US are at an all time low, despite recent talks between Xi and US President Joe Biden at a virtual Summit seen as a good beginning in avoiding any potential clash according to Henry Kissinger, who as secretary of state helped lead a resumption of ties with China in the 1970s.


“They now have to be followed by concrete discussions that lead in a direction both presidents have affirmed they want to pursue,” the influential U.S. diplomat and author told the Bloomberg New Economy Forum. “Both sides have to accept that a conflict between major technical powers of comparable capacities must not occur for the preservation of humanity,” Kissinger said.


Germany’s new coalition government have confirmed they will adopt a much tougher approach to its foreign policy on China, listing human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the erosion of rights in Hong Kong, and the situation involving Taiwan as just three of the main issues, reflecting growing concerns about the direction of China under Xi Jinping.


Australia’s relations with Beijing are also at an all time low. On November 26, Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton exclaimed: “We’re all familiar with the frequent claims of the Chinese government that it is committed to peace, cooperation and development. And yet we bear witness to a significant disconnect between the words and the actions. We’ve watched very closely as the Chinese government has engaged in increasingly alarming activities.”

Tensions were previously ratcheted up after Australia called for independent inquiries into the cause and origins of the COVID-19 pandemic which enraged officials in Beijing. A subsequent slew of trade restrictions that froze many categories of Australian exports saw economic ties between the two nations stagnate. However, what was perceived as a punishment by China has actually been relatively tame and Australia’s actions in standing up for itself and broader principles seems to have forged the blueprint for how a country can successfully decouple itself from, and thus not be so overly-reliant on, the world’s second largest economy.


It is something that may become increasingly visible in 2022 as countries become more agitated and disillusioned with Beijing’s aggressive posturing which has seen them perceived as a bully nation, making far more enemies than friends in the process – never a good combination.


THE ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE


After years of devastating warnings one gets the feeling that 2022 has to be a pivotal year in the battle on climate change. Or at least one hopes.


It’s an understatement to say that Mother Nature is hurting. She has been issuing warning signs for what feels like an eternity now, with wildfires, heatwaves, and catastrophic floods increasing in voracity and frequency. The environment needs desperate help yet there has been a startling lack of prompt or definitive action by policy makers on a global scale.


Advocates will claim the recent COP26 gathering in Glasgow a success and step in the right direction, critics will argue it was all hot air and lip service with any potential positive outcome unlikely.


The principle topic of focus at that meeting in Scotland was around decarbonisation, something that would require political powers in the West and China to agree and cooperate on. Given the frosty relations between them right now as their geopolitical relations continue to deteriorate, it doesn’t seem to bode well although the US and China did pledge to cooperate.

This is something that former three-time New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was encouraged by, claiming the COP26 gathering a success as a result as he opened the Bloomberg New Economy Forum. However, he warned that action is needed more than words. He has previously committed US$500 million to Beyond Carbon, a campaign aimed at closing the remaining coal-fired power plants in the US by 2030 and halting the development of new natural gas-fired plants. He also started a campaign to close a quarter of the world’s remaining coal plants and cancel all proposed coal plants by 2025.


Effective climate financing from the developing world has been emphasised as essential to maintain momentum following the Glasgow talks, with estimates of rich nations being years behind schedule on delivering a $100 billion-per-year funding target.


“In order to move forward and achieve the targets we need the fuel, and that fuel is the money,” said Rania Al-Mashat, Egypt’s Minister for International Cooperation at the Bloomberg Forum. Egypt is scheduled to host next edition of the global climate change discussion, COP27, in November 2022.


Sunil Mittal, the billionaire chairman of Bharti Airtel, has raised the issue of pollution and its detrimental effects on the environment, pointing to the conditions experienced in his hometown of Delhi in India which is frequently blanketed with smog.


“We can’t live like this,” Mittal said at the Bloomberg Forum. “We talk about 5 million people dying of the pandemic; we don’t talk about how many people have been choked around the world.”

An increase in remote work and to the green economy, as witnessed during the pandemic, could be a step in the right direction to addressing this issue, Mittal added.

To reach net zero, all activities relating to the oil and gas industry, fossil aviation, emission of cement, blast furnace steel, fossil shipping and ruminant farmers would have to cease completely within 28 years, but this was not broached during COP26 according to Julian Allwood, Professor of engineering and the environment at the University of Cambridge in a Financial Times article recently.


One initiative of note that may take place next year is a solar-geo engineering experiment due to be carried out by Harvard researchers. Initially planned for the start of this year, the experiment would see a balloon carrying an instrument-laden gondola launched into the stratosphere, some 12.5 miles above the Earth’s surface, to spray particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect sunlight and, ideally, counter the skyrocketing temperatures caused by climate change. A strong backlash saw the project cancelled this year although it could find flight sometime next.


Back at home, Australia's Prime Minister, Scott Morrison launches an Australia's Long-Term Emissions Reduction Plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

CONCLUSION


Quite what we make of all this and how it impacts us and our businesses is, of course, negligible at this stage as it is pure conjecture. If the past two years have taught us anything it is to expect the unexpected! Had you told someone at the back end of 2019 that a global pandemic would be unveiled only months later that would change the way we live so dramatically, you would have probably have been laughed out of the room or dismissed as someone who has watched too many far-fetched disaster movies!


However, what we do know is that we continue to take small steps forward, to safeguard ourselves and our businesses as best as possible by integrating into and leveraging the benefits of a solid community network.

COVID-19 has taught us to look after one another and ourselves and this trend will continue in 2022.

Much of the other stuff we are unable to do much about, unfortunately - all we can really do is maintain genuine hope that responsible politicians and people in power do the right thing at a time when it is so glaringly obvious that is the only option, to ensure that the future can be brighter than the past couple of torrid years.


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