Global warming
Global warming Image Credit: ©Gulf News

The first draft of global history of 2019 will note that it was the hottest year on record — and marked the fifth straight year in a row that the world got warmer.

The environment, the increasing intensity of hurricanes, more intense floods, more widespread fires — and politicians seeming inability to come to grips with a commonly agreed mechanism to reverse the warming trend, dominated the headlines of this past year.

Indeed, as the calendar winds down through the last days of December, Australian authorities are still dealing with catastrophic wildfires across New South Wales and beyond, destroying property, claiming lives and casting a huge smoky pall over one-fifth of the continent.

If ever there was a reminder needed that our climate has changed and is impacting our life, then those bushfires are such a harbinger of what lies ahead.

Throughout, the voice of Greta Thunburg, the 16-year-old environmental activist has served to prick our collective conscience that enough isn’t been done to preserve this planet for future generations. She voyaged across the Atlantic by yacht to deliver that message to the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, and again to Madrid to admonish delegates to COP25 to take urgent action and set strict limits to conform to the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

The environment was on the agenda from the very first day of year when Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro was sworn into office — and within months, vast areas of the Amazon Basin were set ablaze in land clearing operations lit by supporters of the former army captain.

And the year ends with a warning that the region, the lungs of the world, may be irreparably damaged.

It was a year too that saw Donald Trump become only the third president of the United States to be impeached by the House of Representatives for improperly using his office to influence Ukraine to secure dirt on his main Democrat opponent, and obstructing the impeachment process itself.

His acquittal by the Senate early next year seems all but assured.

US-China trade war

As his presidency enters the final year of his first term, Americans remain polarised by his policies. Tariffs imposed on China and other trading partners, however, have not dampened their economy, with more collecting paycheques than ever before.

China too remains on course to develop its strategic Belt and Road Initiative, a programme to revitalise trade and economic links between east and west. Tariff concerns aside, it is an initiative that is revolutionising trade across Asia.

Since July, Hong Kong has been beset by ongoing violent street protests in a clash that began as opposition to an extradition bill with mainland China but has since morphed in a pro-democracy campaign and opposition to Beijing’s policies.

Once more, too, it seems as if North Korea is intent on pressuring regional nations and the US into economic concessions by restarting its nuclear ballistic programme.

A 2018 summit in Singapore and another in February in Hanoi between President Trump and Kim Jong-un have failed to break the long-running tensions between the hermit republic and its neighbours.

In Japan, however, there was a smooth transition of the Chrysanthemum Throne when on April 30, ailing Emperor Akihito, 84, stepped down in the first abdication in more than two centuries in Japan. The next day, Crown Prince Naruhito ascended the throne.

The peaceful and harmonious image of New Zealand as a multicultural nation was forever shattered when a gunman attacked two mosques in quick succession in March, killing 51 faithful as they gathered for Friday prayers.

read more

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, however, was a voice of calmness and comfort as she brought healing to her hurting nation. And that same sympathetic tone was on display early in December as a volcanic eruption on White Island there killed 18 and injured scores more.

In Canada, voters returned the Liberal party of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to power in a general election in October. His minority government will need to work closely with New Democratic Party colleagues in Ottawa to bring the economic and environmental reforms Canadians supported.

Modi's win in India

In South America, new presidents were elected in Argentina and Bolivia. An arrest warrant has been issued for former Bolivian president Evo Morales, exiled but wanted on sedition and terrorism charges by the new government in La Paz.

If those elections brought change, then the world’s largest democracy opted for the status quo, with

Indians handing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party a second straight majority.

On Easter Sunday, a series of bombings on churches and hotels killed 259 people and injured hundreds — the worst act of terrorism in Sri Lanka since the end of its three-decade civil war 10 years ago.

In presidential elections in that country, in November, voters turned to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a man who played a leading role in crushing Tamil Tiger forces when he was defence secretary.