A year is much more than just 365 days, or one orbit of the Earth around the sun. One year produces so many events and human stories that in 2018 alone, the average media company published more than 73,000 news articles.
Much of what happens is unpredictable. But with 2019 only hours old, there are a few things that can confidently be foretold.
Politics and elections
Brexit may be clear as mud, but if it’s making you queasy then here are a few fixed political points in the year to steady the balance. It’s a busy year for elections, with four of the world’s most populous democracies holding votes.
• Europe holds parliamentary elections from May 23-26 to elect 705 new MEPs. Watch closely to see how well the populist far-right does. It’s been gaining ground across the continent, but will the attentions of Steve Bannon, formerly of Breitbart and the Trump White house, help or hinder?
• Before that, Nigerians head to the polls in February, where sitting president Mohammad Buhari faces a record 78 opposition candidates.
• Other major democracies going to the polls include India, where Narendra Modi is seeking a second term, and Indonesia, where the one-term incumbent faces a challenge from yet another rightwing populist candidate.
• Speaking of rightwing populists, Brazil’s newly elected and controversial president Jair Bolsonaro took office yesterday (on January 1). Other notable votes take place in Thailand (February), South Africa (May), Argentina (October) and Canada (October).
• And finally, in Japan, Emperor Akihito will abdicate in April owing to health concerns after heart surgery and treatment for prostate cancer. This will be the first time a Japanese emperor has abdicated in two centuries.
What summits are there to climb?
The last time France hosted the G7 summit in 2011, migration and the refugee crisis was a fringe issue, Emmanuel Macron was a little-known investment banker and the riots were happening across the channel in the UK.
• But this time around, Macron will welcome his peers to Biarritz in August. Priorities are likely to include climate change, the Global Partnership for Education, towards which Macron pledged €500 million (Dh2.1 billion) of funding, and migration.
• The G7’s larger cousin, the G20, will meet in Japan in June. Founded after the financial crash of 2008, the summit promotes cooperation and a focus on global financial markets. The G20 has been criticised for becoming “a stage for an increasing number of populist leaders who are there to perform for their restive followers back home”.
• Another year means another COP — the abbreviation for the annual UN climate summits that warn, with increasing severity, how imperilled we are by our carbon addiction. Alas, this year’s host, Brazil, has pulled out owing to “budget restrictions”. If the summit goes ahead, discussion will surely centre on Trump’s continued disavowal of the Paris agreement, and a review of the 2030 UN Sustainable Development goals, four years on from their implementation.
What milestones are coming up?
• As 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the first world war armistice, so 2019 will see the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles, the formal end of the conflict.
• It is also the 70th anniversary of the founding of Nato, the collective defence pact originally set up to “keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down”.
50%-markthe new global users milestone that the internet is set to cross during this year
• The internet is poised to pass a notable milestone meanwhile, with predictions that the number of global users will pass the 50 per cent mark in 2019.
• In the US, for the first time ever the population will have more people older than age 60 than younger than age 18.
How about key anniversaries?
In births and deaths, 2019 is the 500th anniversary of the death of original renaissance man Leonardo Da Vinci and the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria. It also marks the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook reaching New Zealand, and the 20th anniversary of the creation of the euro.
What’s happening in science?
• This year will mark the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon landing. No human has been back since 1972. Perhaps a moment to rekindle interest in our cosmological outrider .
• The year will also see the first private spacecraft from SpaceX and Boeing take crews to the International Space Station. There will also be the first images of a black hole from the Event Horizon telescope, and the first results from the ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter probe, which is circling Mars to work out if methane plumes are due to life on the planet.
• Back on Earth, the landmark agreement to redefine the kilogram will come into place in May. Rather than being tied to a lump of metal stored in a Parisian vault, the new definition will be a reflection of Planck’s constant, a number rooted in the quantum world. The weight is over.
Will there be a global recession?
Despite 2019 being the Chinese year of the pig — a symbol that denotes wealth — in the western world there may be an economic downturn ahead.
• A recession looms in the UK, Europe and the US. It is possible once the impact of slowing growth in China and rising interest rates are put together, since most of the momentum after the financial crash of 2008 was based on cheap borrowing and the rapid expansion of Chinese trade.
500thanniversary of the death of Leonardo Da Vinci will be observed this year
• Without these two essential elements, the major economies are heading for trouble. Most doomsayer analysts consider 2020 a more likely year for a slump, with the seeds sown in 2019 by poor policy making.
• The World Bank is predicting a global slowdown in 2019, as the stimulus of Donald Trump’s tax cuts wane in the US and China is forced to restrict borrowing by state and private businesses.
• Central banks are also poised to tighten monetary policies. The US Federal Reserve is due to increase interest rates at least twice in 2019. It is also expected to further unwind its quantitative easing policy. An increase in the cost of borrowing is already hitting the US housing market which is reaching levels of distress last seen in the run up to the 2008 financial crash.