Will 2024 be an improvement on the past year? Let's hope so

Welcome to the Year of the Dragon, along with the Paris Olympics, a return to the Moon and a reboot of Gladiator

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The good news stories from 2023 could be jotted down on a Post-it note - although at least a final addendum is the decision to transition away from fossil fuels, agreed on at Cop28 in mid-December.

As for the bad news? An earthquake in Turkey and Syria left an estimated 60,000 dead, a coup in Niger threatened the stability of Africa’s entire Sahel region, and forest fires and drought attributed to climate change ravaged large areas of Europe, North America and North Africa, with Nasa declaring this summer the hottest on record.

In the Middle East, Lebanon teetered on the brink of economic catastrophe, while politicians and warlords in Libya continued to fail to find a way forward to bring desperately needed peace and stability to its people.

Both were eclipsed, though, by the appalling events beginning in October with the killing and kidnapping of about 1,200 people in Israel by Hamas and the resulting brutal and unrelenting assault on Gaza in response, which has so far left nearly 20,000 Palestinians dead.

Meanwhile, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continued largely away from the headlines, with no prospect of peace, and thousands of young soldiers and civilians put through the meat grinder of war.

Looking ahead

So much for the past year. Can we hope that 2024 will be better, not least because it is a leap year and will last a day longer? (So happy birthday to Algerian rai music superstar Khaled, born in 1960 and about to turn 16).

The next 12 months could have little potential for change, at least politically. Russia will almost certainly re-elect President Putin in March, in part because of the lack of any credible opposition.

Ukraine also goes to the polls that month, in what could be a vote of confidence in President Zelenskyy’s handling of a war now entering its third year.

Across the Atlantic, Americans must decide in November who to elect, in what increasingly looks like a rerun of 2020. President Joe Biden, now 81, is insisting he not too old for a second term and likely to face former president Donald Trump for the Republicans – providing the latter can stay out of jail.

Elsewhere, important elections will take place at the European Parliament and in nearly 40 countries, including India, Pakistan, Finland, Mexico and the UK, where the Conservatives are in real danger of losing power after 13 years.

In total, seven of the world’s 10 most populous countries will go to the polls in 2024, making it the busiest election year in history, according to The Economist magazine.

AI in politics

A major concern in many of these polls is the potential malign influence of artificial intelligence (AI). An article published by Chatham House, the foreign affairs London-based think tank, warns of “concerns that voters will never be certain that what they see and hear in the campaign is real”.

AI, the author writes, can “in an instant clone a candidate’s voice, create a fake film, or churn out bogus narratives to undermine the opposition’s messaging”.

The issue is likely to heighten concerns about the power of big tech in our lives and especially the role and responsibilities of companies such as TikTok, Facebook and X – if Elon Musk can keep it from bankruptcy.

The Brics group of emerging economies, a rival to the western-dominated G7 and comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, is likely to expand.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and Ethiopia have been invited to join on January 1, in a challenge to the world’s economic balance of power and potentially the long-term future of the US dollar as the sole global currency.

Whether the world will prosper in 2024 remains uncertain. Energy prices will continue to fluctuate, while inflation still lurks and interest rates remain the highest for many years. Organisations such as the World Economic Forum predict poor growth for 2024 but believe the world may avoid a recession – just.

Equally uncertain is the weather, with more drought, wildfires and floods predicted, the result of climate change. The deadline of reducing CO2 emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 is a year closer, and it is hoped Cop29 in Azerbaijan will build on the achievements from the UAE's gathering in 2023.

At least the world can come together peacefully in the pursuit of sporting excellence. July and August will feature the summer Olympic Games in Paris, with a spectacular opening ceremony down the Seine river.

Unusual predictions

Gazing into a crystal ball is always an uncertain, if not unreliable business. Nostradamus, according to those who interpret the 500-year-old prophet of doom, sees floods, famine, a “parched Earth” and a great naval battle in 2024 in which the “reds” will lose. Some are seeing this a portent of conflict around Taiwan and the South China Sea.

The Danish bank Saxo is known for its “Outrageous Predictions”, which for the coming year include an end to obesity, thanks to new drugs, Saudi Arabia buying the Uefa Champions League and Robert F Kennedy unexpectedly winning the US presidential election.

Their 2023 predictions, however, including the resignation of President Macron and a new Brexit referendum in Britain, proved spectacularly wrong.

At least the Chinese Year of the Dragon should bring a period of calmness and reliability.

Science is generally more reliable. Watch out for the launch of Artemis 2, a manned Nasa mission which will involve humans, including the first woman and first African-American, orbiting the Moon for the first time since 1972.

Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin is planning a launch with an all-woman crew early in the new year, while Dream Chaser, the next-generation Space Shuttle, is expected to enter service in 2024 with a visit to the International Space Station.

Back to Earth, and the bane of many a traveller should end in the coming months, with the widespread installation of new airport scanning technology that means you will be able to carry up to two litres of liquid through security. Say goodbye also to those clear plastic bags and taking your laptop out for inspection.

Anyone looking for entertainment to lift the spirit and forget their troubles for a couple of hours will find franchises and sequels dominating the cinema screen. Ghostbusters, The Joker, Mad Max, Planet of the Apes and the Alien series will all return, with the second instalment of the Dune science fiction trilogy and Ridley Scott’s Gladiator 2 most anticipated. Are you not entertained?

The year 2024 also means we are almost at the end of the first quarter of the 21st century. The early 2020s are unlikely to be remembered as a golden age when we look back in future years. Or at least we really hope they aren't.

Updated: December 21, 2023, 11:29 AM