The Shape of 2022: Rising Hope Among Hazards

At the start of the previous year, GPC’s Sign of the Times referred to 2020 as among the most tumultuous in recent memory. As we look forward to 2022, it can be argued that 2021 was equally, if not more, tumultuous. The year started with a mob invading the US Capitol building, the first such attack in over 200 years, and has been marked by a series of events with global consequences, including extreme weather events, America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the continued unfolding of the coronavirus pandemic with casualties reaching over 5.33 million. During the past year, the “Delta” variant of the virus spread rapidly in second, third, and fourth waves across the the world, infecting over 180m additional people, and killing an additional 3.4 million people, making 2021 a much more dangerous year pandemic-wise than the previous one. The pandemic had a particularly devastating impact in emerging market economies (unlike in 2020) like India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Bangladesh, and in the process, highlighted the significant vulnerabilities of their healthcare systems.

While the rollout of multiple vaccines across the world provided some respite in the spread of the coronavirus as the year progressed, the recent emergence of a new, potentially more transmissible Omicron variant is a cause for fresh concern and another reminder of the stop-start nature of the pandemic. The uneven rollout of the vaccine in favour of wealthier nations – in many low-income countries vaccination rates are at 7% or below – also remains worrying, and in the absence of a more equitable distribution of vaccine doses in 2022, the pandemic will likely remain a major global risk in 2022.

Beyond the pandemic, there are several other important issues that have the potential to shape the world in 2022 and beyond. These include the on-going fight against climate change, the risk of rising national populism in the US and Europe, an escalating Cold War between the West and China, the next phase of global space exploration and a potential inflection point in India’s growth trajectory on its road to becoming another major participant in the global economy.

This month’s Sign of the Times briefly explores these items and their significance for the world.


The 10 Events that Will Shape 2022 and the Major Themes to Watch out for

  • Ongoing Pandemic: Omicron, New Variants, and the Stop-Start Nature of the Crisis
  • Beijing Winter Olympics: Escalating Cold War with China
  • French Presidential election: Risk of Further Populism in the EU
  • 20th National Congress: Xi Jinping’s Continuing Leadership Consolidation
  • US Midterm Elections: America’s Continuing Divisiveness
  • 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar: The World Coming to Terms with the Pandemic, or Not
  • India First Crewed Space Flight, Space X, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin: Breaking the Space Frontier
  • India Rising: Acceleration in India’s Trajectory to Overtake China as World’s Most Populous Country
  • Fed dates, central bank dates, EU v US: Economies, Markets, and Inflation
  • COP27: Make or Break Updates on National 2030 Emission Targets


  • Ongoing Pandemic: Omicron, New Variants, and the Stop-Start Nature of the Crisis

    185 million infections, cases, 3.4m million confirmed deaths, and 8.5 billion vaccine doses administered in 2021 alone

    2021 saw new variants spread across the globe, with c.185m new infections and 3.4m confirmed deaths (vs. 84m and 1.9m in 2020), bringing total deaths to 5.33 million, yet significant minorities across the West, in particular, believe this is just a flu and vaccines are part of a government conspiracy. Even with 8.4bn vaccine doses administered, vaccination rates in some low-income countries are 7% or below, and the Delta and Omicron variants continue to spread unabated. The pandemic is now entering a new phase with another wave of infections, and a new variant with potential vaccine resistance.

    Potential Positive Outcome for 2022

    Democratisation of Vaccines and Therapies Creates Path for the Return of ‘Normalcy’. Vaccine rollout is accelerated in low-income countries, with rates crossing 50% by year end, combined with improved vaccine adoption and coordinated booster campaigns in developed countries. Together with the introduction of effective therapies to treat COVID-19 infections, these measures result in the virus being contained worldwide, and a return to a better ‘normal’.

    Potential Negative Outcome for 2022:

    New Variants Emerge That are Both Highly Infections and Deadly, Wreaking Havoc. Major industrialised countries continue to struggle to lift vaccination rates above 75% due to political and social resistance, while effectively hoarding vaccines and booster therapies at the expense of developing countries that fail to reach vaccinations rates above 30% by the end of the year. The resulting large unvaccinated populations inside and across boundaries provide the base for further variants that are both highly infectious and deadly.

  • Beijing Winter Olympics: Escalating Cold War with China?

    Zero – the number of international spectators attending 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

    Amid increasing political tensions between China and the West, the US and four other nations have declared a political boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in China over concerns about its human rights record. With the international Women’s Tennis Association having recently pulled out of China entirely over a specific human rights case, cross-cultural engagements are subject to increasingly political considerations as the West’s relationship with China continues to deteriorate.

    Potential Positive Outcome for 2022:

    Games Provide Opportunity for an Engagement Reset. The games are well managed with a focus on sports and sportsmanship, serving as a symbol for a united world engaging peacefully. China leverages the global goodwill this creates to begin a reset of the relationship with the West, with a set of positive values and voluntary initiatives designed to reposition its position in the world as a valued global citizen.

    Potential Negative Outcome for 2022:

    Full Boycott Deteriorates Relationship Further. The US government implements a full boycott of the games, joined by the UK and others, leading to a further deterioration of relationships and no further engagement on human rights issues with China’s leadership as positions continue to harden.

  • French Presidential Election: Risk of Further Populism in the EU

    33.9% - Share of Electoral Votes won by Right Wing Populist Marine Le Pen in the 2017 French Presidential Elections

    The European Union faces a number of fundamental internal and external challenges, including right-wing populist governments in Poland and Hungary, mass migration and the risk of conflict between Russia and the Ukraine. The upcoming French presidential elections will be a critical factor in determining whether the Union can rise to its daunting agenda or whether leaders and nations will continue to be distracted by populism and populist sentiments. Current President, Emmanuel Marcon is expected to run against a crowded field with multiple far right, populist candidates, most notably, Marine Le Pen, Eric Seymour, and Valerie Pecresse.

    Potential Positive Outcome for 2022:

    Victory for Macron Strengthens the Centrists in the EU. The French population emphatically endorses the moderate policies of President Marcon, building on the momentum of the 2021 German elections which gave rise to a centre-left government. The political alignment of Europe’s two largest economies forms a strong base for executing the EU’s strategic agenda, strengthening centrist candidates throughout the Union.

    Potential Negative Outcome for 2022:

    Electoral Gains of the Far-Right Hijack the European Agenda. A win for one of the country’s far-right, populist candidates, weakens distracts from the EU’s strategic agenda. With leaders increasingly distracted by populism at home, the Union struggles to formulate cohesive responses to strategic issues like climate change, digital transformation, and China’s rise.

  • 20th National Congress: Xi’s Ongoing Leadership Consolidation

    99.8% - the Percentage of China’s National People’s Congress that Voted in Favour of Removing Term Limits for Xi Jinping’s Presidency

    Having been elevated to a Communist Party "core" leader in 2016, an honour previously bestowed only on Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, and having scrapped constitutional term limits, Xi Jinping is set to begin his third term as China’s supreme ruler at the 20th National Congress next year. Following a series of political, social, and economic purges since 2012, Xi is widely considered to be the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao. With no obvious successor or meaningful opposition in sight, Xi appears to have an increasingly free hand to execute increasingly radical domestic and foreign policy agendas.

    Potential Positive Outcome for 2022:

    Further Domestic Power Consolidation. Internal resistance to further concentration of Xi’s power leads an increasingly domestic focus. This leads to China’s foreign policy remaining cautious with a focus on soft power and economic expansion, despite popular rhetoric on Taiwan, Japan, and the US.

    Potential Negative Outcome for 2022:

    Unrestrained Power Drives Assertive Foreign Policy. In the absence of domestic restraints and checks and and balances and unchecked and emboldened Xi embarks on an increasingly aggressive path with regards to Taiwan, Hong Kong, the South China Seas, and other topics with major foreign policy implications. This inexorably shifts China to a position more akin to the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

  • US Mid-Term Elections: America’s Continued Divisiveness

    +4% - Donald Trump Lead in US Polls over Joe Biden as of Dec 5, 2021, Assuming a General Election

    The United States continues to remain politically polarised across an increasing number of social, economic, and political issues, with partisanship increasingly hampering effective government by both the executive and legislative branches. With the Democrat’s holding a thin majority in Congress, projected losses in the upcoming mid-term elections may well see the House and Senate flip, with potentially significant implications for the Biden Administration’s ability to execute its policy agenda.

    Potential Positive Outcome for 2022:

    Functioning Majority to Support Further Economic Recovery. President Biden’s US$1.75 trillion social spending plan drives one to two quarters of strong (and inclusive) growth, and strong Democratic performance in the mid-terms maintains a functioning majority in Congress. This in turn allows the execution of a policy agenda supporting further economic recovery and growth.

    Potential Negative Outcome for 2022:

    Policy Agenda Disrupted by Populist Resurgence. The Democratic Party loses their majority in both the House and Senate, hampering the administration’s ability to govern effectively. Further, Republican gains embolden Donald Trump to declare his candidacy for 2022, creating a media circus that disrupts the president’s policy agenda for the remainder of his term.

  • 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar: The World Coming to Terms with the Pandemic, or Not

    1.5 million - fans expected to attend the tournament

    Qatar is set to host the latest edition of the FIFA World Cup in November 2022. The event, which expects to welcome more than a million fans, will represent the largest gathering of individuals since the onset of the pandemic, and will serve as an important indicator of the extent to which the world has learned to live with the coronavirus.

    Potential Positive Outcome for 2022:

    Successful Tournament, with Coronavirus Risks Managed Well. The upcoming tournament is well managed and well attended, with over a million visitors to Qatar providing evidence of a return to normality for major events, with effective coronavirus management protocols in place that prevent follow-on outbreaks in the aftermath of the World Cup.

    Potential Negative Outcome for 2022:

    Further Infection Waves Highlight Continuing Unpreparedness. Repeated infection waves and new mutations result in strict restrictions on attendance, echoing the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, with the tournament garnering significantly lower than normal global interest, resulting in the Cup ultimately being a waste of time and money for Qatar, providing no material benefits to the world’s recovery.

  • India’s Unmanned Space Flight, Space X, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin: Breaking the Space Frontier

    c.US$423 billion – the Annual Value of the Space Economy

    2022 promises to be a pathbreaking year for both government and commercial space missions, with India sending an unmanned flight into space (ahead of its first crewed mission in 2023), Space X sending a probe to Mars, and Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin launching commercial spaceflights. Cumulatively, these efforts could result in a second Space Race for the scientific and commercial exploitation of of our solar system, with governments collaborating with private sector companies in a series of increasingly ambitious ventures.

    Potential Positive Outcome for 2022:

    New Space Race Drives Breakthroughs. Positive results from the various missions lead to increased government and private sector funding to above US$100bn 2022, and further encourages public-private partnerships that drive technological advancement and the peaceful exploration of space for the benefit of all of humankind.

    Potential Negative Outcome for 2022:

    Popular Backlash Hinders Progress. The global environmental movement sparks a massive backlash against commercial spaceflight based on its carbon footprint, with each rocket launch emitting 200-300 tonnes of CO2, 4-6x as much as a Boeing 777 travelling from London to New York, (or c.400-600x the emissions per passenger). Private space ventures are increasingly mocked as ego trips for billionaires, setting back further investment in the space over the near to medium term.

  • India Rising: Acceleration in India’s Trajectory to Overtake China as World’s Most Populous Country

    13 million – expected population increase in 2022

    In 2021, India had an estimated population of c.1.4 billion and in 2022 the country is expected to add 13 million people to its population. This population increase is significantly higher than that of China (c. four million) and at this current trajectory, India could become the world’s most populous country by as early as 2022. The implications of this development, particularly if India can deliver on key reform targets, are profound and could signal the beginning of a shift in power in Asia.

    Potential Positive Outcome for 2022:

    India Ontrack to Realise its Demographic Dividend. The Indian government steps up the pace of its commitments and reforms across education, labour, agriculture, and industry, which help unleash the potential of India’s burgeoning population, achieving a sustainable level of greater than 10% GDP growth, and puts the country on track to realise its oft-mentioned demographic dividend.

    Potential Negative Outcome for 2022:

    Wasted Potential and Increased Poverty. Political pressures, combined with execution challenges result in a policy agenda that falls short of the country’s growth and leadership aspirations. India’s economic trajectory continues to be uneven and the country as labour productivity growth continues to decline (as in previous years.

  • A Transition to Pre-Pandemic Liquidity: Economies, Markets, and Inflation

    40 years – the Number of Years Since the United States Has Last Experienced Its Current Rate of Inflation of 6.8%

    The world economy grew by c.6% in 2021, while equity markets continued to provide strong returns (c.14% YTD) driven by continued unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus, particularly in developed markets. However, supply bottlenecks and tight labour markets, in addition, have resulted in a surge in inflation across the world. The global economy is expected to deliver another year of 4-5% growth in 2022, however, this will depend in large part on how the pandemic evolves, and how the Fed and other central banks respond to inflationary pressures.

    Potential Positive Outcome for 2022:

    Inflation Eases, Interest Rates Normalise and a Deep and Broad Recovery Takes Root. Supply chain bottlenecks ease in the second half of the 2022, resulting in a gradual normalisation of interest rates to c.2-3%, as economies recover to above pre-pandemic levels of productivity growth given strong household balance sheets.

    Potential Negative Outcome for 2022:

    Continued Waves of the Pandemic and Inflationary Pressures Force a Stronger Policy Response. Further waves of the pandemic, combined with continued supply bottlenecks and/or wage pressures continue to push up interest rates, which remain above 5% through 2022, resulting in a delay in the economic recovery, driving further political disruption and unrest in key economies, providing scope of populists to exploit.

  • COP27: Make or Break Updates on 2030 Emission Targets?

    2.7C - Current climate commitments implied temperature increase by 2100

    Following this year’s COP26 summit, the world remains far off to track to meet the 1.5C temperature rise target set for the end of the century. Countries have agreed to revisit and strengthen their current emissions targets for next year’s COP27, which will be critical for the world to manage climate change. However, unless these commitments are further underpinned by an integrated approach to meeting the US Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which in addition to the planet also focus on people and prosperity, the world will fail to manage a sustainable climate transition.

    Potential Positive Outcome for 2022:

    Significant Commitments Place Goals Within Reach. Significant additional temperature reduction commitments from both developed and major developing countries are further underpinned by a renewed focus on sustainable development and social inclusion, backed by the annual US$100 billion committed but not delivered to developing countries as part of the Paris Agreement, which recognise that the long-term viability of climate change mitigation requires creating economic opportunities for less developed regions and people.

    Potential Negative Outcome for 2022:

    World Fails to Avoid Temperature Increases. Developing and developed countries fail to align around further reductions and the mitigation of their economic consequences for developing countries, leading to increasingly severe climate consequences that increase habitat loss, economic inequality and unrest and ultimately drive new waves of mass migration, particularly from the south to the north of the world, and result in increasingly dangerous political populism.



In 2021, the coronavirus pandemic continued to dominate the global discourse, influence political, economic, and geopolitical policy, and shed light on the pressing issues of the world and its ability to overcome them. This looks set to continue into 2022.

The positive lesson of rapid innovation and scaled distribution potential for innovation that came from vaccines, needs to be applied to other major global challenges like climate change, sustainable development, and global income inequality, which are all interrelated and cannot be addressed successfully in a piecemeal fashion. These challenges are also too large to be addressed by any one country acting alone, and therefore imply the need for greater coordination and joint action by the leading nations in the world.

Following a further year of lockdowns, travel restrictions, conspiracy, and non-scientific discourse, countries squabbling with one another over vaccine deliveries, and a lack of progress on climate change, the world will need to come together if 2022 is to be a material improvement over 2021.

2022 has the potential to be a year of extremes, at both ends of the spectrum. At one end, the year could be one of political, social, and economic stabilisation, with the virus brought under control, moderate and centrist governments driving shared prosperity without the distraction of national populism at home or an increasingly assertive China abroad, and with a continued stable and sustainable economic recovery. Such a year would see the return of global travel and global events that help bring the world together, enabling it to align around tackling the SDGs within the next decade.

At the other end of the spectrum lies another year of great losses for the world, one in which the lessons of previous years are either not learned or just ignored. Such a world would see repeated waves of infection rippling through populations that are unvaccinated, whether by choice or due to lack of access, causing further loss of life and economic disruptions that lead to a stuttering global economy. This lack of economic growth will encourage national populism that distracts (or replaces) more moderate leaders. In such a world, nations will struggle to formulate shared long terms plans, and see the world’s climate change targets recede further in the distance, along with the chance of funding the SDGs.

The outcome for the year will likely be somewhere between these two extremes, but it depends very much on our collective choices and actions in the year to come. The positive potential of a more peaceful path that allows the world to collectively focus on the breakthroughs for medicines, energy, technology, finance, and industry such that it reaches every corner of the world. The opportunity is ours to lose, let us hope we rise to grasp it.

Best wishes for a safe passage to the new year and peace, prosperity, and freedom in the year ahead