The arrival of the New Year diary should always be a moment for reflection. Whatever transpired in the year just past, good or bad, those blank pages for the year to come seem to offer the opportunity for change, for renewal: new people, new places, new ideas. A good thing too, you might say. The last twelve months have been unusually eventful, and many of those events have been ones that one might prefer to forget - in the hope that 2012 is going to be a lot, lot better.
Recall that 2011 saw the unravelling of the European Union’s most cherished project, the euro currency union, a revolution across the Arab world, the violent death of Osama bin Laden and the demise of Kim Jong-Il, the dictator of North Korea. Nor have political upheavals been in short supply: on the contrary they have been remarkable and rapid, as befits an age of great uncertainty. Witness the undignified removal from the stage of the equally undignified prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, the fall of the Greek government, and the rise of the Occupy movement worldwide and the Tea Party in the US, and the insurgency in Syria, the least-expected manifestation of the Arab Spring.
Which of these upheavals, catastrophes, and deaths will prove to be the harbinger of rebirths and revivals? This is where you need to open the 2012 Worldwatch diary: we ask what might happen, as well as what will happen. Most of these forecast dates and deadlines will be met. Some won’t – but that’s the future business for you.The Changing Of The Guard. It’s an election year for the world’s three actual or would-be superpowers, the US, China, and Russia. Come August the National Convention of the Grand Old Party (otherwise known as the Republicans) in Tampa, Florida, will choose its candidate to run against President Barack Obama (who will be confirmed as the Democratic candidate in September at the party convention in Charlotte, North Carolina). Who wins? We don’t know that, but we do know it will be a nail-biter. A new leader too in China, to be confirmed at the five-yearly Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, due in October in Beijing. Who wins? No prizes for guessing Xi Jinping will take over from Hu Jintao as president and party leader, with Li Keqiang as ‘premier’. But then, some elections are more democratic than others, and there has not been a real contest of ideologies in China since General Secretary of the Communist Party Zhao Ziyang was purged in 1989 over his refusal to use force against protesters in Tiananmen Square. A bigger question: which European leader will be first to travel to Beijing and ask for more bailout support? Perhaps it will be the next president of France: Nicolas Sarkozy will be fighting for his job in the first round of elections in April (a May run-off is possible, and parliamentary elections follow in June). This is an election that will help shape Europe’s crisis management in 2012 – and there will be plenty of crisis. Germany’s room to make unpopular decisions will be diminishing too, as Chancellor Andrea Merkel will be up for re-election in 2013. And one last non-surprise: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will run for the presidency in March, and in the face of protest and debate, will win.
Extreme Scenarios. In April North Korea will be celebrating the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung, the ‘eternal president’ of Asia’s last gulag (although he actually died in 1994). Following the unexpected succession to the leadership of Kim Jong-un (at no more than 30 he is the world’s youngest head of state), Kimologists will be watching to see if he is confirmed this year as General Secretary of the Worker’s Party of Korea (it took three years for his late father, Kim Jong-il, to consolidate power enough to take this post). In the meantime, how stable will nuclear-armed North Korea be? As it happens the United States will finally cede official control of the South Korean military and dissolve the Combined Forces Command in April. Don’t expect Pyongyang to be impressed by that, or by the World Expo 2012 from May to August in Yeosu, South Korea, and certainly not by South Korea’s hosting of the Global Nuclear Security Summit in late March. ‘Ridiculous’ says North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland.
Those Pesky Emerging Markets. It is the Chinese Year of the Dragon. With more than a usually full plate of problems, including a whole cloud of asset bubbles and bad debts of the sort so familiar to developed economies, what kind of face will China turn to the world? After a bruising year in the big emerging markets, perhaps investors will be expecting more from Africa, home to theworld’s fastest-growing economies. Political improvements are key to sentiment here: expect to learn more in November when the Mo Ibrahim Foundation – a body dedicated to improving governance in Africa – awards its Prize for Achievement in African Leadership – the largest cash prize in the world ($5 million down and $200,000 for life) – to an African leader judged to have most improved official probity. But hopeful applicants note: in 2010 the Foundation declined to award a prize. In December there will be presidential elections in Kenya (the last time they were held there were nationwide riots, ended by an historic political compromise), and in the same month South Africa’s African National Congress selects its 2014 presidential candidate (who is likely to be the incumbent Jacob Zuma): it is also the ANC’s 100th anniversary.Great Expectations. This year sees the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens on February 7. Expect plays, films, and television adaptations galore. ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ wrote Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities: a phrase for 2012 perhaps, when there will be great expectations (and doubtless great disappointments) as the world’s movers and shakers try to get to grips with things in a year-long round of meetings and summits. The overlapping G8 and NATO Summits (the G8 being a gathering of the leaders of what used to be considered the world’s eight leading economies) are due in May in Chicago, and the G20 Summit of heads of state or government (now held only once a year) comes in June in Mexico: back in 2006 the theme of the summit was ‘Sustaining Growth & Prosperity’ – how long ago that seems. There will be hopes too that in June the Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (also known as the 2012 Earth Summit) will be able to build global consensus on extending the Kyoto Agreements (the first ‘commitment period’ of the Kyoto Protocols ends on the last day of 2012). Finally, it is of course a sign of the times that the October annual meetings of the World Bank and the IMF have beenmoved from Cairo to Tokyo – and that sign is a sign of diminished expectations on the part of those who perhaps should hope better.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, it’s the Olympics. The third London Olympics (the city also hosted the Games in 1908 and 1948) will open in July, when Britain will be hoping to improve on its record last time around of 19 golds and 47 total medals which put it in fourth place behind China, the US and Russia. Here’s a confident prediction: there will be rain in July. Here’s another: the Brits will do well in the sailing events. Britain is very small, but it is temperate, tidal, and its coast is crinkly, which makes it one of the world’s great sailing grounds. But there will be competition. The sailing Olympics take place between July 29 and August 11, but either side of those dates there are host of competitive sailing events, including several races designed to attract some of the world’s mighty 130-foot J-Class yachts, including the J-Class Hundred Guinea Cup and the Cowes Superyacht Cup, not to mention the 12-metre and 8-metre world championships. And then of course November brings the start of the four-yearly Vendée Globe single-handed circumnavigation race (you can expect to be back home by February 2013 – with luck – but of course you will miss the FIFA World Cup set for December in Japan).The End. It wouldn’t be right to end without a short note to remind you that according to some interpretations of the Mayan calendar, the world is actually due to end in 2012. On December 21 to be precise, the supposed ending of the b'ak'tun 13 calendrical cycle, when according to self-styled authorities anything and everything that is imaginable will happen simultaneously (no, doesn’t make sense to us either). It’s a prediction that has already generated a long list of books (like Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol), films (like 2012), and songs (like Till The World Ends by Britney Spears). Expect more, many more. And one last prediction: royalties on these works of imagination will still be paid in 2013, and well beyond.
Nothing in this document constitutes or should be treated as investment advice or an offer to buy or sell any security or other investment. TT is authorised and regulated in the United Kingdom by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).