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2021 must be a year of enlightened and empathetic action

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Mary Robinson calls for solidarity, inclusion and generosity of spirit, as we seek to overcome our common challenges in 2021.

The past twelve months have been devastating for millions of people across the world, in terms of health, security, prosperity and community.

COVID-19 has turned the world upside down, and even though we can all take heart from the roll-out of vaccines, it is clear that we will be living with the pandemic and its impact on the global economy for much of the year ahead.

This means we must all collectively work to restore cooperation and compassion as the necessary guides of world affairs: from pandemic preparedness and the response to climate change and nuclear non-proliferation; to racial justice, gender equality and respecting the rights of migrants and refugees.

The upcoming inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as President and Vice-President of the United States offers the chance for a “reset” not only in the national politics of the US but in international relations as a whole.

The pandemic has starkly exposed the failures of narrow nationalism and populist politics that disdains scientific evidence and social cohesion. No nation can tackle this threat on its own, regardless of its power or size.

In 2021, we must apply this lesson to the other existential threats facing humanity, not least the climate crisis.

In the words of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, “our future security and prosperity depend on bold climate action”. Yet even at the most recent Climate Action Summit on 12 December, the scale of some leaders’ commitments was still not commensurate with the collective challenge we face.

It is certainly welcome that the EU, UK and even some of the most vulnerable countries have already significantly strengthened their 2030 targets to cut emissions. But the US, Japan, China and other major emitters must now follow suit well ahead of the COP 26 summit in Glasgow in November 2021 – there can be no more excuses for delay or prevarication.

The climate crisis, like COVID-19, knows no borders and pays no attention to national sovereignty.

We have all become acutely and intimately aware of the fragility of human existence and the extent to which our fates are interconnected, not just across borders but down the generations.

2021 must be a year of enlightened and empathetic action, with leaders and citizens alike acting in a spirit of solidarity, inclusion and generosity of spirit. As Elders we will play our own part, and as always, we remain deeply grateful for your ongoing support.


Adapted from The Elders' monthly newsletter. Sign up for regular updates here.

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