• Panellists at a session on Rebuilding and Recovering from 2020 were split between being optimistic and cautious about tackling the challenges ahead.
  • They discussed the impact of Brexit, how Europe has fared in 2020, the future for international relations under a Biden presidency - and how action on climate change might affect the China-US dynamic.

As 2020 draws to a close, there are reasons to be optimistic about the global effort to tackle today's most pressing issues.

While the first shots of the first COVID-19 vaccine were being administered in the UK, world leaders announced new climate change commitments.

Our Great Reset call on 16 December looked at how we build on this momentum to seek multilateral solutions to the economic, health and societal challenges the world has faced over the past year.

Not all panellists were equally optimistic as they discussed the impact of Brexit, how the EU has fared in 2020, the future for international relations under a Biden presidency - and how action on climate change might affect the China-US dynamic.

Taking part were: Dambisa Moyo, Global Economist at Mildstorm Group; George Osborne, Editor at Evening Standard and former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer; Adam Tooze, Director, European Institute at Columbia University; Tammy Tam, Editor-in-Chief at South China Morning Post; Vali R. Nasr, Professor of International Relations at Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University.

These were some of the key quotes - and you can watch the full session here.

On Brexit and Europe

This might be a foolish prediction, but I will hazard a guess that we are going to see a Brexit deal... It seems there's been a breakthrough [on regulation]... Once you’re down to how much cod and hake you can catch, there’s a deal to be done and you can’t flounder.

—- George Osborne

In handling the crisis, bits of the welfare state functioned in ways we've not seen before... Europeans feel they have moved towards a fiscal apparatus capable of moving trillions of euros. And they have been able to maintain focus on the Green Deal... while another team is negotiating Brexit... If you’re looking for sophisticated, affluent democracies juggling a lot of balls simultaneously... It's slow, but it’s the sort of politics we need going forward.

—- Adam Tooze

On the global recovery

The pandemic is catalyzing a lot of the challenges we were already worried about before COVID-19... We are going to head towards a much more progressive environment, in which government becomes a bigger arbiter of capital and labour, much more tax dependent and aggressive, much more regulation. I fear we'll see a shrinkage in the private sector, more delistings from the stock market, and more deglobalization. It's a pretty bleak picture.

—- Dambisa Moyo

I'm a little bit more optimistic... [In Western economies], the vaccine is there. There's a huge amount of stimulus. I don't think the permanent damage is anything like from the global financial crisis... Aligned with a Biden administration, that's going to be more expansionary, the ingredients are there for a pretty impressive 2021... But the division between those countries who have been vaccinated and those who have not is going to become starker.

—- George Osborne

On US international relations

I don’t see a 'V-shaped' recovery for American foreign policy. The world the Democrats are returning to in 2021 is not the one they left in 2016. A lot of the facts on the ground have changed... It will take a year for the Biden administration to rebuild the institutions of foreign policy... The best thing Biden can do is recalibrate, so the goals of the US can match its resources. It will look for stability and predictability in American foreign policy, it will back away from war.

—- Vali R. Nasr

I want to be optimistic and constructive, I wouldn’t count the US out, but it’s going to be a steep hill to turn this situation around.

—- Dambisa Moyo

On China and climate change action

The carbon-neutral goal shows China wants to be a global player. I think climate change is the area, despite their differences, where China and the US can come together. Biden has made clear the first thing he will do is to rejoin the Paris accord. China is more than willing to continue to be a global player in climate change, it will be happy to work with the US in that regard.

—- Tammy Tam

If one reads President Xi’s promise not just as a statement to the outside world, but as the opening gambit in an extremely complex battle inside China’s political economy about re-orientating the Chinese growth machine away from fossil fuels, a sudden stop in One Belt One Road lending may actually open the door to a big rethink.

—- Adam Tooze