The world in 2023: What next for governments already dealing with Covid, war and catastrophic climate change?

Every year, it feels like the world has taken as much as it can handle.

Three years of the Covid pandemic, followed by the war in Ukraine, which began early in 2022 and ensured economic and food-related crises have left countries across the globe reeling. Hopes of a better year have been misguided in the past few new year periods, with each 12-month period throwing up its own challenges for governments around the world.

Moving into 2023, the conflict with Russia does not seem to be showing any indications of a major breakthrough – although there are some signs of light at the end of the tunnel.

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Meanwhile, the global world order has seen a major shake-up in 2022, with the fall-out of countries jostling for position set to continue well into 2023. Russia has tried to assert itself as a major power, combined with attempts to cosy up to the likes of China and Iran. The West is also being reshaped, with the role of the US continuing to change – and arguably weaken, potentially due to the volatile political situation in a divided America.

The mothers, wives and relatives of Ukrainian prisoners of war gather at Mykhailivs'ka Square, demanding to liberate their loved ones with a prisoner exchange with Russia in Kyiv, Ukraine in December. Picture: Getty Images

Here we look at some of the main global issues set to affect governments around the world in 2023.

Ukraine

Ukrainians are looking ahead to a bleak winter amid widespread damage to the country’s energy infrastructure. However, there was a glimmer of hope from American intelligence, when US director of intelligence Avril Haines said the “tempo” of the war looked set to slow. She said both Ukraine and Russian militaries would be looking to to prepare for any counter-offensive after the winter, but that she had a “fair amount of scepticism” Russia would be prepared to do that.

There was also a sign of hope that peace talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin could be on the cards. US president Joe Biden said publicly in December he was willing to sit down with Mr Putin "to see what he has in mind", while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz conducted an hour-long phone call with the Russian leader – his first since September. However, for any talks to be successful, Russia would have to show that it is prepared to end the conflict by withdrawing from the parts of Ukraine it has occupied – something which Mr Putin does not seem ready to do.

Former US president Donald Trump officially launched his 2024 presidential campaign at the end of 2022. Picture: Getty Images

Russia is likely to want to string out the conflict for as long as possible, in a bid to wear down Ukraine as a result of energy shortages – and also in hope that political changes in key countries like the US could see international support wane.

China

Experts have raised questions as to whether Taiwan could become Asia’s Ukraine. The self-governing territory saw China launch military exercises in its waters, following a visit by US Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, in the autumn.

A further visit by MPs from Westminster’s foreign affairs committee also sparked controversy after they travelled to Taiwan to meet with high-level officials, including Taiwan's foreign minister, Joseph Wu. The Chinese embassy said the British visit was a “flagrant violation of the one-China principle”.

China has long believed Taiwan, which is democratic, is a breakaway territory that will eventually unite with the Chinese mainland. Mr Wu reportedly spoke to MPs about "increasing authoritarian threats" as well as "worrying issues at home and abroad".

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British foreign policy on China has seen a major shift in recent months as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak condemned the closer economic relationship with the country as a “mistake” and said the “golden era” of a close relationship with Xi Jinping’s government was over.

China, however, has its own problems at home. Its policy of ‘Zero Covid’ has begun to slip as cases of the virus rose at the end of 2022. Protests – an unusual sight in China – broke out and the authorities subsequently relaxed the policy in the first easing of restrictions since the pandemic began.

US

In US politics, both Republicans and Democrats will be gearing up in the coming months for the 2024 general election.

Primaries – where the main parties select their candidate for the election – will not take place until early 2024, although 2023 should see a clear picture beginning to form as to who will throw their hat into the ring.

Former president Donald Trump has already said he will seek re-election, launching his presidential campaign in November. The question remains as to whether the incumbent president, Mr Biden, will also stand. Mr Biden, who turned 80 last month, is not regarded in some factions of the Democratic party as the ideal candidate, due to his age by the time of the election, with some members hoping for a younger, more dynamic presidential hope.

Europe

European countries, like the UK, are battling with rising food and utility prices. Mainland Europe historically had a higher reliance on Russian gas, leaving countries vulnerable as the Kremlin cut off supply. Some cities in Europe have banned businesses from heating their offices above a certain temperature and have cut back on state use of energy, such as in external lights on government buildings and even the use of hot showers in leisure centres.

Depending on the weather for the rest of this winter, these rationing tactics could well continue. However, it is hoped things will begin to settle down as governments get a handle on a world which can no longer be reliant on Russian fuel sources.

Climate

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Mass flooding in countries from Pakistan and Venezuela to Australia has caused thousands of deaths in the past 12 months due to the effects of climate change. Climate conference COP27, held in Egypt at the end of 2022, did not yield the commitment to phase out fossil fuels that was hoped. However, a loss and damage fund was agreed for the first time, considered a significant achievement. Hopes will be pinned on COP28 in 2023, to be held in the United Arab Emirates – one of the biggest oil exporters in the world.

Famine

Famine around the world could get worse in 2023, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has warned, saying we could face a “global hunger crisis”.

The war in Ukraine has compounded problems that have been brewing for years, including climate disruption, the Covid-19 pandemic and the unequal recovery. Famine warnings remain high in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

One study published in 2017 by Gro Intelligence, an agricultural data technology company, has claimed the world could run out of food by 2023, with the amount produced not sufficient to feed the global population – although other reports have said the date for this to occur would be more like 2050.

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