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What went right in 2020?

By Elisabeth Cowell
06 January 2021

By Elisabeth Cowell

Every New Years’ Eve my family gets swept up by the festive and reflective spirit that grips us at the end of the year and takes it in turns to talk about all the positive things achieved and experienced during the year we’re seeing out.

However, as 2020 drew to a close, our annual ritual very nearly took a turn for the worse due to the challenges experienced during a year described as ‘broken’. Still, we dug deep and as the conversation started flowing, we realised that there had been many moments of light to counteract the dark. 

This got me thinking about what went right more broadly, on a national and global level. My research highlighted some fantastic achievements and progression, and so I thought I’d share with you, some of 2020’s rays of sunshine, designed to lift the mood on the back of the latest lockdown news.  

  • The UK experienced an IPO heatwave: The $7.4bn annual total raised through new issues eclipsed last year’s $6.9bn as companies such as The Hut Group and music publisher Round Hill Music Royalty Fund floated their shares. Given my background in financial communications, it would be remiss of me not to lead with this one and truly, as someone that has thrown myself into my work to manage through the days, the relative buoyancy of the IPO market in 2020 has been fantastic to experience. Despite the ambiguity of Brexit, London had the most IPO activity, by deal proceeds, of any listing venue in Europe each year since 2015. The exception is 2018 when Germany clinched the top spot. And, with a swathe of new IPOs anticipated for 2021, it looks as though the UK Capital Markets are set to continue this momentum over the next 12 months as well.
  • A Renewables Record: Global renewable electricity installation hit a record level in 2020, according to the International Energy Agency. Demand for renewables was growing even before the pandemic, but with advancements in green tech making renewables more competitive than ever, green electricity is on track to become the largest power source in 2025, displacing coal which has overshadowed the market for the past 50 years. Renewable energy comprised almost half of Britain’s electricity generation in the first three months of 2020, for example, with a surge in wind power helping set a new record for clean energy. In April, Britain broke records for going without coal-fired power generation for the longest stretch since the Industrial Revolution.
  • Vaccine Victories: Africa was declared free of wild polio in August following decades of work by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and a roll out of the polio vaccine which offers lifelong immunity. The last recorded case was in Nigeria four years ago but given that in 1996, approximately 75,000 children were paralysed by wild polio, this feat is certainly a triumph. And of course, we experienced our own vaccination victories closer to home, when the Coronavirus vaccine became the fastest vaccine to be ever developed. As one scientist put it “In the last 11 months, probably 10 years’ work has been done” thanks to collaboration by scientists around the world. We are now looking into 2021 with some serious light at the end of the tunnel.
  • A diversity drive: While much more remains to be done, it was encouraging to see efforts to improve diversity across some of the world’s best-recognised cultural institutions. In September, the Oscars introduced new guidelines designed to improve diversity and inclusion for its most prestigious award: best picture, while the six-author shortlist for the 2020 Booker prize included four women and four people of colour. From a corporate point of view, in December, Netflix pledged to diversify its programming to better reflect audiences in the UK. It announced a host of new shows featuring diverse talent.
  • Climate Commitments: 2020 saw more countries make net-zero pledges. South Korea became the first Asian country to set a 2050 net-zero emissions goal, followed by Japan, and China, which committed to reaching net zero by 2060. China is the world’s biggest emitter and had previously committed only to aim for peak emissions in about 2030. Argentina also set a mission to achieve net zero in the same timeframe, while Finland, Austria and Sweden brought their targets forward. The UK set a bold pledge to reduce emissions by 68 per cent in the next decade, while the EU set a new goal of reducing emissions by 55 per cent within a decade.