A war, an iconic queen, and a dot: Top 10 events that defined 2022

Every New Year comes with the promise of new beginnings and hope of better days. So it was when 2022 dawned, but a war in Europe altered the global mood, adding to existing challenges. Leading individuals passed on, but the year also saw some joys and silver linings



By Prasun Sonwalkar

Published: Fri 30 Dec 2022, 12:41 AM

Last updated: Fri 30 Dec 2022, 12:42 AM

Annus horribilis, Latin for a ‘horrible year’, became better known when Queen Elizabeth used it in a speech to describe 1992, the year when several developments rocked the royal family: scandals, divorce, separation, even a fire in Windsor Castle. She passed away in September, but if she were around today, she would probably describe 2022 on similar lines. Not only have Harry and Meghan been rocking the royal boat through Netflix, but the year also saw unprecedented reverberations in her government in Westminster, and at various levels outside the United Kingdom. To say that the year was dramatic would be an understatement.

For most Britons, and particularly for news junkies, 2022 seemed like a long drawn-out story; journalists struggled to keep with the pace of politics: In the space of 12 months, the country had three prime ministers and two monarchs.

Here is a recap of 10 major events that hit the headlines in Britain and across the globe:

Russia in Ukraine

It was and continues to be the most significant world event of 2022, sending ripples across the energy sector, the international order, and much else. Russia called it a ‘special military operation’, while many saw it as an invasion. Countries initially struggled to take a position, given Russia’s standing, their old ties and dependence for energy supplies, reviving shades of the Cold War, but as the year came to a close, a sense of fatigue crept in. At first, few expected Ukraine to withstand the Russian onslaught, but the spirit is undimmed, represented by the social media savvy President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a former comedian-actor, who has already become something of a ‘war hero’. He has been addressing parliaments across the globe, in person and digitally, winning new friends and influencing foreign policies. And capital Kyiv is still in Ukrainian hands, while reports in the western media — with all the health warnings — claim that Russia is on the back-foot. Call it what you will — war, conflict, hostilities or a military operation — but the world is already struggling with energy crises, supply disruptions, price shocks, and food shortages. Will 2023 see a resolution?

Queen Elizabeth: End of a 70-year reign

She represented history, literally, having taken over as the monarch in 1952, appointing 15 British prime ministers during her record reign. The reign has been closely chronicled a witness to momentous changes in all fields. Not one, but several time-lapse videos would be needed to capture the timelines or the change and continuity that unfolded around her over the decades: wars, de-colonisation of the British Empire, political events, technological and other changes, and also developments in her family. But all along, she has remained a symbol of reassurance, stability, authority and continuity in a changing Britain. Widely respected, the passing on of Britain’s longest-serving monarch at the age of 96 was mourned by millions, not only in the UK, the Commonwealth, but also beyond. Britain’s unparalleled ability to stage royal events was on full display during the Jubilee Weekend (June 2-5) to celebrate 70 years of her reign and during her funeral. The coronation of her son, King Charles, on May 6, 2023, is also expected to closely follow the royal script, making it another global event.

3 PMs in Downing Street: Testing respect for democracy

Brexit continues to evoke a range of reactions in global capitals, but the procession of as many as three prime ministers in and out of Downing Street in 2022 added to the grist: Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. Lindsay Hoyle, speaker of the House of Commons, summed up the turmoil best, describing the experience of a “bizarre” revolving door of ministers in the House, saying “we never knew who was going to be at the dispatch box”, with the “disaster” of three prime ministers within three months: “People became very, and were, disgruntled… Brexit divided the country, divided families, and people’s respect for a democracy has struggled. And, of course, we didn’t help this year with what went on. The only thing that was the continuity of parliament was myself. You know, we were running out of ministers, you couldn’t believe it. I’ve never seen anything like it. As I say, when you talk to historians, you talk to senior politicians, nobody has ever seen anything like it before”. A silver lining of sorts was Sunak taking over as prime minister: the first non-white, the first British Asian and the first British Indian to hold the office. It is a different matter that the more things change, the more they appear the same, but his elevation was indeed a rare moment.

James Webb Space Telescope: A window to eternity

The images were stunning, but many struggled to comprehend the enormity of eternity. In July, the telescope unveiled a tiny snapshot of space, the sharpest in-depth infrared view of the universe to date, capturing the light from cosmic bodies that was emitted 4.6 billion years ago, not as it is today. The potential to know how it all began is immense. The telescope named after former NASA Administrator James Webb is expected to peer deeper into space, billions of light years deeper, taking us right up to the Big Bang. The humbling images reminded many of the iconic astronomer Carl Sagan, who put things in perspective in his 1994 book, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space: “Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilisation, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar’, every ‘supreme leader’, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”.

World population crosses 8 billion

Some worry, others don’t, but the figure was reached on November 15: Planet Earth is now populated by over 8 billion people. According to the United Nations, India is the largest contributor to the milestone, adding 177 million to the score. Vinice Mabansag, a girl born in Tondo, Manila, was considered to be the symbolic 8 billionth person, symbolic because it is hard to calculate the exact number of people in the world. The UN says the growth is due to the gradual increase in human lifespan owing to improvements in public health, nutrition, personal hygiene and medicine. It is also the result of high and persistent levels of fertility in some countries. While it took the global population 12 years to grow from 7 to 8 billion, it will take approximately 15 years — until 2037 — for it to reach 9 billion, a sign that the overall growth rate of the global population is slowing, the UN says. It does not expect the figure to reach 10 billion until 2080. More than half of the projected increase in the global population up to 2050 will be concentrated in eight countries: The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, and the United Republic of Tanzania. What’s coming in 2023? India is expected to surpass China as the world’s most populous nation.

Elon Musk bags Twitter

Few events set the commentariat as abuzz during the year as billionaire Elon Musk buying Twitter for $44 billion in October. He soon fired CEO Parag Agarwal, CFO Ned Segal, and head of legal policy, trust and safety Vijaya Gadde, and many others, setting off a chain of events in the micro-blogging site that continues to make news. After acquiring it following a legal battle, Musk tweeted, “Let the good times roll” and “The bird is freed”. He asked employees to work overtime and raised hackles by announcing a fee for Twitter’s blue tick authentication. He then asked Twitter users whether he should step down as the head of the company, promising to abide by the results of his poll. When the poll closed, 57.5 per cent said he should step down. Musk did not tweet in the immediate hours after the poll, but broke his silence when he responded with “Interesting” to multiple suggestions that the results of the poll were skewed by fake accounts. He reinstated the accounts of far-right politicians, suspended those of some journalists on a flimsy pretext but reinstated them later. It is all part of the Musk enigma to keep the twitterati and the world on tenterhooks; so expect more of that in 2023.

COP27 compensation fund

There has long been scepticism of the outcome of high-profile global meetings, but COP27 surprised many by reaching a historic decision in Sharm-El-Sheikh in November, when developed countries decided to pay for the damage an overheating world is inflicting on poor countries by establishing a fund for ‘loss and damage’. For many, it was the highlight of COP27 and the culmination of decades of pressure from climate-vulnerable developing countries. The fund aims to provide financial assistance to nations most vulnerable and impacted by the effects of climate change. This is the first step, and success will depend on how quickly the fund gets off the ground. Representatives from 24 countries are to work together over the next year to decide what form the fund should take, which countries should contribute, and where and how the money should be distributed.

A left turn in Latin America

There was a frisson in Left circles after a prolonged spell in the backwaters. The year saw a Left turn in Brazil: Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva ended far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro’s controversy-riddled term. In the process, Lula da Silva, who was jailed in April 2018 after being convicted in a corruption case, was catapulted from a prisoner to president in three years. He was released in 2019 when the Supreme Court found that the previous judge in the case was biased. In fact, his election is part of a wave sweeping the region over the last five years. In 2017, right-of-center politicians dominated politics in Latin America, but things changed from 2018, with the election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico; centre-left candidate Alberto Fernández claimed Argentina’s presidency in 2019; socialist Luis Arce won Bolivia’s presidency in 2020; and in 2021 socialist Pedro Castillo became president of Peru and leftist Gabriel Boric became president of Chile. The turn to the left continued in 2022 as democratic socialist Xiomara Castro was sworn in as president of Honduras, former rebel fighter Gustavo Petro made history by becoming Colombia’s first leftist president. Will the wave spread far and beyond Latin America in 2023?

A cup of joy

Sport is said to be war by other means, or war minus the shooting, but the magic of football on display in the Qatar World Cup continues to enthrall the world. There were too many magic moments to be able to choose Top 10 or even Top 3, while King Messi’s spell across the globe shows no sign of abating.

First tribal woman President in India

Suffused with symbolism, Droupadi Murmu became the fifteenth President of India: the first tribal and only the second woman head of state since independence in 1947. A former governor of the state of Jharkhand, she is known for her work to empower marginalised sections of society. Born in a Santhali tribal family on June 20, 1958, at Uparbeda village, Mayurbhanj, Odisha, Murmu’s early life was marked by hardships and struggle. On completion of primary education from the village school, she went to Bhubaneswar to continue her studies. She earned the degree of Bachelor of Arts from Ramadevi Women’s College, and became the first woman from her village to receive college education. After entering public life, she held several roles in Odisha assembly and government. Murmu attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth. According to the census, Scheduled Tribes constitute 8.6 per cent of India’s population and 11.3 per cent of the rural population.

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