20 world events in 2020: Medical, science, sport, technology and political milestones to watch out for

The Mars Rover is part of Nasa’s Mars planet exploration programme. The mission is due to launch in July next year and land in February 2021.

The next 12 months will be dominated by politics, and the civil unrest that has marked 2019 is likely to further intensify as citizens worldwide rally against corruption, climate inaction and the growing divide between rich and poor.

As we move into 2020, we look at 20 things that will define the first year of a new decade - and it's not all gloomy.


Mascots for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games: Miraitowa (left) and Someity. PHOTO: AFP

On July 24, the Summer Olympics will return to Tokyo, 56 years after its first games, at a projected cost of 400 billion yen (S$5 billion).

Alongside traditional events, Tokyo will introduce a number of additional competitions, including 3x3 basketball, freestyle BMX and "madison" cycling (a lap-based track event), sport climbing, and skateboarding.

Baseball and softball will both make an Olympic return, having been removed after 2008.

In unique twists the mascots, Miraitowa and Someity, were voted for by Japanese schoolchildren, and medals will be made from materials reclaimed from old electronics, such as mobile phones.


US President Donald Trump speaks last month during a ‘Keep America Great’ campaign rally at the BB&T Centre in Sunrise, Florida, the US. PHOTO: AFP

This year's US election is already shaping up to be one of the most pivotal and hotly debated in history, with topics such as the economy, immigration, health care and climate change set to divide the nation.

As well as more women vying for the top job than ever before, this year's election campaign has seen a historically large field of Democratic candidates.

After votes are cast on November 3, the world will find out whether Donald Trump will hold onto his presidency - or whether a new face has been elected to lead the US.

After 2016's election, beset by foreign meddling and the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, the world will be closely watching modern democracy unfold in "the land of the free".


An Egyptian medical staffer takes oral samples from a labourer undergoing examination for hepatitis C at the construction site of Egypt’s new “administrative capital” in Cairo. PHOTO: AFP

The east African nation will celebrate a major medical milestone in 2020, when it is likely to succeed in eradicating hepatitis C.

In 2008, Egypt had the highest prevalence of the virus in the world; in 2018, it launched an aggressive campaign to tame the skyrocketing disease by opening 7,000 screening sites and offering free 12-week treatment courses for sufferers.

This year, the country's Ministry of Health said Egypt would receive a HCV-free certificate from the World Health Organisation at the next assembly, and that its approach would be extended to other African countries.


People living in developing countries could soon have access to a new kind of banana genetically engineered to tackle malnutrition.

Backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia are trialling a banana high in vitamin A, a deficiency that plagues poverty-stricken countries, causing between 650,000 and 700,000 deaths and 300,000 cases of blindness per year.

The project, which started in 2005, is likely to see farmers in Uganda growing the crop in 2020.


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Quentin Tarantino may finally get his best director Oscar with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but, like 2019, the film industry in 2020 will be defined by nostalgia and safe bets.

Somehow, there is enough mileage left in the franchise to make a Fast & Furious 9; elsewhere, film-goers can look forward to sequels No Time To Die (James Bond), The Croods 2, Venom 2, The Purge 5, The Conjuring 3, Minions: The Rise of Gru and Ghostbusters 2020, among others.

The Grudge, The Secret Garden, West Side Story and Dune will all get remakes, while spin-offs will come in the form of Black Widow, the GI Joe franchise's Snake Eyes, and X-Men's The New Mutants. And, of course, Disney will finally release its Mulan live-action film.


Tesla's weird-looking Cybertruck may have made the company the butt of many jokes and memes this year, but as the world slowly moves away from its dependency on oil, electric vehicles are becoming increasingly desirable.

The US carmaker's all-electric Roadster, due for launch in 2020, is claimed to have a range of 1,000km (620 miles) per charge, a significant milestone in automotive technology that will set buyers back by at least US$200,000 (S$270,000).

The car is also projected to go from 0 to 100km/h in 1.9 seconds.

The company is also focusing on the longevity of its vehicles: Tesla's electric motors are expected to last a million miles, and founder Elon Musk has mentioned that the company is developing batteries with the same lifespan.


Social media behemoth Facebook's already much maligned cryptocurrency Libra is said to be steaming ahead despite concerns around privacy and regulation.

The currency's aims are noble: enabling the estimated 1.7 billion adults worldwide without a bank account to be able to send money quickly and simply online.

Already this year, several prominent backers have bailed on the project and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg received a sceptical grilling from US lawmakers.

Although Facebook does not have a great reputation for privacy protection, the company says Libra's financial data will be kept separate from Facebook's social data and, crucially, will not be used for advert targeting.


For Nasa next year will be all about the Mars Rover, due to launch in July and land in February 2021 as part of the agency's long-term robotic exploration project of the red planet.

The mission will not only study whether humans could live on Mars one day, but also search for signs of past microbial life by collecting rock samples and testing a method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, potentially paving the way for a future astronaut settlement.

Why a summer take-off? It will be when it takes least energy to get Mars from Earth, due to their orbits lining up favourably. If you're a school student, Nasa is also running a competition to name the rover: the deadline is January 9.


A girl eats a food supplement distributed during a malnutrition screening session organised by the NGO Action Contre la Faim and the World Food Programme in Ifotaka, southern Madagascar. PHOTO: AFP

One in every 45 people is in need of food, shelter, health care, education, protection or other basic help, the UN's Global Humanitarian Overview revealed in early December.

The organisation has asked the world to invest US$29 billion in humanity in 2020, due to conflict, extreme weather events and struggling economies, all factors that are making life increasingly difficult for communities living all over the world.

The plans set out in the GHO 2020 will help save lives and alleviate suffering in 53 countries and reach 109 million vulnerable people.

"The brutal truth is 2020 will be difficult for millions of people," emergency relief coordinator Mark Lowcock said when launching GHO 2020 in Geneva.

"The good news is that the humanitarian response is getting better and faster in reaching the most vulnerable, including women, children and people with disabilities."


Hidekichi Miyazaki, 105, throws a shot put after running with other competitors all over 80 years of age in a 100m sprint in the Kyoto Masters in Kyoto, western Japan. PHOTO: AFP

As the world's population closes in on 8 billion, the median global age in 2020 will be 30.9, a number that is slowly rising each year.

Infant and adult mortality will be at an all-time low and 107 boys will be born for every 100 girls, according to figures from the UN.

Average life expectancy will be at an all-time high of 72, projected to rise to just over 73 in the space of five years.

Between 1970-75 and 2015-20, life expectancy at birth is projected to rise globally by 14.2 years for women and 13.5 years for men due to advances in sanitation, education, housing and medicine.

Meanwhile, death rates per 1,000 people will begin increasing again after a period of decline due to an ageing population.


A statue of Pharaoh Ramses II as construction work goes on around it at the newly built Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt. PHOTO: AFP

Few countries' history elicits as much fascination as Egypt, which will open a museum of its own ancient artefacts in 2020.

The Grand Egyptian Museum will exhibit 50,000 artefacts, including the full, 5,000-piece Tutankhamen collection, with many pieces going on display for the first time.

Alongside 3,000-year-old statues and sarcophagi, the museum will use new technology, such as virtual reality, to bring Egypt's legendary past to life for all ages.

Although the building's design is in keeping with the country's traditional architecture, using materials such as alabaster and triangular panels to evoke pyramids, the contract was won by Irish firm Heneghan Peng.


The rest of the world wishes the United Kingdom would get it over with and leave the European Union, as voted for in 2016. Unless further extensions are granted, the nation is set to exit on January 31.

Questions remain over whether the UK will end up with a "no-deal" scenario - leaving without any sort of trade agreements with other countries - or strike a deal on whether the country will leave the customs union.

Either way, the next political year is due to be an unpleasant one for Britons as the full implications of Brexit are slowly revealed.


Astronaut Nick Hague takes a photograph of the earth as he concludes his six-month stay aboard the International Space Station. PHOTO: AFP

Aerospace giants Nasa, SpaceX and Boeing could be about to make (wealthy) wannabe astronauts' dreams come true when the International Space Station opens up to tourists.

Even if holidaying in space does not become a "thing" in 2020, the decade will be a big one for zero-gravity tourism, with a spinning hotel design expected for completion as early as 2027.


The world may have mourned the death of pop icon Whitney Houston in 2012, but her music - and likeness - will live on thanks to hologram technology.

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From February, fans in the UK, Europe and North America will be able to catch live concerts featuring a holographic simulation of the troubled star.

The tour will feature live dancers, singers and musicians, and will feature all of Houston's biggest hits, such as I Will Always Love You.

Holographic resurrections of deceased stars are becoming more common as technology advances: Tupac Shakur's hologram "performed" at Coachella, and music fans can also look forward to holographic tours by Frank Zappa, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Amy Winehouse and Ronnie James Dio.


Get ready to be sick of flapper headdresses and retro gilding: marketers will be leaping all over the return of the roaring '20s. Expect Great Gatsby-inspired weddings, parties and fashion trends - from loose silhouettes, beaded dresses and bob haircuts to art deco and Bauhaus design.

Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of The Great Gatsby in 2013 resurrected all things fringed, and we'll see pop culture doubling down on its fetish for nostalgia as the world marches into the future.

Outside fashion, next year's Dakota Conference at Augustana University, in the US, will be focused on drawing comparisons between the 1920s and the present day, with themes such as science versus fundamentalism, the re-emergence of the KKK, stock market highs and lows, technological advances, the urban/rural divide, and women's suffrage all topics up for discussion.


Filipino youths sit in an internet cafe in Manila, the Philippines. PHOTO: AFP

By 2020, there will be nearly 4.1 billion people using the internet worldwide, compared to 3 billion in 2015, according to telecommunications firm Cisco.

In the same time period, the percentage of internet traffic comprising video will have jumped 70 per cent.

Certain countries are more connected: penetration is more than 84 per cent in the US compared with just 42 per cent worldwide.

Internet connectivity is something most of us take for granted, but as the World Wide Web opens up further, more people will have access to increasingly digital services such as banking, shopping, education and social media.

China, obviously, has the most internet users, followed by the US, India, Japan and Brazil. After Singapore, Hong Kong is the second-highest region for social media saturation, with 64 per cent of the population having some form of social account.


A weakening global economy and growing faith in electric vehicles will see the price per barrel of oil remain low moving into the next decade, says energy adviser DNV GL.

While an increasing emphasis on renewable energy will not offset the effects of a growing world population that is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels, investment in the industry is turning to other sources, such as solar, wind and gas.

The US military has pledged to get half of its energy from renewable resources by 2020, a plan that will largely involve biofuels.

By 2022, demand for oil is forecast to peak, with demand remaining flat for the rest of the decade.


We all know by now that world governments are basically useless at sticking to pledges set out at international climate summits, but 2020 will be a crucial year in setting out pledges and plans to curb rising global temperatures.

The United Nations' climate change summit COP26 will take place in Glasgow in Scotland next year, when 30,000 delegates are due to fly in to discuss a collective response to the climate emergency.

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and other young environmental activists will take part. In short, it has to be a turning point.


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Home buttons on smartphones will soon look like a relic as the in-display fingerprint technology developed in 2019 gets implemented by electronics companies in 2020.

Users of Samsung's Galaxy 10 got an imperfect taste of the 3D Sonic Sensor innovation by Qualcomm, which has ironed out its scanner's flaws ready for roll-out - early rumours say Apple's 2020 phone launches will employ the technology, which is touted to improve security, yet could leave users vulnerable to identity theft by hackers.

Experts advise proceeding with caution - after all, fingerprints are for life.


The planet is said to be in the midst of a sixth mass extinction due to human activities, such as poaching, habitat loss and pollution.

A Living Planet Index report in 2016 predicted the world would lose two-thirds of its wild animal species by 2020.

As a result, next year has been classified as a "biodiversity super year" by the environmental community as it will be a year of major events, including the IUCN World Conservation Congress; new conservation targets will be agreed at Biodiversity COP15; and the Paris Climate Accord goes into effect.

 This article was first published in South China Morning Post