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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A new report — first seen by Axios — lays out what could go wrong in the worlds of geopolitics, business and technology in the coming year, as well as what could go right.

The big picture: Viewed side by side, many of the risks and opportunities of 2021 present a mirror image, where different decisions in the same part of the world can lead to positive outcomes — or another year of catastrophe.

What's happening: Robert Manning and Mathew Burrows of the Atlantic Council cite the dangers of an extended COVID-19 pandemic, the stifling of the Biden presidency, and a new debt-driven global financial crisis as the top risks for next year, in a report to be published later today.

  • They also list what they see as the top opportunities of the coming year, led by a reborn World Trade Organization, a revived and updated multilateralism, and a turnaround of the worsening U.S.-Russia relationship.
  • "It's tempting to say that in 2021 there's nowhere to go but up," they write. "But there will be further unanticipated shocks and no shortage of risks."

Between the lines: Every incoming presidential administration faces what Manning calls the "tyranny of the inbox" — the overflow of crises and opportunities that demand the White House's attention. And Biden's inbox is already overflowing.

  • Still, what struck me about the report is how many of the risks could be flipped into opportunities — and vice versa — depending on the moves the administration makes.
  • Much of it comes back to the pandemic. If Biden's team can quickly curtail the spread of COVID-19 and kick-start the economy, it takes pressure off the possibility of a new global financial crisis, which in turn would help increase the chance of "rejuvenating rules-based global trade," as Manning and Burrows write.
  • If the White House can effectively resurrect multilateralism, it will reduce the fallout from any confrontations with Russia and China.

Of note: One of the risks Manning and Burrows cite is arguably already underway, even if it is under the radar: the worst global food crisis in decades.

The bottom line: The new administration has its work cut out for it.

Go deeper

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

WHO says most pregnant women can now receive coronavirus vaccine

A doctor administering Moderna's coronavirus vaccine at a university hospital in Essen, Germany, on Jan. 18. Photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

The World Health Organization has altered its guidance for pregnant women who wish to receive the coronavirus vaccine, saying now that those at high risk of exposure to the COVID-19 or who have comorbidities that increase their risk of severe disease, may be vaccinated.

Why it matters: The WHO drew backlash for its previous guidance that did not recommend pregnant women be inoculated with vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, even though data indicated that pregnancy increased the risk of developing severe illness from the virus.

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Science helps New Zealand avoid another coronavirus lockdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (L) visits a lab at Auckland University in December. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand has avoided locking down for a second time over COVID-19 community cases because of a swift, science-led response.

Why it matters: The Health Ministry said in an email to Axios Friday there's "no evidence of community transmission" despite three people testing positive after leaving managed hotel isolation. That means Kiwis can continue to visit bars, restaurants and events as much of the world remains on lockdown.

Jan 29, 2021 - World

EU grants conditional approval of AstraZeneca vaccine

Photo: Sunil Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The European Commission on Friday granted conditional approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for people 18 years and older.

Why it matters: This is the third vaccine to receive approval from the commission, coming hours after the Emergency Medicines Agency recommended its authorization.