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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 19, 2021 - Health

U.S. surpasses 400,000 coronavirus deaths on Trump's final full day in office

Expand chart
Data: CSSE Johns Hopkins University; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Over 400,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the U.S. as of Tuesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

Why it matters: It only took a little over a month for the U.S. to reach this mass casualty after 300,000 COVID deaths were reported last month. That's over 100,000 fatalities in 36 days.

Dave Lawler, author of World
Jan 19, 2021 - World

Biden will bring U.S. into COVAX vaccine initiative, Blinken says

Data: Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance; Map: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Secretary of State designate Tony Blinken announced in a confirmation hearing on Tuesday that President-elect Biden would bring the U.S. into the COVAX initiative — the global effort from the World Health Organization and other groups to ensure that every country has access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Why it matters: Virtually the entire world has signed onto COVAX, apart from the U.S. and Russia. It's expected to be the only source of vaccines for some of the world's poorest countries, and it needs additional funding to fulfill its goal of vaccinating at least 20% of the population in every country by the end of 2021.

Jan 19, 2021 - Health

Fauci: U.S. could achieve herd immunity by fall if vaccine rollout goes to plan

NIAID director Anthony Fauci. Photo: Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images

Infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said on Tuesday that if the coronavirus vaccine rollout by the incoming Biden administration goes as planned, the U.S. could start to see effects of herd immunity and normalcy by early-to-mid fall.

What he's saying: "If we [vaccinate] efficiently in April, May, June, July, August, we should have that degree of protection that could get us back to some form of normality. ... But we've also got to do it on a global scale," he said at a Harvard Business Review virtual event.