Though many of us hoped that 2021 would bring some relief after the trials and tribulations of 2020, this year has been a bumpy ride. On Jan. 6, just one week into 2021, supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol in Washington—an international beacon of liberal democracy. This seemed to set the tone for the rest of the year. Everywhere, anti-democratic, misogynistic and racist forces made gains; in particular, the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan this summer left many despondent about the country’s future. And all the while, the coronavirus pandemic continued to wreak havoc, especially on the lives of those who are victims of global vaccine inequity.
In the middle of all this chaos, though, 2021 saw the world achieve some major wins. Collectively, we made tremendous strides toward fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations’ 17 targets for international development that it hopes to achieve by 2030. For example, after decades of effort to tackle the disease, China joined the growing number of countries that have been awarded a malaria-free certification by the World Health Organization. This year also saw the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively ban nuclear weapons, come into effect. And the world took steps to address planetary degradation: Seventy-seven countries have now introduced a full or partial ban on plastic bags.
Simply put, 2021 was a rollercoaster—and young people bore the brunt of its ups and downs, suffering the worst during times of crisis and leading the way at moments of breakthrough. So this week, I sat down with a group of fellow young activists—my peers in the United Nations’ Next Generation Fellows youth leadership program—to find out what they consider the major victories and disappointments of the year.