For many, and rightly so, 2023 will be remembered as the year of barbarity, war and the retreat of the rule of law. A gloomy atmosphere reigns on the planet, and many deduce that much worse lies ahead. And yet, alongside all these disasters, a great deal of good news has gone unnoticed…
Firstly, in the field of artificial intelligence (or rather, “automatic forecasting”), dazzling progress has considerably improved the ability to predict breakdowns, accidents, leaks and errors, dramatically improving the efficiency and safety of machines and paving the way for huge savings in energy and raw materials.
In healthcare, increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence models have this year enabled: drastically improved prediction of the risk of heart attacks; considerable progress, particularly in Paris, in coronary treatments; the emergence of new drugs using messenger RNA in a wide range of fields, especially cancerology; considerable improvements in the first treatments for Parkinson’s disease; the first complete eye transplant performed by surgeons in New York, using donor stem cells; to cure children suffering from a particularly rare form of deafness thanks to a gene therapy acting on the optic nerve, developed both in China and in Cambridge in Great Britain; to repair, for the first time, a very particular vein whose deviation could cause irreversible damage to the brain after birth via in utero brain surgery in Boston, London and Toronto.
Tremendous progress has been made in eliminating the most harmful of some 4,700 perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl compounds. Known as PFAS, these chemical compounds are found in the sea, rainwater, drinking water, packaging and foodstuffs containing artificial sugars and preservatives. Considerable progress has also been made towards batteries that are less polluting, and less harmful to those who produce them, in particular by replacing lithium with sodium.
A treaty has been signed by some 70 countries to protect the high seas, from 2025, from excessive incursion by deep-sea fishing, deep-sea exploration and shipping. When it is ratified, the number of protected high seas will rise from 1% to 30%. Negotiations on another treaty to reduce plastic pollution are well advanced and should be finalized in 2025, imposing globally binding measures. This treaty is essential when you consider the figures: of the 400 million tonnes of plastic waste produced, some 14 million tonnes are dumped in the oceans every year.
Considerable progress has also been made in the fight against child labor and violence against women.
Although COP 28 was disappointing, there were also significant advances on the climate front: Australia and Tuvalu (a very low-lying island threatened with extinction) signed the first international treaty organizing climate asylum for the inhabitants of a country threatened with extinction; countries bordering the Amazon, the Congo and the great rivers of South-East Asia, home to the world’s largest tropical forests and possessing two-thirds of the planet’s biodiversity, developed mechanisms to protect biodiversity; the Democratic Republic of Congo has signed a partnership agreement with the European Union to make its forests fully sustainable by 2030, while creating a large number of jobs to protect them.
In Brazil, the government seems to have decided this year to seriously combat deforestation: in 2023, the deforestation rate was at its lowest level since 2018, and the Lula government has set itself the goal of zero deforestation by 2030. China has announced that it is starting to reduce its CO2 emissions from power generation, having doubled its renewable energy capacity this year, which now exceeds its fossil-fired power generation; and, it has committed to using less coal from 2026, even though it still consumes more than half the world’s output. Finally, in Saudi Arabia, the first hydrogen-powered train ran on the basis of French technology.
On the geopolitical front, 2023 was not all conflict and barbaric terrorism: relations between China and the United States improved on the bangs of the APEC meeting, in particular to coordinate in the fight against drugs; Azerbaijan and Armenia declared their intention to normalize their relations; CEDAO, which brings together the main West African countries, opted for negotiations rather than conflict with Niger.
In Europe, Italy has decided to withdraw from the New Silk Roads, enabling Europe to adopt a coordinated attitude towards China. Elections in Poland brought to power a government very much in favor of European integration and support for Ukraine, which withstood Russian pressure far better than many expected. The European Union, for its part, has made considerable regulatory progress, adopting bold environmental and digital protection standards.
All this, of course, is far from enough, and the challenges, of all kinds, are immense. We need to face them head-on: the next 5 years remind me of the 5 years preceding the First World War: even if there were many clouds on the horizon in 1908, everything was in place technologically, economically and ideologically for a happy 20th century. And yet, we had more than 5 decades of appalling barbarity.
The best is possible. But we must not despair, we must look at the lights and smiles that light the way, and use them to move forward.