In Depth

What will happen in 2020? Predictions for the biggest news stories of the year

From the Olympic Games and US presidential election to Beethoven’s anniversary and a cannabis referendum


The new year began just three weeks ago but there have already been several major news events.

A US drone strike killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Iraq on 3 January, triggering a dramatic escalation of tensions in the Middle East. The World Health Organization (WHO) called for an emergency meeting and two Chinese cities went into lockdown after a new virus left at least 17 people dead. And the British Royal Family negotiated an unprecedented separation of powers after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced they were stepping back from their duties as senior royals.

So what else might happen over the next 343 days? Here are The Week’s predictions for the main headline-grabbing stories of 2020.

US election

There are dozens of elections due to take place around the world this year, but the one that is likely to dominate the front pages is the US presidential poll on 3 November. Expect months of caucuses and primaries, as the large field of Democratic candidates is whittled down to one.

“In the race for the White House, President Donald Trump can lose up to 36 electoral [college] votes and still win. But his low approval ratings make this race a toss-up,” says Politico.

The president looks unlikely to be convicted or removed from office in the ongoing Senate impeachment trial, with Republicans holding a 53-47 seat majority in the chamber. But Ron Elving at NPR notes: “No one knows what else will happen in 2020 that will affect and perhaps determine the November outcome… The one thing we can safely say is that there’s nothing that can be safely said.”

2020 Olympics Games

Tokyo will host the world’s largest sporting event from 24 July to 9 August, with more than 200 nations and 11,000 athletes competing in 33 sports. The Olympic Games is followed by the Paralympics from 25 August to 6 September.

In a forecast released a year ahead of the Games, data service Gracenote Sports predicted that the US would win the most medals (126 overall), followed by China (81) and then host nation Japan (67), reports The Guardian. Great Britain is predicted to come fifth, with 43 medals in total.


The UK is due to leave the EU on 31 January. The two Article 50 extensions in March and October 2019 left the British public somewhat sceptical about “firm” departure dates.

But that was before Boris Johnson stormed to victory with an 80-strong majority in the general election in December, on the back of a campaign to “Get Brexit Done”. The bill to implement the withdrawal deal was passed by Parliament yesterday – but that will not be the end of Brexit. The Leave date will mark the beginning of another set of detailed negotiations on how to reconstruct the UK’s entire relationship with the EU.

Tech world

While the fifth generation of mobile internet connectivity is already available, 2020 is likely to be the year when “5G really starts to fly”, according to Forbes. More affordable data plans and greatly improved coverage will mean super-fast speeds and more stable connections for everyone, says the magazine.

It also predicts that autonomous cars will continue to “generate a significant amount of excitement”, and there will be a wider adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) by businesses to improve customer experience and to streamline their operations.

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Global economy

John Stepek, executive editor of MoneyWeek, says there are two economic indicators he will be watching closely in 2020: wages and oil.

“We’ve been at virtually full employment in most of the developed world for a few years now. In 2019 we started to see signs that wages are rising more rapidly than inflation. If that continues or accelerates in 2020, it would be good news, but central banks will also find it increasingly tricky to justify keeping interest rates low,” he says.

Oil prices, meanwhile, were largely steady last year owing to weak global demand and buoyant supply from US shale fields. “However, it doesn’t pay to get complacent,” says Stepek. “If the global economy turns out to be stronger than expected, or supply less abundant, prices could rise significantly. Higher oil prices tend to be correlated with economic havoc and political unrest.” All of which leads us to...

Geopolitical instability

Protests raged around the world in 2019, from Hong Kong and Chile to Lebanon and Iraq. And experts are predicting further unrest.

Matthew Bradley, regional security director for risk services company International SOS, believes geopolitical shifts will be the number one danger this year. His company has released its 11th annual Travel Risk Map, which predicts the most dangerous countries in terms of security in 2020. Unsurprisingly, it includes Syria, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan, as well as eastern Ukraine, Somalia and South Sudan.

Other anniversaries and key dates

Five years on from the Paris climate agreement, 2020 is seen as a key year for environmental action. Countries that signed up to the deal to cut carbon in 2015 will meet in Glasgow in November to assess how far they have come and what they need to do next.

Meanwhile, the UK’s May Day bank holiday has been moved to Friday 8 May 2020 to mark 75 years since the guns fell silent at the end of the Second World War. Expect a three-day international celebration of VE Day, with parades and concerts aplenty.

This year is also the 250th anniversary of composer Beethoven’s birth and the 500th anniversary of Renaissance master Raphael’s death, with a series of international shows expected to take place in their honour.

A few other events that look set to grab the headlines include New Zealand’s autumn referendum on whether to legalise the personal use of cannabis, Expo 2020 in Dubai in October and the July launch of Nasa’s Mars 2020 Mission, which hopes to answer key questions about the potential for life on the red planet.


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