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These Are the Top Global Stories to Watch in 2023

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022 dominated last year like no other news—and for good reason. The conflict is the largest land war in Europe since World War II, it has upended the global economy, and has forced nearly 8 million Ukrainians to flee their country.

Still, there were no shortages of other major stories in 2022.

Iranians began protesting against their government at a scale not seen since the 1979 revolution. Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s steadfast monarch, died after seven decades on the throne as King Charles III took over; meanwhile, the U.K. saw a record three Prime Ministers before Rishi Sunak was appointed. Unprecedented protests broke out in China as anger boiled over President Xi Jinping’s zero-COVID policies. Pakistan saw record flooding that inundated a third of the country. Shinzo Abe, who led Japan from 2006 to 2007 and 2012 to 2020, was assassinated. And, most recently of all, Lionel Messi bolstered his claim as soccer’s GOAT, after leading Argentina to a thrilling World Cup win in a historic tournament that was no stranger to controversy.

As was the case in 2022, this year is bound to have plenty of surprises. But in the meantime, a handful of TIME journalists from around the globe have some predictions for big stories to watch in 2023.

Read More: These Are the Elections to Watch in 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic could be officially over

But how long the economic fallout lingers is another question. While China’s abandonment of its “dynamic zero-COVID” policy has reduced fears of lockdown-related global supply chain snarl-ups, the nation’s hospitals are now straining under a deluge of infections, adding different pressures. Around 40% of Chinese people aged 80 and up have been triple-vaccinated, fueling concerns that roughly 1 million people could perish over the next few months. This grim projection could push President Xi Jinping to hit the brakes on China’s reopening. Either way, how the country navigates COVID-19 given its “immunity gap” will have profound impact not just on China but the world. — Charlie Campbell

The battle between autocracies and democracies ramps up further

A new cold war between China and the West is accelerating. Enmeshed in the interlocking economics of the capitalism that prevailed in the original Cold War, the contest is framed as the choice between liberty on the one hand, and technology (especially communications) that places its faith in a central authority on the other. It’s basically, as U.S. President Joe Biden called it, a challenge to demonstrate that democracy still has the most to offer the world. This competition is playing out not just between geopolitical rivals but also within democracies—most notably in India, but even in the U.S. — Karl Vick

Russia’s war in Ukraine grinds on

The forces of Russian President Vladimir Putin have faced major defeats in recent months, and they have retaliated by targeting key Ukrainian infrastructure as winter sets in. But while this tactic has had devastating effects, the war does not look poised to end in Moscow’s favor. Despite widespread assumptions that winter conditions favor the Russian military, experts suggest that poorly trained and equipped Kremlin troops may lead to a further plummeting of morale. Putin said in late September that he was “still open to talks” with Ukraine, but his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, replied that he would only negotiate “if another President comes to power.” Still, difficult choices lie ahead for Zelensky, who has reiterated his aim to “return all lands” to Ukraine, including whether to open a front in Crimea following success in Donbas and elsewhere. — Charlie Campbell

The world continues to power ahead on renewable energy

Europe is building new natural gas infrastructure to try and replace what it lost after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But the war’s more lasting global effect may have been a dramatic worldwide shift toward renewable energy. As countries around the world come to terms with the costs of relying on imported fossil fuels, renewables are set to grow as fossil fuel power plants decline, with renewables expected to pass coal as the world’s largest electricity source by 2025, according to a December International Energy Agency report. That report dramatically revised renewables projections upwards in response to policy shifts in Europe, China, and the U.S. — Alejandro de la Garza

Iran bends toward democracy—or doesn’t

Save for Ukraine, the marquee international crisis might be the slow-motion rebellion in the Islamic Republic, the demise of which has been sought by Western powers, and especially Israel, for nearly a half century. While the mass protests show no sign of abating, it’s also unclear that they will prevail, at least in the short term. The mullahs may choose in the meantime to sprint for a bomb—either to actually acquire one, and the attendant insurance that comes with being a nuclear power—or to provoke an Israeli or U.S. attack that will rally Iranians around the flag. The latter may not actually work, given the scale and youth of the protesters, who are so confounding Iran’s security apparatus. As Azadeh Moaevni said of the rebels, “sometimes they seem more like transnational Gen Z than Iranian.” — Karl Vick

Recession hits much of the world

Inflation in rich countries has put poor ones in a tough spot. Countries like Sri Lanka and Ghana defaulted on their debt in 2022, felled by the combination of high inflation, a strong U.S. dollar, and slowing growth (if not recession) in many parts of the world. This could be the beginning of a global debt crisis; the World Bank estimates that around 60% of developing nations have debts that are unsustainable or could become unsustainable. The worry is not just that the debt crisis could serve as a headwind on tepid economic growth worldwide, but that people living in countries that default on their debt will continue to struggle without food, power, and other necessities that the rest of the world has long considered a basic right. — Alana Semuels

Latin America’s political tide shifts

The election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as Brazil’s President in October and Gustavo Petro as Colombia’s in June cemented the “second Pink Tide.” Today, all six of Latin America’s largest economies are ruled by leftists. But trouble lies ahead. The problems that propelled many of them into office in recent years—stagnating economies, crime, and political crises—are still raging. They have already cut short honeymoon periods for Chile’s Gabriel Boric, Honduras’ Xiomara Castro, and Peru’s now-removed President Pedro Castillo. Some analysts argue that this Pink Tide was powered less by enthusiasm for leftists than by anger at right-wing incumbents. The first crack may be in October, when Argentina goes to the polls. President Alberto Fernández, from the nominally leftist Peronist movement, is deeply unpopular. — Ciara Nugent

India’s has a make-or-break year as an emerging power

As India gains ground on China economically and takes over hosting the G20, many are asking whether the country might be on its way to becoming the next global superpower. This year, India is set to overtake China as the most-populated country. Indian billionaires Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani have accumulated a staggering wealth built on ports, airports, media ownership, and clear energy investment—a steep rise that’s fast become the symbol of India’s growth. According to economists, India could even overtake Germany and Japan to become the third-largest economy in the world in the next decade. But India’s rise will depend on whether it can truly grow its manufacturing sector through its youth boom as China’s labor force ages out, while also taking advantage of China’s geopolitical conflict with the West to reshape international supply chains. — Astha Rajvanshi

Challenges to Taiwan’s sovereignty

Cross-strait tensions are at their highest since the 1996 Taiwanese presidential elections, when China conducted a series of missile tests just before the polls. Heightened scrutiny of China’s exit from zero-COVID and a sluggish economy may push President Xi Jinping to do something drastic; security officials in Taipei and Washington are sounding the alarm about a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan as early as 2023. Or perhaps Beijing will draw from its playbook in Hong Kong, using the threat of military overtures to coerce the island democracy to submit to Xi’s rule. The U.S. has bolstered its presence in the Indo-Pacific region, with President Biden promising to defend Taiwan in the case of an attack. In the wake of Russia’s brazen invasion of Ukraine, nothing is out of the realm of possibility. — Chad de Guzman

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