The science events to watch for in 2021
2021 looks set to be a pivotal year for the fight against climate change. US president-elect Joe Biden has made clear that he will move to restore the country’s leadership in that regard, including by rejoining the Paris climate agreement to fight global warming. (President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the accord, and the nation officially left the day after the 2020 election.) A key moment for climate negotiations will come at the United Nations’ climate conference in Glasgow, UK, in November. Countries will make a new round of pledges on cuts to greenhouse-gas emissions — the first since they signed the Paris agreement in 2015. The European Union and China have ambitious plans to become carbon neutral by 2050–60; scientists are waiting to see whether Biden will set similar goals for the United States.
A task force established by the World Health Organization will head to China in January 2021 to try to identify the source of the COVID-19 pandemic. The group, which includes epidemiologists, virologists and public- and animal-health researchers, will begin their search in Wuhan, the Chinese city where infections with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 were first identified in 2019. The initial stages of the project will look at meat and animals sold at the Huanan market — visited by many of the first people reported to have COVID-19 — and trace their journeys through China and across borders. Discovering the origins of the virus could take years, but experts think some new information will come to light by the end of the year.
Vaccines and the pandemic
2020 saw the roll-out of the first vaccines authorized for use against COVID-19. The effectiveness of several new vaccines will become clearer in early 2021. Of particular interest will be the results of phase III clinical trials of immunizations developed by the US pharmaceutical companies Novavax and Johnson & Johnson. These jabs are likely to be easier to distribute than the RNA-based vaccines made by Pfizer–BioNTech and Moderna, which have already returned phase III results but must be stored at very low temperatures. As Nature went to press, the Pfizer vaccine already had emergency authorization for use in some countries. Late last year, Novavax launched two large trials of its viral-spike-protein vaccine in the United Kingdom and the United States, which will report in early 2021. The company could produce as many as two billion vaccine doses per year. Johnson & Johnson is testing a single-shot version of its vaccine; by contrast, those from Pfizer and Moderna require two.