Feature: A retrospective on the events of 2021

A retrospective: Gair Rhydd takes a look back over the events that shaped the last year in politics, climate change, technology, television and film, sport and more. Credit: Jack Robert Stacey.
Gair Rhydd takes a look back at everything that happened over the last twelve months in the world of politics, climate change, technology, television and film, sport and more

By Jack Robert Stacey | Editor-in-Chief

Looking back over the last twelve months, it seems safe to say that 2021 was an ‘interesting’ year to say the least.

People in all corners of the world seemed to usher in the new year with good cheer and an initial sense of optimism, much of this in anticipation for what many hoped would be a swift return to normality. As the months continued to progress, it became increasingly obvious that 2021, like any other year, would not be without its fair share of controversy, strife and civil disorder.

With this in mind, it’s important for us to take a retrospective look back over the events of the last year and reflect on everything that happened in the worlds of politics, science, media, sport, and elsewhere.

A look back at the events of 2021

COVID-19, perhaps unsurprisingly given the disruption the virus has caused over the last two years, remained to be one of the most significant ongoing events of 2021.

Whilst it is difficult to gauge the true extent of the impact of the pandemic so far, statistics published by WHO estimate that there have been over 350 million confirmed cases of the virus worldwide – This uncertainty has been reflected in the UK with the significant disparity between the statistics reported by the Government and The Office for National Statistics.

In spite of this, the UK has received widespread praise for its nationwide rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines, a rollout which saw the NHS become the first health service in the world to deliver a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. A year later, now that over 71% of the UK population is fully vaccinated, the UK Government is set to continue its process of gradually easing restrictions as cases of the virus begin to fall.

Stepping back from the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 was also rocked by a series of political events which held the future of democracy in the balance.

These events began as early as January, a month which saw a group of insurrectionists lead an attack against the U.S. Capitol Building in protest against Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election. Alongside this, the Chinese Government increased its attempts to crackdown on political dissent by detaining and arresting 50 pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. These restrictions on free speech were also reflected in Russia months later when Alexey Navalny, the leader of the Russian opposition and an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin, was arrested just five months after he was targeted in a nerve agent attack – These events, according to European Think Thank IDEA, were emblematic of a trend that “really raised the alarm bells” for a growing decline in democracy.

Last year also proved to be yet another reminder of the ongoing impacts of climate change, a topic which was at the centre of debates throughout the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (or ‘COP26’). The effects of climate change were felt all around the world; 2021 saw Australia ravaged by bushfires, Europe flood due to excessive rainfall, and California record the single highest temperature reading on Earth, 54.4°C. The extent of these impacts was summarised by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who, in a damning report, officially declared that 23 different species of animal had become extinct in 2021 alone.

Whilst the world faced a number of aforementioned political and environmental challenges last year, it seems equally important for us to recognise all of the positive and promising developments that occurred throughout 2021.

One of the most significant (and perhaps overlooked) developments of the year was the historic corporate tax agreement reached by world leaders at the G20 summit in Rome. From 2023, this new legislation will hold large multinational companies like Apple and Amazon to a minimum tax rate of 15%, a move expected to provide governments around the world with a vital £1 billion boost.

There were a variety of other exciting developments in the technology industry, none more so than the announcement that several tech companies, including Mark Zuckerberg’s newly re-branded ‘Meta’, are beginning work on ‘The Metaverse’ – an immersive digital environment that is expected to mark “the next chapter of the internet.” Closer to reality, NASA achieved a successful landing of its ‘Perseverance’ Rover on Mars, a feat that allowed its ‘Ingenuity’ Drone to complete the first powered, controlled flight by an aircraft on another planet. The year also saw El Salvador become the first country to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender, outlining its plans to begin the construction of a geothermally powered ‘Bitcoin City’ at the base of a volcano.

In the realm of television and film, Netflix drew international acclaim with the South Korean survival drama ‘Squid Game’, a series which briefly became the one of the streaming platform’s most-viewed shows with a worldwide audience of over sixteen-billion viewers. ‘Squid Game’ was commemorated at the 78th annual Golden Globes, an event in which the late Chadwick Boseman posthumously received the award for ‘Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama’ for his role in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’. 2021 was also a significant year for black artists; Beyoncé broke the all-time record for the most Grammys won by a singer whilst RuPaul became the most decorated black artist in Emmy history with his 11th award for ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’.

The recognition that Beyoncé and RuPaul received coincided with the gains made by the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement last year, a movement which saw significant growth all around the world. Of these gains, one of the most impactful was the sentencing of former police officer Derek Chauvin to 22 years and six months in prison for the murder of George Floyd back in May 2020.

Similar advancements were made by the LGBTQ+ community when both Chile and Switzerland voted to legalise same-sex marriage, officially making the act legal in 30 countries around the world – As same-sex marriage is still illegal in over 85 countries, however, many LGBTQ+ activists assert that more work is needed.

In July, Japan officially opened the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo after the worldwide sporting event was postponed due to COVID-19. For Team GB, the games offered a chance for athletes like Tom Daley, Holly Bradshaw and Matt Walls to compete at the highest possible level and break a number of existing sporting records. Despite occurring at a time of worldwide emergency, the Tokyo games proved to be a success in an otherwise turbulent year, if only to provide a brief reflection of  ‘normality’ for viewers around the world.

Elsewhere in sport, Emma Raducanu manged to bring Britain’s 44-year wait for a women’s Grand Slam singles title to a close after beating Leylah Frenandez at the Women’s US Open. 2021 also featured a number of controversial stories from the world of sport, including Max Verstappen’s upset victory over Lewis Hamilton in the final lap of the Abu Dhabi GP. Cristiano Ronaldo also made headlines at the European Championships after removing a Coca Cola bottle from his press table, an act that caused the share price of the so-called ‘soda giant’ to drop a staggering £3 billion pounds.

With Simone Biles choosing to withdraw from events at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on mental health grounds, one of the other key themes of 2021 proved to be the importance of mental health awareness. This was echoed back in March during Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and Megan Markle; both the Duke and Duchess of Sussex alleged that they had suffered abuse and been mistreated by other members of the Royal Family. Whilst these claims have been disputed, recent events nonetheless highlight that mental health, an often overlooked and stigmatised topic, remains to be one of the most salient issues that society is currently facing.

For many people around the world, the last year was a turbulent and uncertain time to say the least. Throughout 2021, there were numerous opportunities for us to reflect on the current state of democracy alongside the ongoing climate crisis, two areas that represent a significant challenge for future generations. In spite of this, however, the year featured numerous causes for celebration, especially for members of BAME and LGBTQ+ communities who made noticeable gains for inclusivity and equity on several fronts.

With 2022 now in full swing, it remains to be seen whether the new year will be a repeat of everything that we have seen over the last twelve months or, alternatively, something new entirely. As always, only time will tell.

Wrth edrych yn ôl dros y deuddeg mis diwethaf, mae’n saff i ddweud fod  2021 wedi bod yn flwyddyn ‘ddiddorol’ i ddweud y lleiaf.  

Roedd pobl o bob cwr o’r byd i weld yn llawer mwy optimistaidd wrth groesawi’r flwyddyn newydd, yn y gobaith y byddai normalrwydd yn dychwelyd yn fuan. Ond, wrth i’r misoedd barhau i symud ymlaen, daeth yn fwyfwy amlwg na fyddai 2021, fel unrhyw flwyddyn arall, heb ei gyfran deg o ddadlau, ymryson ac anhwylder sifil.  

Gyda hyn mewn golwg, mae’n bwysig i ni edrych yn ôl dros ddigwyddiadau’r flwyddyn ddiwethaf a myfyrio ar bopeth a ddigwyddodd ym myd gwleidyddiaeth, gwyddoniaeth, y cyfryngau, chwaraeon, a mannau eraill. Efallai nad yw’n syndod fod Covid-19 yn parhau i fod yn un o ddigwyddiadau parhaus a mwyaf arwyddocaol 2021, wrth  ystyried yr aflonyddwch y mae’r feirws wedi’i achosi dros y ddwy flynedd ddiwethaf. Er ei bod yn anodd mesur gwir effaith y pandemig hyd yma, mae ystadegau a gyhoeddwyd gan Sefydliad Iechyd y Byd yn amcangyfrif bod dros 350 miliwn o achosion wedi’u cadarnhau o’r feirws ledled y byd – cafodd yr ansicrwydd hyn ei adlewyrchu yn y DU gyda’r gwahaniaeth sylweddol rhwng yr ystadegau a adroddwyd gan y Llywodraeth a’r Swyddfa Ystadegau Gwladol. 

Er gwaethaf hyn, mae’r DU wedi cael canmoliaeth eang am gyflwyno brechlynnau Covid-19 yn genedlaethol, cyflwyniad a welodd y GIG yn dod y gwasanaeth iechyd cyntaf yn y byd i ddarparu dos o’r brechlyn Rhydychen, AstraZeneca. Blwyddyn yn ddiweddarach, gan fod 71% o boblogaeth y DU wedi’u brechu’n llawn, mae Llywodraeth y DU yn bwriadu parhau â’i proses o leddfu cyfyngiadau yn raddol wrth i achosion o’r feirws ddechrau gostwng.  

Gan gamu’n ôl o bandemig COVID-19, cafodd 2021 ei siglo hefyd gan gyfres o ddigwyddiadau gwleidyddol a oedd yn dodi dyfodol democratiaeth yn y fantol.   

Dechreuodd y digwyddiadau hyn mor gynnar â mis Ionawr, mis a welodd grŵp o yswirwyr yn arwain ymosodiad yn erbyn Adeilad Capitol y UDA mewn protest yn erbyn buddugoliaeth Joe Biden yn etholiad arlywyddol 2020. Ochr yn ochr â hyn, cynyddodd Llywodraeth Tsieina ei hymdrechion i fynd i’r afael ag anghydweld gwleidyddol drwy gadw ac arestio 50 o weithredwyr o blaid democratiaeth yn Hong Kong. Adlewyrchwyd y cyfyngiadau hyn ar y rhyddid i siarad  hefyd yn Rwsia fisoedd yn ddiweddarach pan gafodd Alexey Navalny, arweinydd gwrthblaid Rwsia a beirniad o Vladimir Putin, ei arestio pum mis yn unig ar ôl iddo gael ei dargedu mewn ymosodiad asiant nerfol – Roedd y digwyddiadau hyn, yn ôl yr European Think Thank IDEA, yn arwydd o duedd a oedd yn “codi larwm” am ddirywiad cynyddol mewn democratiaeth.  

Bu llynedd hefyd yn fodd i’n hatgoffa o effeithiau parhaus newid hinsawdd, pwnc a oedd yn ganolog i ddadleuon drwy gydol Cynhadledd Newid Hinsawdd y Cenhedloedd Unedig (neu ‘COP26’ 2021). Teimlwyd effeithiau newid hinsawdd ym mhob rhan o’r byd; Yn 2021 cafodd Awstralia ei ysbeilio gan danau llwyn, llifogwyd Ewrop gan law ormodol, a chofnododd California ei darlleniad tymheredd uchaf unigol ar y Ddaear, 54.4°C. Crynhowyd maint yr effeithiau hyn gan Wasanaeth Pysgod a Bywyd Gwyllt yr Unol Daleithiau a ddatganodd, mewn adroddiad damniol, bod 23 o wahanol rywogaethau o anifeiliaid wedi diflannu yn swyddogol yn ystod 2021 yn unig.    

Er bod y byd yn wynebu nifer o heriau gwleidyddol ac amgylcheddol a grybwyllwyd uchod y llynedd, mae’n ymddangos yr un mor bwysig inni gydnabod yr holl ddatblygiadau cadarnhaol ac addawol a ddigwyddodd drwy gydol 2021. 

Un o ddatblygiadau mwyaf arwyddocaol y flwyddyn (sydd efallai’n cael ei hanwybyddu hefyd) oedd y cytundeb treth gorfforaethol hanesyddol a wnaethpwyd gan arweinwyr y byd yn Uwchgynhadledd y G20 yn Rhufain. O 2023, bydd y ddeddfwriaeth newydd hon yn dal cwmnïau rhyngwladol mawr fel Apple ac Amazon i isafswm cyfradd treth o 15%; disgwylir i’r symudiad roi hwb hanfodol o £1 biliwn i lywodraethau ledled y byd.  

Cafwyd amrywiaeth o ddatblygiadau cyffrous eraill yn y diwydiant technoleg, megis cyhoeddiad blaenllaw bod nifer o gwmnïau technoleg, gan gynnwys ‘Meta’ (Mark Zuckerberg), yn dechrau gweithio ar ‘The Metaverse’ – amgylchedd digidol y disgwylir i nodi “pennod nesaf y rhyngrwyd.” Yn nes at realiti, llwyddodd NASA i lanio ei Rover ‘Perseverance’ ar y blaned Mawrth, camp a ganiataodd i’w drôn ‘Ingenuity’ gwblhau’r hediad pŵer, rheoledig cyntaf gan awyren ar blaned arall. Yn ystod y flwyddyn hefyd daeth El Salvador yn y wlad gyntaf i fabwysiadu Bitcoin fel tendr cyfreithiol, gan amlinellu cynlluniau i ddechrau adeiladu ‘Dinas Bitcoin’ a bwerir yn eothermol ar waelod llosgfynydd.  

Ym myd teledu a ffilm, enillodd Netflix glod rhyngwladol gyda’r ddrama oroesi o Dde Corea ‘Squid Game’, cyfres a ddaeth yn un o raglenni mwyaf poblogaidd y llwyfan ffrydio am ychydig, gyda chynulleidfa fyd-eang o dros un deg chwe biliwn o wylwyr. Cafodd ‘Squid Game’ ei goffau yn y 78ain Golden Globes blynyddol, digwyddiad lle derbyniodd y diweddar Chadwick Boseman y wobr wedi ei farwolaeth am yr ‘Actor Gorau mewn Drama Lluniau Mosiwn ’ am ei rôl yn ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’.    

Roedd 2021 hefyd yn flwyddyn arwyddocaol i artistiaid duon; Torrodd Beyoncé y record byd  ar gyfer y mwyaf o Grammys a enillwyd gan ganwr, tra daeth RuPaul yr artist du mwyaf addurnedig yn hanes Emmy gyda’i 11eg wobr am ‘Ras Drag RuPaul’. 

Roedd y gydnabyddiaeth a gafodd Beyoncé a RuPaul yn gweddu â llwyddiannau’r mudiad ‘Black Lives Matter’ y llynedd, mudiad a welodd dwf sylweddol ledled y byd. O’r llwyddiannau hyn, un o’r rhai mwyaf effeithiol oedd dedfrydu cyn-swyddog yr heddlu Derek Chauvin i 22 mlynedd a chwe mis yn y carchar am lofruddiaeth George Floyd yn ôl ym mis Mai 2020.   

Gwnaethpwyd datblygiadau tebyg gan y gymuned LGBTQ+ pan bleidleisiodd Chile a’r Swistir i gyfreithloni priodas o’r un rhyw, gan wneud y weithred yn gyfreithlon mewn 30 o wledydd ledled y byd yn swyddogol – Ond, gan fod priodas o’r un rhyw dal yn anghyfreithlon mewn dros 85 gwlad, mae llawer o weithredwyr LGBTQ+ yn honni bod angen mwy o waith. 

Ym mis Gorffennaf, agorodd Siapan Gemau Olympaidd yr Haf 2020 yn Tokyo yn swyddogol ar ôl i’r digwyddiad chwaraeon byd-eang gael ei ohirio oherwydd COVID-19. I Dîm Prydain Fawr, roedd y gemau’n cynnig cyfle i athletwyr fel Tom Daley, Holly Bradshaw a Matt Walls gystadlu ar y lefel uchaf posibl a thorri nifer o recordiau chwaraeon presennol. Er bod y digwyddiad wedi cael eu cynnal mewn argyfwng byd-eang, profodd gemau Tokyo yn llwyddiant mewn blwyddyn gythryblus arall, gan gynnig adlewyrchiad byr o normalrwydd i wylwyr ledled y byd.    

Mewn mannau eraill ym myd chwaraeon, llwyddodd Emma Raducanu i ddod a saib o 44 mlynedd am deitl Prydeinig senglau Camp Lawn i fenywod i ben, wedi iddi guro Leylah Frenandez ym Mhencampwriaeth Agored Merched yn yr Unol Daleithiau. Roedd 2021 hefyd yn cynnwys nifer o straeon dadleuol o’r byd chwaraeon, gan gynnwys buddugoliaeth Max Verstappen dros Lewis Hamilton yn lap olaf yr Abu Dhabi GP. Fe wnaeth Cristiano Ronaldo hefyd benawdau ym Mhencampwriaethau Ewrop wedi iddo dynnu potel Coca Cola oddi ar ei fwrdd gwasg, gweithred a achosodd i bris rhanedig y ‘cawr soda’ i ostwng  £3 biliwn o bunnoedd.  

Gyda Simone Biles yn dewis tynnu’n ôl o ddigwyddiadau yng Ngemau Olympaidd Tokyo 2020 ar sail iechyd meddwl, un o themâu allweddol eraill 2021 oedd pwysigrwydd ymwybyddiaeth iechyd meddwl. Adleisiwyd hyn yn ôl ym mis Mawrth gan gyfweliad Oprah Winfrey gyda’r Tywysog Harry a Megan Markle; honnodd Dug a Duges Sussex eu bod wedi dioddef camdriniaeth gan aelodau eraill o’r Teulu Brenhinol. Er bod anghydfod wedi bod yn yr honiadau hyn, mae digwyddiadau diweddar, serch hynny, yn tynnu sylw at y ffaith bod iechyd meddwl, pwnc sy’n aml yn cael ei anwybyddu a’i stigmateiddio, yn parhau i fod yn un o’r materion mwyaf amlwg y mae cymdeithas yn ei wynebu ar hyn o bryd.  

I lawer o bobl ledled y byd, bu’r flwyddyn ddiwethaf yn gyfnod cythryblus ac ansicr i ddweud y lleiaf. Drwy gydol 2021, roedd nifer o gyfleoedd i ni fyfyrio ar gyflwr presennol democratiaeth ochr yn ochr â’r argyfwng hinsawdd barhaus, dwy ardal sy’n her sylweddol i genedlaethau’r dyfodol. Er gwaethaf hyn, fodd bynnag, roedd y flwyddyn yn cynnwys nifer o achosion i’w dathlu, yn enwedig i aelodau o gymunedau BAME a LGBTQ+ a wnaeth gyflawni llwyddiannau amlwg o ran cynwysoldeb a thegwch mewn sawl maes.   

Gyda 2022 bellach yn ei hanterth, rhaid aros i weld a fydd y flwyddyn newydd yn ailadrodd popeth yr ydym wedi’i weld dros y deuddeg mis diwethaf neu, I’r gwrthwyneb, yn rhywbeth cwbl newydd. Fel bob amser, dim ond amser a ddengys.   

Jack Robert Stacey News 

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