LOOKING back at my article from this time last year, it had an optimistic theme looking forward into 2021.

This week’s does, too.

The year may have given us fresh and renewed global challenges – in terms of both the pandemic and climate change – but the world’s community has stepped up, recognising what can be achieved if we work together.

But collective action still requires individual leadership, and we have seen examples of this right across the world’s scientific and international communities this year.

The complexity and scale of the global threats we face means we do rely on the expertise of experts and the leadership of leaders, as much as ever we did.

When you’re on something likened to a war footing, their words and deeds take on a greater power and urgency.

Key to much of this is data – from its collection and recording through to its analysis and interpretation.

Access to data is incredibly valuable, and we have seen this again this year as we seek evidence to make decisions that impact millions of lives across the globe.

We live in a time of highly-sophisticated models and computer analysis, and unprecedented sheer volumes of measures and metrics. How we use these outputs relies not only on accurate interpretation but also assessment of context and impact.

Just as we rely on expert interpretation by statisticians and scientists, we also rely on assessment by governments and international organisations. And as I have mentioned before, there is often grey where we would like to have black and white.

Data can and will help decision making, but it doesn’t always make it easier. It can be contradictory and it can also have quite different interpretations.

How, then, can we be sure of the data and the decisions taken as a result? Trust is undoubtedly an important element, but scrutiny must also play its part – peer reviews, challenge and debate, assessing the impact of past decisions. Parliament is one important part of that.

Time is also key. The data we now have on the progression, causes and impact of climate change is extensive, but it has taken time to identify and to be more certain of what it tells us.

With more time we will know much more about Covid. We will know much more about how it can be treated. We will know much more about how to prepare for future variants and future pandemics.

At the start of 2021 we knew vaccines were likely to be our route out. We also knew the risk of new variants, the impact of illness on our health services and the economic harm of lockdowns.

We knew difficult decisions lay ahead, and the significance of those decisions on the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.

Looking ahead into the new year, we know we will need to live with Covid longer term and that we’re making good progress in developing the tools to do just that.

At the close of a tough year for so many, we can I believe start 2022 with renewed optimism, in the knowledge that time will provide more of the answers we need.