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2024: The view from Wilton Park

Wilton Park colleagues reflect on global developments in 2024


Emerging stabilisers

Tom Cargill, Wilton Park CEO

Human society is often more resilient and adaptable than we give it credit for, and I predict 2024 to be a year when we see more ‘stabilisers’ emerge in response to a growing number of crises.

Most important is the continued emergence of new global leadership and proactive, responsible diplomacy by countries which have historically tended to rely on larger, more established powers. We have seen this in the Middle East, as many Arab countries take a remarkably considered approach to the crisis in Israel, Gaza & the West Bank.

We see it too with countries like India, South Korea, Indonesia, Brazil and Kenya becoming more assertive on a range of global issues beyond their immediate interests. I expect this trend to become more noticeable throughout this year of elections for more than 4 billion people, which may radically impact international politics.

One area I believe needs more focus is how countries reconcile the incentives of trade liberalisation with the growing need for national resilience and economic statecraft. There is a lack of genuine collaboration between governments and key companies on what this means in practice. Some countries such as France, Germany & the US already have a sense of national interest and quid pro quo between government and business that many companies understand and sign up to. Those that don’t will increasingly suffer both politically and economically.

My priority for the year is to support all my brilliant colleagues and ensure our work continues to grow in impact and profile, but I will also focus on how we can continue to support Ukraine, build trust and dialogue in the Middle East, strengthen the security of the UK, promote more effective international development, and support prosperity. These are major issues for all of us right now and Wilton Park needs to be proactive and effective in finding practical solutions to our most pressing challenges.

China in 2024

Samuel Godsland, senior programme director

My main ambition for 2024 is for Wilton Park to enable really effective UK policy debate on China.

The UK needs to craft and implement a nuanced China strategy while facing pressing commitments in the Euro-Atlantic and Middle East.  Meanwhile, bilateral dialogue with China is still recovering from the COVID period, and mistrust persists.

Wilton Park provides a unique think-space to consider complex policy problems just like this.  It offers a destination for engaging regional partners on China-related issues and bringing British and Chinese interlocutors from diverse backgrounds around a table.  It can also play a role in nurturing China networks and China knowledge across the Civil Service and beyond.

Elsewhere, 2024 will mark 10 years since the declaration of ISIL’s so-called Caliphate in Mosul.  I hope Wilton Park can provide space to reflect on the partial defeat of ISIL and the residual challenges for peace, justice and reconciliation in the region.

Africa’s role in the world

Elizabeth Donnelly, senior programme director

African actors’ capacity for collective action on issues such as climate change, the Continental Free Trade Area, and the rapid coordinated response to the COVD-19 pandemic, highlights the region’s role in protecting multilateralism and fostering cooperation to address global challenges.

The continent exerts influence via its 54 votes in international forums. This influence will increase with a young and fast-growing population: Africa’s working age population is expected to grow by 450 million by 2035. In 2023, the African Union joined the G20, and in 2024 the region’s economy is expected to be the second-fastest growing in the world.

However, African countries face an acutely entangled set of challenges, threatening their capacity to play a much-needed constructive role on the world stage.

The economic fallout of the pandemic that pushed millions more into extreme poverty, plus compounding external economic shocks; democratic stagnation and coups; natural disasters; outbreaks of violent conflict and a rapid increase in terrorism, all highlight the need for sustained and coordinated engagement with African partners to support efforts to solve complex problems.

In a globally unsettled year, and with more than a third of African countries due to hold elections in 2024, including Ghana, Senegal and South Africa, it is crucial that space, time and resource are available to think forward and plan strategically. This will enable African actors and their partners to protect and nurture points of excellence and progress, and to prevent additional crises.

Trust is pivotal to this effort. Wilton Park is committed to generating thoughtful and constructive exchanges on Africa’s role in the world and creating space to build trust. Starting with two dialogues in March, we will draw together diverse networks in African countries, the UK and elsewhere to support trust-building, strengthening of partnerships, practical problem-solving and achieving progress in Africa and globally.

Emerging and disruptive technologies

Rich Roberts, programme director

We’ve heard a lot about artificial intelligence (AI) in 2023 and will hear more still in 2024. AI has received attention from governments and societies alike, as evidenced by the UK government’s AI Safety Summit. AI, particularly artificial generative intelligence (AGI) has provoked a range of responses, from efforts to seek international consensus on regulation, to industry racing to harness its potential and society uncertain of impacts and risks.

Beyond AI, a range of emerging and disruptive technologies (EDT) offer significant technological breakthroughs and the potential for wide-reaching impacts on governments, societies and individuals. Quantum computing, biotechnology, geoengineering and other innovations bring with them transformative potential, alongside significant risk and uncertainty.

In this context, it’s worth pondering what can be learned about other EDTs from the dynamics playing out in artificial intelligence. Our event: Emerging and disruptive technologies: trajectories, challenges, and responses, will draw out key lessons from recent experience of AI, focusing on the national security implications.

The dialogue will identify shortfalls in responses to AI and consider how things could be done differently. We’ll explore and encourage long-term thinking to inform the right decisions now to prepare for the emergence of future breakthrough technologies. We aim to identify practical steps and provide recommendations to get ahead of the curve on the potential wide-reaching impacts that EDTs may trigger.

Women and girls

Alison Hilliard, senior programme director

The role of women in climate action is a key theme at Wilton Park for 2024, as we plan to host a dialogue launching a new network for women of diverse faith who are already front-line climate activists around the world, building on a concept that emerged at a Wilton Park event last year.

This recognises that women are among the most impacted by climate change and are also essential drivers to deliver the policy and lifestyle changes at global and local levels necessary to control carbon emissions and secure a living planet.

International Women’s Day on March 8 will mark the end of our dialogue series supporting the FCDO’s International Women and Girls Strategy. This strategy and the global campaign: Rights, Freedom, Potential, aims to drive conversation and deliver progress on the empowerment and rights of women and girls around the world.

The series has thrown up sobering statistics. Our upcoming event Addressing violence in and through education notes that a billion children experience violence globally. Many of them are girls at school who are vulnerable to the most extreme forms of sexual violence with the additional burden of unwanted pregnancy and social stigma. New data gathered for a previous dialogue has revealed that 54% of young women and girls globally have also been impacted by sexual exploitation in tertiary education and early jobs, which may help explain the huge gender gaps in post-secondary education and economic opportunities.

These glaring inequalities mean that women’s economic empowerment is a subject we’ll be returning to as an annual theme at Wilton Park. In March we’ll explore how to build women’s economic empowerment into climate transitions, including green growth ambitions.

2024 in climate diplomacy

James Corré, programme director

Following another record-breaking year of extreme weather events, last year’s COP28 climate negotiations achieved a historic first, with countries agreeing for the first time that the world must ‘transition away from fossil fuels’.

However,  with the Paris Agreement’s first Global Stocktake showing sluggish progress against every major indicator, campaigners and front-line countries’ increasingly bold positions on limiting further exploitation of fossil fuel reserves put them on a collision course with the largest exporters of oil, gas and coal.

As Azerbaijan has appointed another fossil fuel executive to lead COP29 negotiations, and in the context of increasing alignment between Baku and Moscow, it will be another challenging year for those committed to delivering the radical increase in ambition that vulnerable countries seek. The issue of climate finance, both to support the economic transition and to adapt and build resilience to climate impacts, continues to be totemic and increasingly urgent.

Beyond COP29, 2024 will see a significant uptick in climate-related litigation. This is partly driven by the rapidly-evolving field of attribution science, which is increasingly able to  accurately ascertain the impact of human-induced climate change on the intensity and likelihood of extreme weather events.

While such litigation will take place largely in national courts, the International Court of Justice will shortly begin proceedings in response to Vanuatu’s request that it advise on states’ obligations to limit climate emissions. The outcome is likely to have significant ramifications in national courts and beyond.

A year of global shifts

Subane Abdi, Wilton Park intern

2024 is shaping up to be a year of potential global upheavals and shifts. Against a backdrop of increased conflict and instability, this year heralds an unprecedented challenge for democracies worldwide as at least 64 countries – over four billion people – will be sending their citizens to the polls.

As an Indo-Pacific observer, I believe it is particularly important to observe China’s response to the Taiwan election results, examine if Laos’ chairmanship of ASEAN could shift the narrative in the conflict in Myanmar, and explore the wider ramifications of China’s slowing economy on the region and beyond.

As a recent arrival to Wilton Park, I will be pushing my boundaries by engaging in subject areas beyond my expertise, focusing on events around Africa, climate change, and disability rights. I am excited to be a part of world-changing dialogues that shed light on important questions in these spaces, especially areas that in the UK context have historically gained little attention or have recently dropped down the pecking order in priority.

Click here to find out more about Wilton Park’s 2024 events programme.

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