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Addressing global challenges

January 2024 update from Wilton Park Chief Executive, Tom Cargill.


Two events in the last month typify the power and values of Wilton Park in providing globally respected expert facilitation, mediation and discreet space to officials and experts to address global challenges.

The upcoming Summit for Democracy, hosted by the Republic of Korea, will be the third time countries have gathered in this format to champion democracy, challenge autocracy, and understand how we can strengthen collective efforts to support democracy in the future.

The UK is a strong advocate of the Summit for Democracy and Wilton Park has been working with colleagues in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, and partners in the US, Korea and beyond, to support this summit by hosting a workshop for key officials to plan and feed into the Summit later in the year.

We also hosted a gathering of officials from around the world to discuss how to improve collective efforts to prevent and resolve conflict in a world where global cooperation and multilateral efforts seem ever harder. More details on this are below.

Both of these events – on democracy and peacebuilding – speak to some of the core values Wilton Park has been effectively promoting for nearly 80 years, and in the face of reversing outcomes on both fronts, we are redoubling our efforts for UK and global benefit.

However to succeed, we need to further diversify and deepen our networks of support. If you can help, or would like a conversation on how you might do so, we want to hear from you. Please do get in touch using the contact details below.

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Trusted by governments, businesses, and civil society, we facilitate dialogues that have impact.

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Development and climate change
Children displaced in a changing climate: preparing for a future already underway

This conference shone a light on the growing number of children displaced by weather-related events that are growing in intensity and frequency.

The recent UNICEF report Children Displaced in a Changing Climate report identifies those most at risk, based on analysis of past child displacements linked to weather-related disasters.

Millions of children are already being driven from their homes by weather-related events, exacerbated by climate change. Decisions to move can be forced and abrupt in the face of disaster, or as the result of pre-emptive evacuation and often occur in a context of constrained life choices and eroding livelihoods, where children and young people are trapped between aspirations and hopes, a duty of care to their families and communities, and pressures to leave home.

This conference provided a unique opportunity to bring together key players to explore some of the challenging questions raised.

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Wilton Park is a proven asset for global foreign policy development, providing a high-impact and flexible way to advance thinking and policy on key issues.

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Diplomacy and geopolitics
Collaborative conflict resolution in a competitive age

Conflicts globally are increasing in scale, intensity and duration leaving a devastating toll on communities around the world. International resolution efforts, as a result, are under intense pressure to end violence and address the root causes of conflict. This is giving rise to a range of conflict mediation approaches, led by actors including states, regional bodies and NGOs, in addition to the UN.

In partnership with the FCDO, this month’s event on Collaborative conflict resolution in a competitive age brought together those active in conflict resolution to reflect on what new opportunities there might be for new forms of collaboration and new innovative approaches to conflict resolution at a time when peace making is under stress, the conflict landscape has changed and there is diminishing respect for international law and human rights.

There was consensus on the need to build a better international conflict resolution system. And, as one participant said: “Peace making needs to be a priority for politicians: the price of peace processes is cheap. War is not.”

Overcoming challenges to universal human rights: developing prospects for new alliances?

Watch Christine Löw (Deputy Head of the Peace and Human Rights Division at Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland) and Tiina Jortikka-Laitinen (Ambassador for Human Rights at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Finland) in conversation at Wilton Park.

Christine and Tiina discussed Switzerland and Finland’s partnership on Wilton Park’s human rights event series, now in it’s eighteenth year, and the importance of multilateral collaboration on human rights issues at a time of increased conflict and challenges to the human rights system.

The role of industry in the ATT: advancing the outcomes of the 2023 CSP

Recent events have thrown the issue of the global trade in arms into sharp relief, and in February we convened a conference exploring ways to secure stronger industry engagement with the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

South Korea, which has the Presidency of the ATT this year, has placed the issue at the front of its diplomatic work, and together with the FCDO and the Mexican MFA, partnered with us on the conference.

Using the President’s own Working Paper, plus one prepared by Austria, Ireland, and Mexico as a starting point, we explored options for future practical steps to effectively engage industry in the ATT process and implementation of the ATT’s provisions.

Irreversibility in nuclear disarmament

In March 2022, in one of our first hybrid conferences as the UK emerged from lockdown, we convened a meeting to explore irreversibility in nuclear disarmament, a concept used more often than defined, but which is central to the long-term goal of a nuclear weapon-free world and the near-term goal of a non-nuclear North Korea.

Next month, we convene the third iteration of what is now an established convening-point for the burgeoning international government and non-government strands of work on this issue. Funding permitting, we are already planning a fourth iteration in March 2025.

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Future space threats

In January, we hosted Future space threats, focusing on lunar exploration and exploitation, and on future technologies.

The event proved very topical, with the current race to the moon by a number of national and commercial operators, and the recent news of a Russian nuclear satellite.

While recognising nuclear satellites aren’t new, the news underlines the significance of space as an area of political and commercial competition, if not contest.

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Economy and trade
Green Grids Initiative

Energy transmission infrastructure in most of the world is woefully underprepared from the transition away from fossil fuels, and in many places the lack of interconnection between grid system threatens to be a bottleneck that will slow down the transition.

This is because renewable energy is more decentralised, and the daily and annual variability of wind and solar power over any particular area means that we have to connect grids over a much larger area to run future grid systems efficiently.

Wilton Park was instrumental in the establishment in 2020 of the global Green Grids Initiative (GGI), which was set up to address these challenges.

In early February, Wilton Park hosted a GGI gathering in Bangkok, which gathered government officials and representatives of finance institutions, the private sector, civil society and academia from two subregions – Southeast Asia (especially the Mekong region) and South Asia (particularly Southern India and Sri Lanka) – to discuss how to build integrated cross-border energy markets in each of these regions.

We worked both on physical infrastructure (i.e. which interconnectors between national grids need to be prioritised and how to fund these) and on the regulatory and legal changes needed to build cross-border power markets. There were also strategy conversations about how to build political will and develop strategic communications for these projects.

Various new workstreams were launched as a result of the dialogue, including knowledge products, guidelines for regulatory alignment and electricity pricing and a detailed roadmap laying out how green grids projects in the region could aim to qualify for international climate finance through bodies like the Green Climate Fund.

Looking ahead
Emerging and disruptive technologies: trajectories, challenges and responses

Artificial intelligence has received much attention recently and provoked a range of responses. But what can we learn from recent experience of AI to apply to other emerging and disruptive technologies where they impact defence and national security? How could these technologies be used in combination, with what threats?

Emerging and disruptive technologies: trajectories, challenges, and responses will be an opportunity to reflect on the 2023 ‘AI summer.’ To identify lessons, examine other technologies and apply those lessons to those technologies to pro-actively plan to mitigate defence and national security threats.

It will provide an opportunity for participants to connect across and beyond government, forming a network of practitioners who can work together.

Participants at the conference table at Wilton Park in December 2023 attending NPT Diplomacy Towards the 2026 Review Conference

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