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Recovering from COVID-19: Whole of society approaches to global challenges

Update from Wilton Park CEO Tom Cargill, 11 June 2021

This week the UK is hosting the leaders of G7 nations in Cornwall. These countries hold more than 62% of the world’s global net worth. The key policy issues for discussion have been recovering from COVID-19, promoting prosperity through championing free and fair trade and tackling climate change.

With the UK hosting both the G7 and the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), this is the time to show true global leadership and encourage global solidarity. The dual global challenges of ending COVID-19 and tackling climate change requires a global response. And the world is letting leaders know that global challenges are inextricably linked. ‘No-one is safe until we are all safe’ is the adage of the year and continues to be for COVID-19 and climate change alike.

This week the British Government is calling on countries to commit to vaccinating the entire global population by the end of 2022. This is quite the challenge given that some countries in the world still don’t have access to vaccines, with the Prime Minister noting it will be the ‘single greatest feat in medical history’. But a lot is riding on the ability of countries to pull together for collective global good. Ending COVID-19 is the obvious benefit. Developing countries are indicating that vaccine equity will be critical to successful climate negotiations. With COP26 around the corner and negotiations critical to the future of the planet, global leadership and solidarity are required now more than ever.

COVID-19 has shown how different sectors of society all have a role to play in bringing the pandemic to an end. The global challenge of climate change also needs a whole of society approach. But key actors and organisations from different sectors don’t always speak the same language. Nor do they often engage with others outside of their sectors. Here’s where Wilton Park has been convening and coalescing ideas and actions across sectors to address the global challenges facing us today.

Tom Cargill, Chief Executive

“COVID-19 vaccination is one of the strongest tools we can use to fight this pandemic together”

Over the past year, Wilton Park has convened a series of dialogues focused on bringing a whole of society approach to address vaccine confidence for COVID-19 vaccines.

The critical importance of this issue was highlighted by the Global Vaccine Confidence Summit hosted by the British Government as part G7 discussions last week and the launch of a global vaccine confidence campaign by the G7.

While in the UK, many people are being vaccinated, ensuring enough people are vaccinated for herd immunity is critical to end the pandemic. In many countries, including high income countries there is concern that low rates of vaccine confidence for COVID-19 vaccines will undermine efforts to end the pandemic. At the time of holding our dialogue in South East Asia, only 32% of people surveyed in the Philippines for example said they were willing to be vaccinated. Our dialogues have brought together public health experts, health workers, those from the media and strategic communications, civil society, digital and technology experts and the public sector to address vaccine confidence. A new global network called CONVINCE (COVID-19 New Vaccine Information Communication Engagement) has been established as a result of these dialogues and continues to bring together different sectoral partners to address vaccine confidence.

Business Partners to CONVINCE brings together employers from around the world to collectively address vaccine confidence and supports employers to encourage its employees, suppliers and customers to be vaccinated. It brings together the International Chamber of Commerce, International Organisation for Employers and other umbrella organisations.

In addition to these dialogues, we have co-hosted two specific dialogues on ‘Financing Vaccines for Africa’. These dialogues have been the first Africa convened dialogues in the COVID era where African leaders have invited other global leaders and stakeholders to address critical issues to access and deliver vaccines to people across Africa for COVID. The outcomes of these dialogues have fed into the ACT-A Facilitation Council discussion for COVAX to critically address vaccine equity.


The pandemic still grips the world at different levels of intensity and continues to threaten progress towards a more peaceful, just and inclusive world for all. And post the pandemic, the epidemic of violence will continue to ravage many regions and communities, many of them potentially transformed by the global health emergency and its political and social aftermath. In response, Wilton Park convenes this month, in partnership with The Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, the first meeting of the high-level Halving Global Violence Task Force that aims to drive action towards halving global violence by 2030.


Travel restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we maintain our personal and professional relationships, and this is also true of our diplomatic relationships.

Operating in a virtual environment has accelerated discussions around ways of conducting traditional ‘statecraft’. Maintaining and continuing to strengthen our diplomatic relationships will be critical in an increasingly polarised geopolitical world. Lack of face-to-face meetings and reductions in development budgets mean we need to do more in innovative ways to maintain our ‘soft power’.

Wilton Park is convening a series of dialogues to explore the ‘Future of diplomacy in an online world’ to bring better understanding of the trends, risks and opportunities for international diplomacy, balancing digital and in-person engagement, taking into account effectiveness, security and the principle to ‘leave no-one behind’.

Defence and security

Global health security is now front and centre of government agendas. Climate security and issues around biodiversity are also being considered, through the COVID focus on zoonotic diseases, the wider security risks associated with climate change and initiatives to increase resilience.

Wilton Park is supporting the Risk-informed Early Action Partnership (REAP) as it seeks to make 1 Billion People Safer from the risks of climate change by 2025, as well as continued dialogues on climate security leading up to COP26 in November. On the latter, Wilton Park is planning a series of briefings and dialogues building to a scenario-based event, aiming to bring together and build capacity amongst the international climate security community of practice.


With COVID-19 sparking border closures, decreases in trade volumes, job losses, and declines in remittances, the world economy is more fragile than ever.

In April, Wilton Park convened a dialogue in partnership with the UK Department of Trade to consider ‘Is the current multilateral trading system equipped to deal with 21st century challenges?’

This dialogue focused on the role that trade can play in supporting the recovery to a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive global economy. It addressed potential solutions to both substantive and institutional gaps in the global trading system necessary for a more effective trade contribution to global recovery. Substantive issues discussed included trade and environment, and digital trade and innovation.

Liberalisation of trade in environmental goods and services, which are tightly linked, is needed to help address the challenges of climate change. A key area for the World Trade Organisation is Greening Aid for Trade. This can come in two ways – greening existing trade flows or increasing aid flows for green projects.

Looking ahead

Many commentators have said COVID-19 is a pivotal moment, where we are presented with an opportunity globally to make transformational change happen. In a year of significant global leadership gatherings including the G7, G20 and COP26 where the UK plays a leading role, Wilton Park looks to convene diverse voices to bring innovative policy solutions to global challenges.

Looking ahead, we continue to bring new voices to the critical global issues of pandemic preparedness and the climate crisis. Our series of dialogues on ‘Healhy Societies’ with the Swedish Government and WHO takes a whole of society futures approach to co-create policy actions to ensure health is at the centre of building an equitable greener economic recovery post-COVID-19. This series brings together the nexus of climate, COVID and economic recovery. Our defence and security work will consider how we can be more resilient to future shocks, and our global health work continues to address different aspects of preparedness and potentially future scenario development.

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