GPO 2023

The Geneva Policy Outlook 2023: Editorial

Achim Wennmann
Jan 30, 2023
12 min read

The Geneva Policy Outlook is a strategic analysis start-up that harnesses forward-looking insights to promote cooperation and problem solving on critical global governance issues. It builds on a shared feeling of urgency to scale and speed adaptation to change in the face of climate change and environmental degradation, shifting demographics, geopolitics, and game-changing technological revolutions. In this context of radical uncertainty, the Geneva Policy Outlook aims to nurture nuanced and, at the same time, practical and forward-looking perspectives to help to address global challenges.

To produce the Geneva Policy Outlook 2023, we have brought together a community of senior strategic thinkers and practitioners, including drawing on the expertise and global networks of the Geneva Graduate Institute. The contributions to the Geneva Policy Outlook 2023 have emerged organically from this collective reflection process which focused on the adaptation of International Geneva to changing world orders in its pilot phase. By “International Geneva”, we refer, on the one hand, to the variety of actors based in Geneva working on global challenges, and on the other hand, to a way of working characterised particularly by solving differences and shaping the future through dialogue and negotiation.

The result is a new digital publication that puts the finger on the pulse of Geneva’s global policy space by adopting an anticipatory logic – meaning how our current knowledge about the future should shape our behaviour and decisions today. Given Geneva’s issue density and a short production timeline for this inaugural edition, we could not be entirely comprehensive in the coverage of all Geneva issues, but we will surely strive to cover them all in the future editions.

Finding courage for change

Our aim is to shape a narrative that goes beyond “business as usual”, underlining that International Geneva will need a great deal of courage to change if it wants to remain a relevant global governance hub in the future.

In producing the Geneva Policy Outlook 2023, we have attempted to pierce through our own “Geneva bubble” and pay attention to multiple perspectives and worldviews. Our aim is to shape a narrative that goes beyond “business as usual”, underlining that International Geneva will need a great deal of courage to change if it wants to remain a relevant global governance hub in the future. To this end, Marie-Laure Salles highlights the importance of courage as a critical ingredient for dealing with climate change, weapons of mass destruction and the transhumanist project. These existential threats to humanity are real and require shifting to “a logic where regeneration is integrated by design at the core of all our systems – economic, social, political, technological and geopolitical”. Operationalizing courage can mean to be ready “for active listening and learning across and beyond all boundaries” and “taking the risk to foster and nurture out-of-the-box ideas and innovative solutions even under burning daily pressure.”

Advancing multilateral negotiations on global challenges

Following this call to courage, the Geneva Policy Outlook 2023 first lays out the challenges ahead in key multilateral negotiations, and how these could move forward. Suerie Moon highlights the importance of the upcoming Pandemic Treaty negotiations: they will shape the future of global health governance and how the world will approach the issue of equity of access to vaccine and other health technologies. Moon charts key issues to watch in the 2023 negotiations and raises the flag that the growth of Geneva’s sector around global health diplomacy might have peaked as many governments divert support to other pressing international and national priorities.

James Revill and Manon Blancafort highlight that following the Ninth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention, there could be momentum to better connect the health and disarmament communities, especially with respect to assessing the deployment of biological weapons. Key issues to watch in 2023 are initiatives on biosafety, laboratory biosecurity and oversight of dual-use research, and how these could be addressed through a broader biosecurity governance framework.

Giacomo Persi Paoli identifies obstacles for negotiations within the Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems. These include the speed of technological change, resistance to change and language to protect a certain diplomatic acquis, and geopolitical dynamics. Delegations have, however, tabled high quality proposal and areas of convergence start crystalizing around the application of international humanitarian law.

Turning to the other domains of multilateral negotiations, Sonia Peña points to the important actions following the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), which was agreed upon last December. “2023 must be the year when we truly turn the page, leave entrenched national positions that characterised the negotiations aside, and swiftly move to implementation.” To deliver the biodiversity targets by 2030, key actions should focus on assuring sustained financial resources and cross sectoral participation in the implementation of the GBF.

Manuel Marques Pereira and Ileana Sinziana Puscas highlight that 2023 could be the year more states implement solutions for environmental migration, given existing evidence on how climate change will shape migration patterns worldwide. With a clear momentum, political awareness and promising regional and national efforts around climate migration, 2023 could witness an increasing institutionalization of this dimension within the global migration agenda. There is a need to shape policy coherence and the systematisation of initiatives to ensure cross-cutting linkages between the migration, human rights and climate change communities.

2023 will also be an important year for multilateral trade as the World Trade Organization (WTO) is setting out on a journey of ambitious reform. Dmitry Grozoubinski charts the range of issues at stake – from new or updated rules on tariffs, subsidies and discriminatory regulations; to the future of dispute settlement; and the question of plurilateral agreements. Key actors are divided and there is no agreement on the role of civil society or the private sector in the WTO reform process. He underlines that those interested in a vision of “a single trusted multilateral forum for discussion, with transparent procedures for airing grievances and the settling of disputes” should make their voices heard.

Reinventing diplomacy for a multiplex world

The Geneva Policy Outlook 2023 underlines the continued relevance of multilateral negotiations for dealing with global commons challenges in the long term. However, in the current era of rapid change, an even stronger connection to the insight and experience from outside the formal diplomatic world of governments is important to speed and scale-up change in a multiplex world.

When looking at the examples from the domains of health, disarmament, environment, migration and trade, the Geneva Policy Outlook 2023 underlines the continued relevance of multilateral negotiations for dealing with global commons challenges in the long term. However, in the current era of rapid change, an even stronger connection to the insight and experience from outside the formal diplomatic world of governments is important to speed and scale-up change in a multiplex world (referring to the emerging era of more fragmented global governance after the American Century, characterized by an ever increasing diffusion of power between state, private sector and societal actors). Within this context of change, Peter Maurer and Mohammed Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou argue that it is time to push for a new conceptualization of diplomacy that defeats conventional wisdom on its purpose, the actors who can participate in it, and its end goals. Diplomacy should be reinvented as an action and dialogue facilitator in an ever more multiplex world.

The Geneva Policy Outlook 2023 highlights several domains where such a novel approach to diplomacy is already well in action or could be strengthened this year. Mark Zeitoun, Christian Bréthaut, Caroline Pellaton highlight opportunities to boost water peace diplomacy for cooperation in times of conflict and as an instrument of de-escalation. A key moment to watch is the Mid-Term Review Conference of the UN Water Action Decade in March 2023 in New York which could advance the notion of ‘peace through water’ as a new form of diplomacy.

Gabriel Gomes Couto makes the case for ‘Earth Diplomacy’ as a new form of diplomacy to speed and scale up climate solutions in the places that most need them. The approach builds on the operational experience of private diplomacy, which is a strand of practice in peace mediation focused on discreet engagements with hard-to-reach yet powerful actors.

Dawid Bastiat-Jarosz underlines the opportunities of deploying sustainable finance as an engine for systemic change for achieving carbon neutrality and uses the EU Taxonomy for Sustainable Activities to shape incentives for change. The EU Taxonomy is the backbone of several legal acts aimed at encouraging investments in reducing carbon emission by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. It will oblige companies, money managers and banks “to start reporting how sustainable their operations, financial products and loan portfolios are” and help incentivise investments that are aligned with the EU Green Deal. However, the impact of these efforts is not limited to the EU alone and will have a broader global impact.

A reinvented diplomacy for a multiplex world will also require new ways to achieve systemic change. In the case of food security, Dominique Burgeon underlines the importance of transforming agrifood systems in the face of a diversity of impacts from climate change, pandemics and more recently from the war in Ukraine. These “interact with existing vulnerabilities and shocks to push people to the brink”. Working towards more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems in 2023 could lead to better production and nutrition, a better environment, and a better life that leaves no one behind.

Eunsoo Lee and Moira V. Faul underline Geneva’s role in – and possible strategic response to – critical shifts in the entangled governance and financing of education and development. Ensuring the relevance of the International Geneva ecosystem in the context of these changes requires nurturing strategic diplomacy, systemic networked collaboration and exchanges across several SDGs, underpinned by active listening especially to those who are most affected by the decisions taken in Geneva.

These fields of multi-stakeholder diplomacy emphasise how much diplomacy is changing and how the “classic” government-led multilateralism can be complemented with a nimbler way of working to solve specific problems and forge cooperation in times of uncertainty.

Managing the consequences of war

Against the backdrop of the current war in Ukraine, the Geneva Policy Outlook 2023 explores two avenues to manage the consequences of this war moving forward.

Hugo Slim reminds us that great power conflict is back more forcefully as a form of warfare and suggests that “global economic warfare needs new rules”. He points to the principle of global precautions and the exemption from targeting essential commodities as well as the foundation of these policies in International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law. The world has an interest to regulate economic warfare soon because “if the next Big War involves a confrontation between China and the US, then global economic warfare could be catastrophic.”

Peter Prove emphasises pursuing ecumenical peacebuilding in Ukraine whereby member churches of the World Council of Churches enmeshed in wider conflict situations are engaged in a form of inter-church “Track 2” process. Despite the tensions between the churches, religion could be a connector for a peace that is more than the mere absence of conflict.

These articles are just two examples of a wide array of conflict management and resolution activities that have emerged from Geneva’s global policy space. They emphasize how International Geneva is embracing new forms of diplomacy in a more multiplex world, including through highly networked approaches ,and an ability to leverage ideas with relevant actors, as was the case in the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

Preparing for the impact of technological revolutions

In the world of cyberattacks, hacking and mining for data, the Geneva Policy Outlook 2023 underlines that the evolving world of technology requires agile, smart, and collaborative regulations. After cyber-attacks against the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 2022, Balthasar Staehelin underlines that the humanitarian sector needs to move faster to develop a collective action mindset and improve risk awareness relating to cybersecurity. To ensure trust and operational continuity, Staehelin highlights the ICRCs ambition to create a “digital emblem”, which indicates clearly in cyberspace that the marked entity enjoys special protection under international humanitarian law and must be protected against harm.

Describing data as the “new gold”, Anne-Marie Buzatu argues for the need to construct multi-stakeholder oversight and governance systems for the digital economy. The coming year will be important for translating democratic notions of privacy and human rights more broadly to the marketplace of Information Communications Technologies.

Jérôme Duberry raises the flag that unconstrained techno-solutionism is a critical risk for dealing with global challenges. This is why social scientists should become more confident in 2023 to push back against techno-solutionism and start addressing concretely the dual-use characteristics of developments in biotechnology, neuroscience, and artificial intelligence head on. Those willing to lead should do so soon in the face of the speed by which the tech sector evolves.

What next for International Geneva?

Complexity is the new “capital” of International Geneva. A certain know-how to harness this complexity into something that is operationally valuable to address global commons challenges will be at the heart of Geneva’s continued relevance as a global hub.

The Geneva Policy Outlook 2023 features 18 articles that each reflect on how to keep Geneva relevant as a global hub in times of radical uncertainty. When taken together, they underline several features of this global hub that are not necessarily new, but deserve emphasis, given the emerging realities of a multiplex world.

A first thread is about the continued relevance of multilateral fora to address global commons challenges – climate change, pandemics, weapons of mass destruction, biodiversity, migration, or wars. However, the emergent multiplex world makes it more urgent to connect these processes to more stakeholders, and to complementary initiatives that can move faster operationally. Moderating the interaction between the more traditional multilateral negotiations and the more nimble and inclusive approaches (featured in this edition as Water Peace Diplomacy or Earth Diplomacy) will likely become a more important field of activity for International Geneva. There is additional opportunity to play these moderating roles on the margins of the hundreds of meetings which are scheduled to take place in Geneva in 2023 (as detailed in the Geneva Calendar). As part of this moderation, it will also be critical for Geneva to stay connected to what is happening in other hubs dealing with global commons issues, as I have argued elsewhere.

Another thread running through this year’s edition is the need for approaches that connect various domains of expertise and practice. The fact that so many of those domains exist in the same institutional ecosystem is a unique attribute of International Geneva and is at the heart of its comparative advantage as a facilitator for collaborative partnerships across institutions and sectors. The fact that Geneva is diverse is hardly new and surprising of course, but what the Geneva Policy Outlook 2023 would emphasise is that harnessing this diversity for new cross-cutting responses to current and future global challenges becomes more urgent, as does the speed and scale at which they can be put into action.

A related observation is that this diversity is also central for Geneva’s experimentation environment for problem solving. The actors within the city can build on a method of discovery that detaches ideas or experiences from specific contexts and connects them to form new ideas or processes, adapted to deployment contexts. For the day-to-day exchange in International Geneva, this means to keep supporting spaces for dialogue and collaboration, such as the 17 “Geneva platforms”, the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator or the Building Bridges movement.

The overarching reflection from these points is that complexity is the new “capital” of International Geneva. A certain know-how to harness this complexity into something that is operationally valuable to address global commons challenges will be at the heart of Geneva’s continued relevance as a global hub.


The Geneva Policy Outlook is a partnership between the Republic and State of Geneva, the City of Geneva, the Fondation pour Genève, and Geneva Graduate Institute. First and foremost, the Geneva Policy Outlook would like to thank these partners for their support to the integrated strategy of community building and strategic knowledge management.

A particular recognition deserves the team behind the Geneva Policy Outlook that produced this pilot edition and the associated digital infrastructure in just five months. I thank Gabriel Gomes Couto, Léna Menge, Swetha Ramachandran, and Xinyu Yuan for their commitment above and beyond the call of duty. I would also like to thank all authors and their delivery on tight deadlines, as well as Maëlys Glück and Flavia Keller for their language editing of the French and German versions, respectively, as well as Besarta Kastrati for overall assistance. Special thanks also goes to the team at Swisslinguists, Language Services that enabled our commitment to multilingualism.

A big thanks also goes to the community behind the Geneva Policy Outlook we would like to thank all colleagues for their time and insight, including Andrea Aeby, Heba Aly, Anamaria Bejar, Dominique Burgeon, Gilles Carbonnier, Mark Cassayre, Andrew Clapham, Olivier Coutau, Isabel De Sola, Daniel De Torres, Paola Deda, Alexandre Epalle, Alexandre Fasel, Beatrice Ferrari, Robin Geiss, Joëlle Germanier, Keith Krause, Jürg Lauber, Peter Maurer, Corinne Momal-Vanian, Suerie Moon, Alexandre Munafò, Maika Oshikawa, Peter Prove, Hiba Qasas, Anne de Riedmatten, Amjad Mohamed Saleem, Marie-Laure Salles, Ole von Uexkull, Agi Veres, Charlotte Warakaulle, Christophe Weber, Samir Yeddes, and Céline Yvon.

About the Editor

Dr Achim Wennmann is Director for Strategic Partnerships at the Geneva Graduate Institute. He has a long record of publication on the dynamics of violent conflict, peace processes and political transitions and of strategic management of complex projects across research, policy, and practitioner communities. Further analysis on the future of International Geneva include Platforms and International Geneva: Finding the Courage to Remain Relevant, and Humanitarian Aid and Peacebuilding: Innovations in Practice, Financing and Law (with Gilles Carbonnier, in A Swiss Foreign Policy for the 21st Century).


All publications of the Geneva Policy Outlook 2023 are personal contributions from the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the institutions they represent, nor the views of the Republic and State of Geneva, the City of Geneva, the Fondation pour Genève, and Geneva Graduate Institute.