19 November 2009
For more than twenty years the Commonwealth has been leading the way in building awareness and advocating for action on climate change
The association, representing a third of the world’s population, brings together governments, partners and individuals to share experiences, knowledge and expertise, helping to broaden dialogue and to strengthen international negotiations.
In 1987, a year before the United Nations established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the scientific panel charged with evaluating the risks of global warming, Commonwealth Heads of Government commissioned a landmark scientific study on the effects of climatic variations.
This study, led by eminent British scientist Martin Holdgate and published in 1989, warned of the calamitous risks of inaction, including “severe tropical storms, floods, droughts or extremes of heat”, concluding that the poor would be the “main victims” of a rise in worldwide temperature.
That same year, leaders agreed the Langkawi Declaration on Environment – a powerful statement which went on to influence the Rio Earth Summit Declaration of 1992, which still guides the agenda on environmentally sustainable development.
New plan of action
In 2007, Commonwealth Heads of Government agreed the Lake Victoria Commonwealth Climate Change Action Plan, a statement of intent by governments to work, both individually and collectively, on climate change.
The plan highlights six areas for co-operation. Here is a snapshot of some of the projects implemented by the Commonwealth Secretariat in each of the six areas:
In May 2008, the Secretariat brought together senior climate change negotiators from small states. This is a group of countries which has difficulty in fully engaging and taking part in the negotiating process because of limited resources. The workshop gave them a chance to discuss key priorities and strategies for small island states in the negotiations and help them work collectively to make an impact.
Since November 2007, education, finance and health ministers, parliamentarians, and civil society representatives have met to discuss the human and economic aspects of climate change. In August 2008, for instance, Commonwealth youth leaders developed a position paper, outlining a youth perspective on climate change and their role in addressing this global challenge. They have since established a youth-led climate change network and organised a Young Commonwealth Climate Change Summit in October 2009 to take work forward in practical ways.
Through its involvement in Iwokrama, a stretch of forest in Guyana, the Secretariat has been helping to develop methods of sustainable tropical rainforest use. It has facilitated discussions by environment ministers on forestry concerns and looked at practical ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions that result from deforestation and forest degradation.
The Secretariat has implemented a study on the complex relationship of trade and climate from the viewpoint of small states and smaller developing countries. To date, most studies have focused on the concerns of developed countries and large developing countries like Brazil, India and China, so this is a valuable addition to international understanding. The final report will be published in December 2009.
As part of an ongoing package to support reconstruction efforts in Maldives following the tsunami disaster in December 2004 (when the Commonwealth sent 23 doctors to provide interim cover during the recovery period), the Commonwealth is helping to train Regional Health Care Managers and strengthen the National Medical Council of the Maldives. Drawing on a team of volunteer experts from the UK’s Royal College of General Practitioners, it has developed guidelines for the operations of the National Medical Council. In a separate initiative, the Secretariat has organised regional conferences across the Commonwealth which help government officials to explore comprehensive ways of coping with natural disasters. They examine various tried and tested methods, which reduce the many risks – from fires to floods – associated with disasters.
Thirty-three agronomists and climate modellers were brought together in Guyana in March 2008 for training which established a cadre of expertise that can assess the impact of climate change on agriculture and food security in the Caribbean region. The skills they developed helped to ensure that agriculture policy in the region can take account of what we know might happen to agricultural productivity and food security as a result of global warming. Work books/training manuals have been published to promote the transfer of this approach to other small state regions. As a result of the programme, organised in collaboration with the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, several small states have completed national assessments, including Guyana.