06 April 2016 – ‘No more excuses on decisive and effective climate action!’ This was the message that rang loud and clear as Commonwealth governments and climate change experts and practitioners met today at a Commonwealth Dialogue on Climate Change.
Hosted by Commonwealth Secretary-General, Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, who took office on 1 April, the forum focused on the way forward after the historic Paris climate agreement at COP21 last December.
Welcoming delegates, Secretary-General Scotland pledged that the Commonwealth will play a “central role” in addressing the existential threat of climate change.
Describing the issue as “the most severe global challenge facing our generation” the Dominican Secretary-General said the Commonwealth, with its “potent combination of distinctive strengths and advantages” is well poised to continue to “provide smaller and more vulnerable states with a vital platform for wider political consideration of their concerns.”
Fiji’s High Commissioner Mr Jitoko Tikolevu described the “frightening” threat facing his country, and called on all nations to “act decisively”. He said: “The emergency is now, so the solution must be now. There is no more room for excuses!”
His comments come as Fiji, which just weeks ago was battered by the worst cyclone recorded in the southern hemisphere, is now bracing itself for the effects of category three cyclone Zena.
Outlining Commonwealth initiatives such as the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub, which will help countries successfully bid for climate action funding, Secretary-General Scotland challenged participants to think about the practical next steps to deal with the globe’s environmental challenges.
Sir David King, the UK Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Climate Change, outlined the importance of investing in innovations to reduce rising carbon emissions. Climate justice advocate Mary Robinson questioned whether the historic global agreement on climate change in Paris will deliver action at the speed and scale needed to keep warming below 1.5 degrees or well below 2 degrees.
Ms Robinson urged the Commonwealth to ensure it maintains its strong track record of leadership on collective action on environmental issues, which dates back to 1989 when it adopted the Langkawi declaration on the environment.
Since then the intergovernmental body has facilitated the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small-Island Developing States (SIDS) in 1994, and in 2009 Commonwealth Heads signed the Port of Spain Climate Change Consensus: The Commonwealth Climate Change Declaration. This declaration had a decisive impact on COP15 in Copenhagen.
Referring to the landmark climate change agreement at the 2015 Commonwealth Head of Government meeting, Secretary General Scotland said: “There was an agreement that 53 of us would commit to 2% with 52 of us saying 1.5% would be our aspiration. Countries like Canada that had been sceptical in the past came on board because they heard the voice of the small island states in the Commonwealth.
“The 53 countries then went to Paris, united in our aims and active across the five different regions. We had members of the Commonwealth with one voice saying, “take this seriously.” And they did.”
She added: “So now, having been instrumental in achieving the Paris agreement, the Commonwealth now has to be instrumental in delivering it.”
The event is the first in a series of high-level policy dialogues to be hosted by the Commonwealth Secretary-General.