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Unity & purpose in the C’wealth can drive climate action today

Op-Ed 2022-05-21, 3:08pm

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By Patricia Scotland QC, Philip Davis QC 

20 May 2022 - The climate crisis is deeply personal to the many who have lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods due to the devastating impacts of climate change such as Hurricane Dorian in 2019; the worst natural disaster in The Bahamas’ history.

But as the defining challenge of our times, climate change is also deeply political. It is an existential threat to Small Island Developing States, and a multiplier of existing social and economic inequalities, which brings forward the tipping point for conflict.

Tackling climate change requires a scale of political and economic commitment, cooperation and change that is unprecedented since the birth of the multilateral system.

This effort is required at the same time that the world is grappling with multiple crises, and the effectiveness and vitality of multilateralism is in question.

The Commonwealth’s blend of shared, preeminent values – and of practical advantages – offer the opportunity both to reflect the lived experience of climate change for those on the front line back to the world, and to lead the way in finding solutions. 

Real solutions such as the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub, which has so far unlocked $48.8 million in vital funding for adaption and mitigation for 14 Small Island Developing States, with a further $760 million in the pipeline, offer hope.

But for countries such as The Bahamas, it is the Commonwealth’s leadership which can really make the difference. 

The 54 nations of the Commonwealth are home to one-third of all the people on earth. 60 per cent of the Commonwealth’s 2.5 billion people are under the age of 30. 

Commonwealth members stretch across six continents and five oceans, combining advanced economies and developing countries. 32 of the world’s 42 small states are Commonwealth members, and two-thirds of the world’s Small Island Developing States are in the Commonwealth.  

When such a rich, broad and diverse fraternity of nations speaks with a single, unified voice, that voice is heard around the world.

Commonwealth leadership on climate change has shifted the dial before.

The far-reaching 1989 Langkawi Leaders Declaration on the Environment was ahead of its time

The 2012 Commonwealth Charter was a vital precursor to the Sustainable Development Goals

The 2015 Commonwealth Leaders’ Statement on Climate Action showed the world that a bold agreement was possible, just before the Paris Agreement was signed.

The lived experience of Bahamians – combined with the IPCC’s conclusion climate change is widespread, rapid, and intensifying, while the window for action is rapidly closing – demands a fresh act of Commonwealth leadership.

It is only if we are united as a whole Commonwealth that we will meet the existential challenges we face.

And with Commonwealth Heads of Government coming together in Kigali next month, the opportunity to shift the dial again is before us – with a voice of unity and purpose that is strong enough, loud enough, and penetrating enough to drive real action; not tomorrow, but today.

(The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC is the Commonwealth Secretary-General, and The Honourable Philip Davis QC is MP and Prime Minister of The Bahamas)