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Having Been Instrumental in Achieving the Paris Agreement, the Commonwealth Has to Be Instrumental in Delivering It

06/04/2016 15:14 | Updated 06 April 2016

I feel incredibly lucky because I was born on one of the smallest islands in the Commonwealth. I understand the existential threat that is presented by climate change. For us, it has been our lived experience for decades while the rest of the world has been in denial.

When Tropical Storm Erika hit my home country of Dominica last August it affected 90% of Dominica's GDP and caused more than US$500m worth of damage. A year ago Cyclone Pam swept through the Pacific and caused havoc in Vanuatu, where a generation of development was lost in a matter of hours. 70% of its population was displaced. In February, Cyclone Winston devastated Fiji, causing damage estimated at $460million.

Today, in my first week as Secretary-General, I'm bringing together leaders such as Mary Robinson, President of the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice and former United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Change, scientists such as Sir David King, the UK Foreign Secretary's Special Representative for Climate Change, together with High Commissioners, NGOs and experts from across the Commonwealth

Climate change is the most severe challenge facing our generation. But this is not a new argument for the Commonwealth. We were arguing for collective action on climate change long before Kyoto was know for anything other than being the formal imperial capital of Japan.

The Commonwealth adopted the Langkawi declaration on the environment back in 1989. Five years later it facilitated the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States.

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.

This time, in advance of COP 21, the Caribbean countries and the Pacific Island Forum united in calling for a 1.5 degrees limit in global temperature rises. Those 24 countries then joined with the remainder of the Commonwealth when we went to Malta for the Heads of Government Meeting immediately before Paris.

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 and signed on to a common Commonwealth agenda.

That meant that when we all 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.

So now, having been instrumental in achieving the Paris agreement, the Commonwealth now has to be instrumental in delivering it.

We can do this through targeted programmes of research, advocacy and capacity-building to achieve greater resilience through sustainable development. Implementation of COP21 must be informed by the best available science, with reviewable outcomes that are delivered in a transparent and accountable manner.

We new human ingenuity and innovation to deliver a symbiotic solution which is restorative and regenerative.

At their Meeting in Malta, Commonwealth Heads of Government approved the establishment of the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub to help member states - particularly those with constrained capacity - gain access to much needed Climate Finance.

The Hub will be one of a range of flagship Commonwealth programmes designed to support national efforts and build the resilience of small states.

Another of our initiatives addresses the dual challenges of Climate Change and the high debt that cripples many small countries. Our Debt Swap for Climate Action initiative promotes agreements between climate finance providers and debtor countries. Agreements fund local climate change projects through reductions in the public debt of small states. Our scheme to swap national debt for climate action has already gained considerable support - including endorsement by the UN Secretary General.

These are just two examples. There are a whole number of questions we need to answer, which is why I am starting this dialogue today.

For example, what are the further practical steps that ensure we can deliver what is not just an environmental challenge but a health, wellbeing and development challenge? How do we better develop a climate impact assessment for policy development, for building regulations, for land use? How do we ensure better coordination when disaster does strike?

These are the challenges. These are the opportunities. As Secretary-General I'm determined the Commonwealth takes a lead. Not just for our small island states who are literally disappearing before our eyes but for the world as a whole.

We've had the agreements. It's time now for action.

Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC is Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations. She tweets @PScotlandCSG

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