OPINION: Time to put the Commonwealth to work on the climate emergency

by Michael Sippitt | Commonwealth Environmental Investment Platform
Monday, 9 March 2020 12:44 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A view of flags at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, UK, July 23, 2014. Action Images / Steven Paston Livepic

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A collaborative common approach to addressing global warming may be the single biggest contribution the Commonwealth can make to our planet this century

In 2016, the Commonwealth established a Climate Finance Access Hub, based in Mauritius, and providing regional services as well. The hub helps small and vulnerable countries access international sources of climate finance, has already assisted the financing of several projects in smaller countries, and is there to provide capacity development, knowledge management, and technical expertise.

The idea of the hub is excellent, but the ambition clearly needs to be much greater to tackle climate change on a much wider basis with increased support.

The world is a tough place to be a smaller and poorer country. Everyone needs friends. The Commonwealth is a global friendship that works in many ways usually unseen. Pomp and ceremony has its place, for a few, but most importantly the Commonwealth enables knowledge sharing, technical co-operation and ease of doing business that should help make everyone more prosperous.

As the Commonwealth marks its annual day today, this family of nations, which represent a third of the world population, is an extraordinary global collaboration of very diverse countries whose relationship, largely built on shared history, language and laws, still encourages trade and investment to mutual advantage.

A collaborative common approach to addressing climate change may be the single biggest contribution the Commonwealth can make to our planet this century.

The climate emergency is predicted to have a major effect on many Commonwealth nations, plus likely huge job losses as traditional work is increasingly displaced by automation, a much greater danger to countries who lack diversified economies and strong enough education systems for retraining.

Yet challenges remain, and the rule of law, the foundation of successful trade and investment, is not always as strong as it could be.

These issues are coming together in many vulnerable countries and are bound to lead to people moving in large numbers for economic reasons as well as escaping extreme weather events, sea level rise and resource scarcity.

There has never been a more important time for global friendship, and the challenge is whether the Commonwealth can demonstrate its values through proactive collaboration to mitigate the worst of the trouble looming for so many of its citizens in the years soon to come. It is definitely time for the more resilient Commonwealth nations to reach out in friendship to help those facing the greatest risks.

The future of humanity depends mostly on what happens in the developing world in the coming years. That is where carbon emissions will be continuing strongly even while developed countries find alternative ways to support their economies more sustainably.

It is estimated $90 trillion will be spent globally on infrastructure by about 2030. Our futures and those of our children depend on wise spending choices that will safeguard the environment and limit climate change impacts.

The Commonwealth includes countries at all stages of economic development. It is accordingly an ideal framework to increase global collaboration on climate change.

Practical possibilities include increased technical co-operation and knowledge sharing. Promoting global collaboration between growing companies in the sustainability sector will also help create employment as traditional work vanishes.

Encouraging and supporting public sector procurement across the Commonwealth that supports sustainability through increased expertise in evaluating proposals. Public money should support sustainable development and investment everywhere, but this needs good governance and shared technical procurement know how. Reinventing the wheel is not required.

As many Commonwealth citizens face catastrophic impacts of climate change through sea level rise, extreme weather, droughts, and scarcity of water and other resources, there can be nothing so important to the young of the Commonwealth and indeed the world that these challenges are faced with extraordinary common purpose.