People-to-people and government-to-government connections are what make the Commonwealth and nowhere has this been more apparent than in the aftermath of Hurricanes Maria and Irma in the Caribbean. Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and St Lucia have been among the governments offering safe refuge to homeless individuals from Dominica. Meanwhile, The Royal Commonwealth Society’s network of branches have been hard at work fundraising in the Caribbean and beyond, with a focus on getting education services in affected islands up and running again as soon as possible.
However this kind of short-term disaster relief, while a lifeline to affected communities, is not a sustainable solution. The Caribbean has always weathered hurricanes, yet the new reality of climate change has been a dramatic increase in the frequency and intensity of these extreme weather events. Half of Commonwealth countries are small island developing states, which are particularly vulnerable to tropical storms and rising sea levels. Climate and sustainability are fundamentally Commonwealth problems and action to build the resilience of communities and tackle carbon emissions at their source, is essential.
The Commonwealth has been a long-standing advocate of action on climate and sustainability is a fundamental component of the Commonwealth Charter. Fiji’s presidency of the COP23 talks, which will build upon the success of the global Paris climate agreement, is the most recent example of Commonwealth small island nations leading the fight against dangerous global warming. At the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Rule of Law programme is developing a toolkit that will assist member states in responding to climate threats. The first priority for this programme is assisting states in accessing the funds needed to tackle and respond to climate change, through the Climate Finance Access Hub (CFAH), hosted by the government of Mauritius with financial assistance from the government of Australia. The Secretariat is also developing a new programme on regenerative development that will assist countries in delivering the ambitious targets found within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These targets – which focus on biodiversity, desertification and climate change - go further than just stemming the decline of natural systems to instead actively sustaining and regenerating them.
Across the Commonwealth, an array of Commonwealth civil society organisations and actors are also doing their bit on the frontline of climate action. With 60% of Commonwealth citizens under the age of 30, youth have been some of the strongest advocates for securing a more sustainable future, with organisations including the Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network and the Commonwealth Youth Council spearheading action on climate. Across these networks, inspiring youth advocates have been working hard to push sustainability up the Commonwealth agenda. Angelique Pouponneau of the Seychelles, Commonwealth Youth Council Vice Chair and an RCS Associate Fellow has been a strong advocate for the need for small island states like her home nation, the Seychelles, to sustainably harness the ‘blue economy’. This includes having organised a youth dialogue at the Fourth Global Biennial Conference on Small States in May 2016.
In partnership with Friends of the Earth, The Commonwealth Human Ecology Council has been drawing attention to the urgent need to protect pollinators from serious and potentially disastrous population decline. They’re calling for Commonwealth nations to institute an urgent action plan to protect bee species and other pollinators.
The Commonwealth Forestry Association (CFA) has long led Commonwealth action to promote the sustainable use of forests for both people and the environment. This includes publishing the most up-to-date scientific research on the role of forests in climate change mitigation, and sharing news and views from the Commonwealth and beyond on sustainable forest management. In partnership with The Royal Commonwealth Society, the CFA is a supporter of The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy. This ambitious and exciting project, led by Her Majesty the Queen, will create a network of Commonwealth forests that promote community-led sustainable forest management.
Building a sustainable future also means transforming our cities, and Commonwealth organisations are working in close partnership to place urban environments at the heart of an action plan for sustainability. The Commonwealth Association of Architects (CAA) has been partnering with the Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP) and the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) to advocate for the inclusion of urbanisation on the agenda for the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. They are working to build a broad consensus for harnessing the potential offered by the growth of cities across the Commonwealth. CLGF is working hard to promote action on SDG 11 on Sustainable Cities, by hosting the new Steering Committee of the Commonwealth Sustainable Cities Network and bringing together local government actors to promote a localised approach.