As a New Year dawns there is much to reflect on and look ahead to in the Commonwealth. Below we look at the themes and events that will shape 2016.

A New Commonwealth Secretary-General will take office

One of the biggest events of 2015 was the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in Malta. A highlight was the election of a new Secretary-General, Baroness Scotland, nominated by Dominica. Baroness Scotland brings international, legislative, legal and government experience to the running of the Commonwealth. She was the first ever woman to be made Attorney General in the UK and has a career that spans the UK and the Caribbean. She is due to take office in the spring of this year and has stated that she wants to support member states to build development and democracy. A challenge will be to keep members unified while making sure the Commonwealth continues to be relevant to governments and people alike in a crowded international arena.

Commonwealth Day 2016

This year the annual celebration of the Commonwealth, Commonwealth Day, will fall on Monday 14th March and will be celebrated around the Commonwealth. In London the Royal Commonwealth Society will once again co-ordinate a special multi-faith celebration at Westminster Abbey to be attended by Her Majesty The Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, High Commissioners, dignitaries from around the Commonwealth and specially invited guests, as well as 1,000 young people. The Commonwealth Day Service will help launch the Commonwealth theme for 2016: ‘An Inclusive Commonwealth’. The theme emphasises the Commonwealth’s strength in working together to achieve progress. Including the full diversity of people in society is increasingly a necessity in stimulating development and fostering community resilience. The theme allows for further reflection on these ideas.

Implementing International Agreements

Secretary generals and Muscat2015 saw impressive international agreements made at the COP21 climate change talks in Paris, new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) finalised in New York and new initiatives launched at the  Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta. For global policy makers 2016 will be a year of implementation to make these agreements real. Conversations on the SDGs will turn to how achievement of the goals can be monitored and measured. Policy makers now have to follow through on commitments to lower carbon emissions. Commonwealth governments will be working with the Commonwealth Secretariat to support the creation and operation of the newly agreed Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub, Commonwealth Small States Centre of Excellence and Countering Violent Extremism Unit. 

The Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministerial Meeting

The Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministerial Meeting (WAMM) is due to take place in Samoa in the autumn of 2016. The selection of the first ever female Commonwealth Secretary General, the first Commonwealth Women’s Forum held in Malta and the creation of the Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network in 2015 have helped ensure gender issues are even more firmly on the Commonwealth radar. The Commonwealth has continuously expressed concern for gender inequality in education as well as various forms of gender-based violence. Organisations such as the Royal Commonwealth Society in partnership with Plan UK, the Commonwealth of Learning and the Commonwealth Secretariat have also worked to ensure progress on Child, Early and Forced Marriage and these issues could well feature prominently at the WAMM.

Commemorating the First World War

Across the Commonwealth 2016 will be a year of reflection and commemoration of some of the major battles of the First World War. One of the most significant was the Battle of the Somme which began on the 1st July 1916. By November of the same year over one million people from all sides had been wounded, captured or killed in the battle. While often thought of as a European conflict the Somme Offensive was a microcosm of the First World War through the involvement of service people from across the world, including from territories which are now Commonwealth member states. Most notably alongside the UK, forces from what are today Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India and South Africa served in the battle. This anniversary and those of other major battles will be marked by events in France and across the Commonwealth.

The 90th Birthday of HM The Queen

As Head of the Commonwealth, The Queen is highly regarded across the Commonwealth. She has served the modern Commonwealth of Nations in this way for most of its history and continues to attend Heads of Government Meetings and ceremonial occasions such as the London Commonwealth Day celebrations. Her 90th Birthday is due to be marked in May and June and many Commonwealth dignitaries and organisations will join in the celebrations. The official events include a Patron’s Lunch to celebrate The Queen’s patronage of over 600 organisations in the UK and around the Commonwealth, including the Royal Commonwealth Society. Her Majesty’s commitment to the Commonwealth will no doubt continue to inspire this diverse network throughout 2016 and beyond.

Photo: Outgoing Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma; Secretary-General Elect, Baroness Scotland and Maltese Prime Minister, Dr Joseph Muscat. Photo credit: Commonwealth Secretariat.