Climate change high on Commonwealth agenda

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, November 27, 2009 – Commonwealth Heads of Government begin their three-day meeting in Trinidad and Tobago today with the issue of climate change set to overshadow everything else on their agenda.

Leaders of the 53-nation grouping are expected to outline their positions on the matter soon after the opening ceremony, host Prime Minister Patrick Manning said.

The meeting is normally a conference bringing together leaders from Britain and its former colonies. But this time around it has attracted French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and there have been reports that US President Barack Obama as well as his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao may also make the trip, along with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapetero of Spain.

The attraction for these leaders is undoubtedly the efforts worldwide to deal with the impact of climate change. According to Prime Minister Manning, who has confirmed the participation of Sarkozy, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Prime Minister of Denmark Lars Lokke Rasmussen, the Caribbean has an opportunity to shape a new deal ahead of the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen next month.

Manning noted that the Commonwealth gathering “is the last international summit meeting before that critical meeting [in Denmark] and has become most important to the process”.

“Our country has been at the centre of almost frenzied activity among leading nations from both the developed and developing world as we seek to ensure that we take the strongest possible position in preparation for the Copenhagen meeting,” Manning said in a radio and television broadcast ahead of today’s opening.

The 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping has launched a public campaign designed to promote the region’s unified position on climate change ahead of the December 7th to 18th meeting in Copenhagen.

The campaign, under the theme “1.5 °C to Stay Alive”, is intended to support and “dramatise a common regional approach for mitigating the effects of climate change on the region”, which will be articulated at Copenhagen as well as at the Commonwealth meeting, said CARICOM Secretary General Edwin Carrington.

Apart from climate change, Commonwealth leaders will this weekend also be discussing the impact of the ongoing global economic and financial crisis on their countries.

“It is only concerted action by all that can restore the world economy to satisfactory levels of growth, and generate the wealth and employment we all need,” said Manning, noting “our theme of partnering for a more equitable and sustainable future development is most relevant, not only regarding Commonwealth cooperation, but also as an indispensable basis for global action in the interest of all nations.”

Human rights issues will also be on the table.

The Trinidad-based Caribbean Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) as well as the India-based Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) have called for the withdrawal of the invitation to Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh, particularly over statements he made in September on Gambian television in which Jemmeh threatened to “kill anyone who tries to destabilise my country”.

In a brief statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Gambia’s delegation would be led by the minister of foreign affairs, giving no reason for the president’s absence. (Adapted from IPS)