PERTH, Australia, CMC – Commonwealth heads of government began meeting here on Friday on a range of economic and social issues ostensibly expected to contribute to realistic development of member counties.
But there is uncertainty whether a pragmatic position will be reached on climate change, an issue critical to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Queen Elizabeth II, head of the Commonwealth, in officially opening the meeting at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre, identified climate change among the “new and fresh challenges” now confronting the world, less than a decade after its preoccupation with resolving what she described as a then new chapter in terrorism.
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, in an interview with the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) pinpointed climate change as an agenda item of interest and importance because of the region’s vulnerability to natural disasters, particularly hurricanes.
Referring to human activities in industrialised nations that has or is contributing to climate change in the Caribbean, Spencer said he was hoping to get the support of Commonwealth members to honour commitments made by developed countries to implement measures and provide resources to mitigate the impact on the region.
“We know there are issues – the United States has a particular view, and so does the People’s Republic of China,” said the Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister.
”But we cannot continue to have this thing lagging. To the extent that there are areas that we have agreement on and these things can be implemented, we need to move forward with implementation,” he added.
Although the matter could still find favour by the time the Commonwealth leaders end their discussions on Sunday, the biggest ever gathering of Commonwealth business leaders, at the end of their three-day forum Thursday, failed to reach a consensus on how to tackle climate change.
At a media briefing, Director General of the Commonwealth Business Council, Dr. Mohan Kaul, said the group’s report to the heads of government – a four page document in which it outlined its position on key issues – did not include a recommendation on climate change because an agreement could not be reached.
In answer to a question directly related to the issue, Dr. Kaul said “there has not been a consensus for a single recommendation from the business side so we couldn’t put it as a recommendation.”
He added that there were diverse views and they thought it best to wait for a concrete suggestion. “But the issues of climate change, including carbon tax, carbon trading … were all discussed,” Dr. Kaul said.
The Queen, on her 16th visit to Australia since assuming the throne, said she was happy to join the heads of government and their delegates in Perth “for a meeting that promises to bring new vibrancy to the Commonwealth.
“CHOGM was last in this country in 2002 at Coolum a time when the world was still dealing with a new chapter in terrorism,” she said.
“Almost a decade later, we find ourselves confronting new and fresh challenges – insecurity and uncertainty in finance, food supply, climate change and trade and development,” said the monarch. She added that “this commonwealth meeting is a perfect opportunity to address these issues and find responses to today’s crises and challenges.”
The Queen also recognised the work of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, established out of the last heads of government meeting in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009, saying she was looking forward to sharing the outcome of the discussions on their recommendations.
But one of the recommendations of the group – the establishment of a human rights watchdog – has all but been scuttled, according to The West Australian newspaper, which, said it obtained the agenda for the meeting of 53 foreign ministers that recommended beefing up the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) as an alternative.
The concession involves member countries being policed by the CMAG set of up to 10 foreign ministers that now include Jamaica, Australia, New Zealand, Ghana, Bangladesh, Namibia and Vanuatu.
But the compromise also fell short of the independent position proposed for the human rights watchdog and could be made powerless at any time if just one foreign minister dissented.
Recommendation for the establishment of a human rights watchdog, which would seek to legalise homosexuality in Commonwealth states such as Caribbean and African countries which still outlaw the practice, gained traction over the past few days with meetings organised by local groups to persuade everyone to support it.
However, in closed door discussions over two days, the proposal was blocked by at least two countries – India and South Africa, forcing the compromise.
The Queen, who has described the Commonwealth as “the original world wide web” and the “face of the future”, told heads of government that in their deliberations “we should not forget that this is an association not only of governments but also of peoples. That is what makes it so relevant in this age of global information and communications.”
The monarch said the result of the meeting may be global in impact or simply touch individuals, “but in every respect I trust it will be positive and enduring”.