The Commonwealth Summit, which opens in Malta today, is an opportunity for leaders of 53 countries with a combined population of 2.2 billion – one third of humankind – to address global issues like climate change, migration, terrorism, the future of small states, trade and sustainable development, gender equality and human rights.
The Commonwealth includes some of the world’s largest, smallest, richest and poorest nations from Africa, Asia, the Americas, the European Union and the Pacific, all of which are guided by common principles and values contained in the organisation’s Charter.
Fifty one of the members are former British colonies, which have English as a common language, and 31 members are classified as small states.
The Commonwealth also includes key global players such as the UK, Canada, Australia, India, South Africa and Nigeria, large Muslim countries such as Malaysia, Pakistan and Bangladesh and the super-successful city State of Singapore.
The potential of this association is therefore immense and the Commonwealth is without doubt well placed to influence the policy agenda in global politics, something it has unfortunately not exploited enough over the years.
The leaders are expected to issue a joint statement outlining their position on migration and the way forward for Commonwealth countries. A range of initiatives, such as the strengthening of migration governance frameworks, including the need for safe, orderly and regular migration involving the full respect for human rights and the humane treatment of migrants, are likely to be proposed.
Such an initiative is commendable but would it not be also admirable if the leaders agree to take in a number of refugees, especially from war zones such as Syria, to be distributed among the various Commonwealth states? That would surely be an example of the Commonwealth’s shared values. It would show the organisation is indeed relevant and would highlight the fact that the refugee crisis is an international issue and not just a European one.
The leaders at CHOGM must also send out the right signals on combating terrorism and present a united front. Nigeria should be supported as it battles the murderous Boko Haram.
Malta’s proposals to help promote democracy, development and economic resilience in small States – including a Commonwealth Small States Centre of Excellence, which was launched on Wednesday, and a Trade Financing Facility for Small States – are expected to be approved at CHOGM. Hopefully, such initiatives will lead to a better quality of life for people living in such countries.
Crucially, a special session on climate change will be held during CHOGM, just days before the Climate Change Summit opens in Paris. One augurs all Commonwealth countries represented in Malta will agree to climate action, sending a positive signal ahead of the meeting in France.
The fact that both UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and French President François Hollande will participate in the climate change session here is evidence of its importance.
Time is running out for action to be taken on climate change – global average temperatures in 2015 are likely to be the warmest on record – and it is essential for the Malta meeting to set the ball rolling just before the international community meets in Paris.
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