‘Climate change, small states, inequality and development’. [l-r] Dr Olumide Abimbola, Dr Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, Rita Payne, Abhiir BhallaSession two: ‘Climate change, small states, inequality and development’. [l-r] Dr Olumide Abimbola, Dr Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, Rita Payne, Abhiir Bhalla

A Commonwealth Round Table Conference on ‘Global Challenges and the International Response: What role for the Commonwealth?’ took place on 18-19 January, 2023 at the Cumberland Residential Lodge in Windsor.

Session one: ‘Multilateralism and soft power in an age of nationalism, conflict and division’
Session three: ‘Upholding human rights, press freedom and democracy: Can the Commonwealth make a difference?’
Session four: ‘After Kigali: The Commonwealth’s future challenges’

The second session assessed the Commonwealth’s response to climate change, arguably the most pressing global existential threat. The panel constituted a variety of perspectives on the Commonwealth’s climate change response, encompassing both optimism and pessimism. While the efficacy of various excellent initiatives was underlined, a major concern remained that the Commonwealth struggled to publicise its work to the wider global community.

Dr Nicholas Hardman-Mountford (Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat) described climate-related efforts undertaken by the Commonwealth, against a backdrop of mounting environmental crises which threaten numerous Commonwealth nations, especially small island state members. Focusing on the Commonwealth Blue Charter, designed to foster shared ocean access and conservation, Hardman-Mountford emphasised the ‘bottom-up’ nature of the agreement, led not by the Commonwealth Secretariat but instead by invested Commonwealth nations able to define their own climate priorities. He also emphasised the need for better financing for climate projects, highlighting the work of the Blue Project Incubator, designed to provide accessible funding for government climate initiatives, helping them to get projects off the ground.

Round Table’s Rita Payne interviews Dr Olumide Abimbola:

Dr Olumide Abimbola (Executive Director of the Africa Policy Research Institute) outlined the two key issues for African and wider Commonwealth nations in dealing with climate change. The first was climate adaptation, which the Africa Policy Research Institute is aiding by assessing grass roots adaptation measures in West Africa with the aim of supporting, scaling up, and transferring successful initiatives to other similar communities. The second key issue was climate finance, which Abimbola identified as a clear possible point of impact for the Commonwealth. He underlined the importance of providing direct funding to member countries pursuing climate action, as without larger flows of money climate initiatives are impossible for many nations, especially on the scale needed to combat looming global heating deadlines.

Rita Payne interviews Abhiir Bhalla:

Abhiir Bhalla (Youth Adviser to Governing Board at the Commonwealth Human Ecology Council) spoke of his frustration with the dichotomy of Commonwealth climate action: while the Commonwealth is uniquely placed to tackle the climate crisis, he perceives little concrete action in the face of such an urgent crisis. Rather than focusing on shared values and manufacturing consensus, which is sometimes unachievable, Bhalla argued that the Commonwealth’s unique attributes should be deployed to tackle climate change and similarly formidable challenges. As a youth adviser within the Commonwealth structure, Bhalla emphasised the importance of including young representatives in strategic discussions now. “Given that the impact of key policy decisions taken currently will be felt in 20 years’ time, youth need more than simply a seat at the table, they need a ‘say at the table’ now.”

Conference keynote address by the Commonwealth Secretary-General and interview
Opinion on the Round Table Conference – ‘Global Challenges and the International Response: What role for the Commonwealth?’

Session Two panel discussion:

[Summaries by Harriet Aldrich, filming by David Aitken-Smith and associates, pictures/ video/ script and production co-ordination by Debbie Ransome.]

Related articles:

Conference closing remarks by Stuart Mole

The pre-CHOGM Round Table conference in 2022 – Is the Commonwealth Working?

Arif Zaman talks about the conference on his Bloomsbury Radio Business Show with guests Alex May, Brian Speers, Nick Hardman-Mountford, Rita Payne and Helen Jones