By The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, Commonwealth Secretary-General
Earlier this year, tropical cyclone Ana struck the Pacific island nation of Fiji barely a month after cyclone Yasa, a Category 5 storm that killed four and caused an estimated loss of $US250 million to infrastructure, livelihoods and agriculture.
Smallholder farmers such as Filipe Naulumatua lost everything overnight – a painful but all too common experience that he recounted with aching simplicity to local media: “I plant yaqona (kava plant) and vegetables, and I sell my produce [to make a living]. My crops were destroyed and my cattle and goats were also killed.”
Such stories lay bare the sobering reality of how increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events, fuelled by climate change, are devastating lives and livelihoods across the globe. Inevitably, the most vulnerable communities suffer the most.
The Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda, launched in 2018, is designed to boost trade within the Commonwealth to US$2 trillion by 2030
Exacerbated by the far-reaching consequences of the global pandemic, the threat of severe economic setback looms over the 54 member countries of the Commonwealth, 32 of them small states, with their combined populations of 2.4 billion. Already, the global economic growth has shrunk by 3.5 percent in 2020, with acute impacts on women, youth, the poor and the informally employed.
In the Commonwealth, COVID-19 has resulted in an average 50 percent drop in foreign direct investment in 2020 and a decline in commodities exports, potentially up to 40 percent in small states such as Fiji, Eswatini, Grenada and Maldives. Further research indicates the likelihood of an estimated 40 percent of Commonwealth services exports and 45 percent of imports also being affected.
This crushing combination of health, climate and economic crises means a business-as-usual approach to recovery is not an option. It also demonstrates how much is at stake for the global community, as preparations continue for critical summits later this year, including the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in June and the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in November.
Towards a green and blue recovery across the Commonwealth
Building resilience will be fundamental to any post-COVID recovery. We have an opportunity decisively to set a new course for global development, which will carry forward the ambition and inclusiveness of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
At the Commonwealth Secretariat, we are therefore intensifying action in our work alongside member countries to build resilience through a range of flagship programmes, all of which entail robust engagement with the business community:
The Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda, launched in 2018, is designed to boost trade within the Commonwealth to US$2 trillion by 2030. In light of COVID-19, the Connectivity Agenda’s five ‘clusters’ – voluntary working groups comprised of different member countries – are looking to support inclusive, resilient, ‘green recovery’ strategies through the use of digital technology in agriculture and fisheries.
The Commonwealth Blue Charter is a historic commitment by our 54 nations to collaborate actively on solutions to ocean-related challenges. Country-driven action groups focus on priority issues such as sustainable blue economies, ocean climate change, and mangrove ecosystems and livelihoods. With partners from the private sector, civil society, academia and multilateral agencies, these action groups work on strategies to protect the ocean, while tapping into its vast resources in sustainable ways.
The Commonwealth Call to Action on Living Lands is an initiative slated for discussion by leaders at the upcoming CHOGM in Rwanda, targeting climate action through sustainable land use management. It accords the Commonwealth Secretariat’s overarching Climate Change Programme and includes a thematic focus on sustainable agriculture, building the resilience of local value chains to meet the growing demand for food, and to reduce dependence on climate-vulnerable imports.
For these programmes to succeed, it is vital that Commonwealth public and private sectors connect, consult and work hand in hand. The global crises we face can only be tackled through robust multilateral action that builds resilience at all levels, ensuring in particular that our most vulnerable countries, communities and individuals are protected, included and empowered.