Blog: Ensuring living lands for a liveable future progressed at COP28

05 March 2024
plant growth from fertile soil

The 2030 deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on limiting the global temperature rise, are alarmingly close.

Blog by Akil Crichlow, Assistant Research Officer; Mxolisi Sibanda, Adviser, Climate Change; and Victoria Holdsworth, Head of CHOGM Media Delivery

Barely eight weeks ago, climate negotiators departed Dubai, having reached a collective consensus at the UN Climate Summit (COP28) to accelerate action on limiting the ongoing ‘global boiling’.

One of the clear signals from the COP was the recognition that we are in a time of a polycrisis- where they are multiple and interlinked crises that are exacerbated by, and also multiply, the impact of climate change. These crises include biodiversity loss, land degradation, food insecurity, health, and climate-driven vulnerabilities, among others.

The Commonwealth’s small island nations and other vulnerable member countries are at the frontline of all these climate impacts. Many parts of the Commonwealth, now have more intense weather extremes, storm surges, drought, changing rainfall patterns and sea-level rise. The very fabric of people’s lives, their livelihoods, food production systems, culture and development are at stake.

For many leaders and people of these countries, it is time to do less talking and take more action. A clear path to progress lasting resilience has been delivered with the Commonwealth Living Lands Charter, which was adopted by the Commonwealth Leaders at CHOGM in 2022.

The Living Lands Charter recognises the intertwined risks that the world is facing and commits the Commonwealth to accelerate integrated actions to address climate change, land degradation, and biodiversity loss.

The Charter has five thematic priorities:

  1. Climate Resilient Agriculture for Food Security  
  2. Soil and Water Conservation and Management
  3. Sustainable Green Cover and Biodiversity
  4. Carbon Neutral and Climate Resilient Livestock Rearing and Animal Husbandry
  5. Indigenous and Local People and Climate Resilient Development

Progressing from adoption to implementation

In the spirit of moving towards action at COP28, the Commonwealth Secretary-General the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, launched the Implementation Framework for the Living Lands Charter which details how we plan to deliver. She said:

“The impact of climate change is increasingly severe across our countries. Food insecurity is increasing, soil is depleting. The sheer scale of these challenges compels us to lead with bold action.”

Commonwealth Secretary-General

At the launch, Dr David Cooper, Acting Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), described the framework as an "important instrument" to help galvanise action across the 56 member countries of the Commonwealth and strengthen coordinated action across the three Rio Conventions.

Member governments are ready to act

Malta, a country that has shown notable leadership in the conservation of water resources, stepped forward at COP28 and committed to leading the Thematic Area Working Group on Soil and Water Conservation and Management. Prime Minister of Malta, Dr Robert Abela, said:

“Growing water scarcity due to climate change is becoming an ever-greater reality for an increasing number of countries, threatening the lives and livelihoods of their citizens, social and economic development.”

Prime Minister of Malta, Dr Robert Abela

Other countries such as Fiji, Guyana, Kenya, and the United Kingdom have also expressed their readiness to lead or co-lead, thematic groups based on interest, expertise, and urgency.

The Living Lands Charter attracted support at COP28

In addition to the launch of the framework, the Secretariat was also able to advocate and join with other partners to push the agenda for concerted and integrated action at COP28. A Memorandum of Understanding with the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) was signed. AGRA is an African-led institution whose vision is to “contribute to a food system-inspired inclusive agricultural transformation across Africa, to reduce hunger, improve nutrition, and adapt to climate change.”

This is a goal that resonates with the Secretariat, and we will be working with them, and other partners like the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF), to support vulnerable countries in Africa to deliver climate resilient food and agricultural systems for the continent. The Commonwealth Secretariat also became an official member of the International Drought Resilience Alliance (IDRA). 

Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) that hosts the IDRA, said:

“The Living Lands Charter is all about life — it is time we change our relationship with nature, as we have taken it for granted that we can extract those resources indefinitely.”  

Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

The Commonwealth’s climate team shared this perspective at various forums to raise awareness about the Living Lands Charter and its relevance to ongoing discussions.

The way forward

In his address at an event hosted by the Climate Resilient Food Systems Alliance, Unnikrishnan Nair, Head of the Commonwealth Secretariat's Climate Change section, spoke about climate-resilient agriculture. He emphasised the need to build a stronger ecosystem to support farmers — who are critical for food production. He added:

“From water and fertilisers, to seeds and production timelines, farmers find themselves devoid of choices, their actions dictated by external forces. The very land they cultivate, the timing of harvests, and decisions on when to sell are all determined by market dynamics.”

Nair pleaded for a departure from the existing paradigm. The coexistence of subsidies and sustainability is untenable. He advocated for stronger commitment to climate financing and integrating youth and gender perspectives into every part of food systems. 

In another event on harnessing wildlife to tackle the climate crisis, Mxolisi Sibanda, who leads on the Living Lands Charter at the Secretariat, emphasised the opportunities for integration that exist.

Sibanda outlined the revision of National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs), on the back of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), and more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that the global stocktake has declared are needed to close the emissions gap and keep 1.5°C alive.  

In her high-level address to COP28, Secretary-General Scotland made a strong statement on climate change:
"Decisive action, rooted in the sharpest honesty is the only way forward."

The Commonwealth`s voice is clear – it is time for decisive action now.

The Living Lands Charter Implementation Framework defines the kind of actions required across key sectors of society, in critical areas of the means of implementation like finance and capacity building and the enabling policy and institutional conditions. And it requires an all-of-society approach, including global, regional, and local partners. This requires all hands to join together in action!

Media contact

  • Victoria Holdsworth  Communications and Media Liaison Lead, Commonwealth Secretariat
  • Email