The Commonwealth Secretary-General yesterday called for an unprecedented level of international co-operation to reach timely and orderly resolutions to the interlocking crises of environmental breakdown, economic insecurity and rising inequality.
Secretary-General the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC was delivering a keynote address at the 2023 Cumberland Lodge Residential Conference in Windsor, UK, on the theme ‘Commonwealth and Global Challenges’.
Addressing participants, journalists and observers from across the Commonwealth, she said:
“We gather in the midst of new and decisive shifts in the world. The human damage, economic dislocation of COVID-19 and mounting debt confront us all. The rapid intensification of climate change poses an existential danger. The tremors of conflict and instability in our world, the spiralling costs of food and fuel, and economic uncertainty threaten a serious and protracted crisis.”
The Secretary-General continued that each of these crises can be met through international co-operation. However, she cautioned that the multilateral system is under immense pressure, calling for a reinvigoration of multilateralism. “People are anxious about the capacity of governments and international institutions to provide the leadership and action required,” she added.
Referring to the growing co-operation within the Commonwealth – which began as a group of eight and today consists of 56 independent countries – Secretary-General Scotland stated that the Commonwealth offers an “enduring example of the power of multilateralism”.
“It is telling that, in a world, which often feels like it is fracturing, the Commonwealth is growing precisely because of what we stand for and what we can deliver. Our ability to bring leaders together as equals, to have difficult conversations in a constructive spirit and face the world’s challenges together, underlines our strength and value.”
“This has been a hallmark of the Commonwealth,” she continued, while adding that our 74-year history includes collective action to end apartheid, the ground-breaking Lusaka Declaration on Racism in 1979, the landmark Langkawi Declaration on the Environment in 1989 and relentless advocacy for the small and the vulnerable. “These interventions shifted the dial… Today, we must have the courage to break new ground and shift the dial again.”
Secretary-General Patricia Scotland further went on to describe the successful outcomes of the last year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting – where leaders from 56 countries, representing every continent, reached consensus on a wide-ranging agenda from health to environment and trade – as yet another testament to the Commonwealth’s unique strengths. The knock-on effects of these outcomes, she added, will positively impact the world.
Building on the leaders’ mandate, the Secretary-General said the Commonwealth’s programme of action, support and assistance is more comprehensive today than ever before, highlighting a wide array of initiatives ranging from:
- the Commonwealth Living Lands Charter, which seeks to address climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation;
- the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub, which has unlocked nearly $60 million for developing countries to tackle climate breakdown;
- the Commonwealth debt management system, which is used by 43 member countries to manage their debt portfolios;
- the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda, which seeks to boost intra-Commonwealth trade to $2 trillion by 2030;
- the Universal Vulnerability Index, which seeks to drive a more nuanced understanding of defining and measuring a country’s vulnerability to economic and environmental shocks;
- the Commonwealth Anti-Corruption Benchmarks, which are designed to help governments tackle graft within public and private sectors;
- the Commonwealth Says NO MORE campaign, which takes a culturally sensitive approach towards ending domestic and sexual violence; and
- the Commonwealth’s work to protect the process, institutions and culture of democracy through election observations and peace-building initiatives.
In her remarks, Secretary-General Scotland also spoke about the essential values of the Commonwealth Charter, which marks its tenth anniversary this year. She said: “These values of peace and justice, tolerance, respect and solidarity are an enduring responsibility... It is our duty to ensure that we do not simply honour these values, but that we ensure they shape the choices we make in the face of profound global challenges.”
Concluding her address, the Secretary-General argued that the Commonwealth is in a unique position to bring people together and contribute to the goal of a more peaceful, fair and sustainable future for everyone, while reiterating the urgency for renewed international co-operation to address the challenges facing the world.
The conference was hosted by The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs – the UK’s oldest international affairs journal.
- Snober Abbasi Senior Communications Officer, Communications Division, Commonwealth Secretariat
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