“It is rightly said that the Commonwealth is an association underscored by values. But meaningful progress demands that those values be put into practice, mobilizing the vast network of civil society groups who work to strengthen health, laws and governance across all our countries.”
— Speech by Her Majesty The Queen at the CHOGM Opening Ceremony
On 27 November 2015, the Commonwealth countries represented by their respective heads of government gathered in Valetta, Malta for the 24th Commonwealth of Nations Summit. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the leader of the most populous Commonwealth country with an exponentially growing appetite for coal-fired electricity generation, took a pass on this year’s meeting. During this 3-day event, whose theme was, “The Commonwealth: Adding Global Values,” matters like climate change and global sustainability, violent extremism and radicalism, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), terrorism and security, refugee crisis, economic issues, etc., were discussed by the leaders. From Pakistan, Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif attended the Summit.
Called “the world’s oldest political association of sovereign states,” the Commonwealth of Nations has been performing a substantial and distinctive role in the international community since its establishment. With its membership comprises 53 independent countries spanning six continents, the Commonwealth has all the potential to become an influential organization in world affairs. Although the Organization had, in the past, often launched influential initiatives on key global issues, yet in recent years, it has appeared less active and less publicly visible. This is so unfortunate given the fact that its member states include countries like the UK, Australia, Pakistan and India which have heightened importance in international affairs.
Issues Discussed at Malta Summit
1. Climate Change
Climate change was the major focus at the summit. Noting that the Commonwealth represents more than one quarter of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the leaders at the CHOGM committed to working towards “an ambitious, equitable, inclusive, balanced, rules-based and durable” climate change agreement in Paris.
At the end of the summit, the Commonwealth leaders prepared and signed a special “Statement on Climate Action” that describes climate change as an “existential threat” and requested the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris to produce an ambitious, equitable, inclusive, rule-based and durable outcome… that includes a legally binding agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions and control climate.
A proposal to write off debts of small island Commonwealth countries threatened by rising sea levels in exchange for those countries taking measures to protect their environment was also approved.
Combating terrorism was a major focus of the Malta Summit that took place only two weeks after the grisly Paris attack. At the Summit, in a departure from practice, a non-Commonwealth member, French President Hollande, held meetings with Commonwealth leaders, seeking cooperation to eradicate terrorism. Moreover, identifying terrorism as a major threat facing the world, British Premier David Cameron announced setting up of a five-million-pound-fund for the bloc to target extremist groups fuelling the menace and spreading poisonous ideologies. The communiqué asked Commonwealth member states to implement fully the UN Resolution 2178 of 2014 on terrorism and also implement “national strategies to counter radicalisation, violent extremism and terrorism.”
3. Sustainable Development Goals
At the Summit the newly-set Sustainable Development Goals also came under discussion. The leaders agreed that good governance and respect for the rule of law are vital for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and require efficient, effective and accountable public institutions that serve all citizens and provide access to justice for all. On the issue, the leaders agreed to implement the 2030 Agenda with the hope that it would “lead to eradication of poverty in all its dimensions and ensure that no one is left behind.”
For that purpose, the leaders decided to “provide continued assistance to member states in attaining long-term debt sustainability by means of technical advice on institutional strengthening, debt financing, debt strategy formulation and debt restructuring.”
4. Refugee Crisis
The Summit was held at a time when differences among the European nations along the refugee route in the Balkans have widened. Since the beginning of 2015, over 3,000 people are thought to have died or gone missing trying to make the perilous journey to Europe by sea, according to UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The meeting underlined the importance of safe, orderly and regular migration and of ensuring full respect for human rights and the humane treatment of all migrants as well as refugees and displaced persons. The participants also agreed to enhance national and international efforts to address the causes of irregular migration and showed their deep concerns by the increase in flows of refugees, asylum-seekers and irregular migrants which entails suffering, abuse and exploitation, particularly for children and women, and unacceptable loss of life.
5. New Secretary-General
At the Malta Summit, the Dominica-born Baroness Patricia Scotland was selected as new Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. Scotland will be the sixth Commonwealth Secretary-General and the first woman to take up this important post. Former UK Attorney General Ms Baroness Scotland is the sixth Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and she will take office on 1 April 2016. She will replace Kamalesh Sharma of India, whose eight-year tenure comes to an end in March.
The Secretary-General facilitates consultation and is responsible for convening the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings, Commonwealth Ministerial Meetings and a range of other meetings. The Secretary-General maintains contact with Commonwealth governments as well as with civil society and other leaders. Another important function is to exercise ‘Good Offices’ when the Commonwealth’s fundamental values are threatened or when political tensions arise in member states.
6. Green Finance Facility
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat unveiled a new $1 billion Commonwealth Green Finance Facility (CGFF) to support environmental projects within the Commonwealth. The CGFF will start with a working group, bringing together representatives from countries including Australia, Britain, Canada, Malaysia and Nigeria, and financial companies including HSBC and PricewaterhouseCoopers. The $1bn facility would be capitalised initially through sovereign contributions and then through so-called green bonds, and is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2016.
While addressing the Summit, the Prime Minister of Pakistan said that Pakistan had experienced mighty floods in 2010 and 2011 owing to changing climate in the region. He called for provision of the latest technology and other resources for implementation of decisions during the conference in letter and spirit. He stressed the need for providing assistance to underdeveloped countries to overcome challenges faced due to climate change.