Commonwealth can lead again, says Queen while opening summit

Port-of-Spain, Nov 28 ( The Commonwealth has an opportunity to lead once more, this time in the fight against climate change, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II said as she opened the summit of the 53-nation group, ahead of the UN Copenhagen summit on climate change.

The Commonwealth can be proud of the fact that in each of the last six decades, it has shaped the international response to emerging global challenges, the Queen — titular head of the group — said at the opening ceremony Friday night at the newly-built National Centre for the Performing Arts here.

“And on this, the eve of the United Nations Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change, the Commonwealth has an opportunity to lead once more,” she told the assembled heads of government, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh among them.

The Queen said that the threat to our environment is not a new concern. “But it is now a global challenge which will continue to affect security and stability for years to come. Many of those affected are among the most vulnerable, and many of the people least well able to withstand the adverse effects of climate change live in the Commonwealth.”

She observed that a second area of opportunity for the Commonwealth is nurturing its young people.

“As with environmental challenges, this area is not new. But while the Commonwealth may rightly celebrate reaching its 60th anniversary, the future must show that it is relevant to and supportive of our young people who need to be convinced that the Commonwealth can help them realise their ambitions,” she added.

She went on to say that for small states, the buffeting of the economic storms of the last 12 months has provided a stern test and great resourcefulness has been shown in order to meet the challenge.

“As an organisation, the Commonwealth must remain dedicated to building resilience among the smaller members.”

Kamalesh Sharma, the Commonwealth Secretary General, in his opening address said: “Amidst the wreckage created by a series of global crises, the looming existential catastrophe of climate change, the pernicious poison of poverty and disease, the strangling of so much entitlement and opportunity, the Commonwealth has to prove itself worthy.”

Putting climate change on top of the agenda at the Commonwealth conference, Sharma stressed that the group will make a restatement of “shared responsibilities towards the preservation of our planet”.

“Finally — we must respond to the call of this meeting for partnership in pursuit of equity and sustainability. We are already a network of partnerships: The Queen once memorably referred to us as ‘the original World Wide Web’,” he said.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen are participating as special guests at the 63rd Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to give political push to a statement on climate change just days before the 192-nation global conference on climate change begins.

Host Prime Minister Patrick Manning told a press conference that there will be a special meeting on climate change soon after the ceremonial opening, where the leaders of the group will outline their positions on the effects of climate change on their countries.

“The Commonwealth comprises countries from both the developed world, who are some of the largest polluters, to countries that are small and threatened by the effects of climate change and therefore a statement from countries as diverse as those you will find in the Commonwealth is a statement that will be much more reflective of the world opinion.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to underline India’s support for “a comprehensive and balanced outcome” at the Dec 7-18 Copenhagen conference when he speaks at the summit here.

India will push for equitable and collaborative solutions to issues linked with climate change, Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Climate Change Shyam Saran told reporters here.

Linking energy security with climate change, Saran said India backed a strategic shift from fossil fuel-based growth to low carbon prosperity.

India is aiming at an outcome which is in consonance with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Bali Action Plan which are based on the differentiated responsibilities of developed and developing countries, Saran said.

Responding to China announcing reduction in intensity of carbon emissions, India said it has always believed in voluntary mitigation acts and was ready to record it in a national communication to the UNFCCC.

Mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology are four pillars of any climate change regime. In each of these categories, India wants a comprehensive and balanced outcome, Saran said.

“We are hoping for a strong consensus message from the Commonwealth to the Copenhagen conference about the need for a balanced and equitable outcome,” he said.

India has consistently maintained it wants developed countries to take deeper cuts and refused to accept any reduction target on grounds that it would affect prospects of economic growth in developing countries.