On the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, on Thursday, the Commonwealth marked a historic moment as the inaugural Commonwealth Environment and Climate Ministers Meeting (CECMM) convened, uniting ministers, distinguished speakers, and representatives from Commonwealth member states, partner organisations, and stakeholders.
Chaired by the United Kingdom’s The Rt Hon Thérèse Coffey MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the meeting addressed pressing global environmental and climate challenges.
A primary objective of CECMM 2023 was to outline key priorities to take forward to the forthcoming UN Climate Change Conference COP28 and offer ministers the opportunity to share country experiences and explore ways to strengthen collaboration to tackle global challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, desertification, ocean degradation and the energy transition.
Climate finance was high on the agenda as it remains a critical issue, particularly for Commonwealth small states, least developed countries, and other vulnerable nations. Ministers stressed the importance of mobilising all sources of climate finance and the need to reform multilateral finance institutions.
In her opening remarks, Commonwealth Secretary-General Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC said:
“The Commonwealth Environment and Climate Ministers Meeting represents a significant milestone in our collective journey to combat climate change and protect our environment. The Commonwealth’s commitment to unity, collaboration, and action has never been more critical. Together, we must work better, faster, smarter, and address the pressing environmental challenges of our time.”
“The Commonwealth has been pushing for greater climate action since 1989 when Commonwealth leaders committed to protecting the environment in the Langkawi Declaration. I call upon all of us present here today to continue in the spirit of Langkawi and commit to working together to support and implement the financing necessary to significantly scale up meaningful nature-based interventions as part of our collective action against climate change.”
Ministers heard from the Commonwealth Secretariat on progress with key Commonwealth initiatives aimed at addressing climate change, land protection and restoration, the energy transition, and ocean action. These initiatives include the Commonwealth Living Lands Charter, the Commonwealth Blue Charter, the Commonwealth Sustainable Energy Transition Agenda and the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub.
The meeting also deepened ministers’ understanding of collaboration opportunities with other Commonwealth countries, including partnerships with the three Rio Conventions and the High Seas Biodiversity Treaty.
Speaking at the meeting, The Rt Hon Thérèse Coffey MP said:
“I want to emphasise the importance of the Commonwealth in championing the global ambition we need to achieve the peaceful, prosperous, hopeful future we all want to see for generations to come.”
During the meeting, Ministers emphasised the importance of the transition to sustainable energy in Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Coastal Commonwealth member countries shared how they are incorporating specific ocean actions into their Nationally Determined Contributions and National Adaptation Plans. Deliberations further addressed the recent adoption of the High Seas Biodiversity (BBNJ) Treaty, highlighting its significance for ocean governance. At CHOGM2022 Commonwealth leaders expressed strong support for ocean action, leading to a proposal for a Commonwealth Ocean Ministerial Meeting, expected in the first half of 2024.
Ministers emphasised the need for systems transformations and to fast-track the implementation of the Paris Agreement, considering the urgent threat of climate change, especially to small and other vulnerable countries. They highlighted the importance of mobilising climate finance through the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub and called for the operationalisation of an inclusive Loss and Damage Fund that is both gender and youth-responsive.
Ministers noted the role of ecosystem-based approaches, ocean action, land restoration and food systems transformations in climate resilience and sustainable development. In this context, ministers have recognised the completion of the Commonwealth Living Lands Charter implementation plan, which aims to harmonise the efforts in implementing actions across the three UN Rio Conventions, addressing both climate change and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They also emphasised the need to include young people and women in climate decision-making processes.
Concluding the meeting, ministers encouraged the Commonwealth Secretariat to continue its engagement in various forums, such as the upcoming COP 28 and to present a consolidated Commonwealth Action Plan for enhanced climate action by the next CHOGM, which is to be held in Samoa in October 2024.
The Commonwealth covers 56 diverse member countries from five geographical regions, including 33 small states, 25 of which are small island developing states.