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Commonwealth Foundation

Climate change: Implications for finance ministers
Civil Society Statement from Commonwealth Foundation

Statement for the Commonwealth Finance Ministers Meeting, Georgetown, Guyana, 15-17 October 2007

August 2007

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We, representatives of civil society organisations from across the Commonwealth, convened in Georgetown, Guyana from 18-20 July 2007 to deliberate on the theme Climate Change and Poverty Reduction.

  1. We note that civil society has been instrumental in raising the profile of the issue of climate change on the Commonwealth agenda. At the Commonwealth People’s Forum held on the eve of the 2005 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta, they called upon the Commonwealth Foundation, in conjunction with the Commonwealth Secretariat, to bring together all concerned to prepare a programme of action on climate change in the Commonwealth that can address this long-term and crucial issue, which affects us all. The Commonwealth Foundation went on to mobilise Commonwealth Associations and partners: firstly at an international conference held in collaboration with the Government of The Seychelles in October 2006, which identified the contribution that Commonwealth networks can make in preparing for adaptation to climate change. There is now a Commonwealth programme of work on climate change, which emphasises the importance of civil society and partnerships in addressing the multiple facets of climate change.

  2. We recognise the position of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (1994), that all countries should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. We fully support the Convention’s policy that developed countries should take the lead in combating climate change and its adverse effects.

  3. We note that both the Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change (2006) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (2007) highlight serious economic and social impacts of climate change, in addition to environmental impacts, and foresee increasing crises of a human, economic and environmental nature in the absence of an urgent global response.

  4. In 1987 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Vancouver, President Gayoom of the Maldives described how unprecedented waves had caused great destruction in his country, a concern which found an echo in the December 2004 tsunami. Heads “expressed serious concern at the possible implications of man-made climatic change, especially for lowlying and marginal agricultural areas” and called on the Secretary-General to examine the implications of rises in the sea-level and other natural disasters, including flooding.

  5. Of the Commonwealth member countries, 32 are small states of which 25 are island states characterized by small populations, lack of economic resources and vulnerability to ecological and economic shocks and disasters. They are looking to the Commonwealth to demonstrate practical leadership in helping small states to prepare for change.

  6. We note that the report by M.W. Holdgate et al, Climate Change: Meeting the Challenge (1989), prepared following recommendations of the Commonwealth Heads of Government in 1987 recognised that the impacts of climate change are not evenly distributed and that it is the citizens of the poorest countries, who have contributed least to the problem, that will suffer the most from predicted increases in global temperatures, rainfall and extreme weather events such as drought and flooding. Climate change already poses a threat to the survival of several small island states, in the Commonwealth.

  7. Climate change constitutes an external shock to economies of the developing Commonwealth that can seriously undermine current debt reduction efforts and other financial measures to reduce poverty. As the Stern Review points out, the benefits of immediate action on climate change can be obtained through expenditure of around one per cent per year of global gross domestic product (GDP), far outweighing the costs of inaction, which are estimated to be equivalent to losing 20 per cent of global GDP or more each year.

  8. Commonwealth member nations are diverse and range from developed countries to newly industrialised countries (NICs), rapidly industrialising developing countries (RIDCs), developing countries and least developed countries (LDCs). They have vastly differing national ecological footprints ranging from 6.6 global hectares of bio-productive area per person in more developed countries, to just 0.5 ha in LDCs, well below the global average of 2.2 global hectares per person. In other words, some Commonwealth countries are already exceeding their ecological limits, which will eventually lead to destruction of ecological assets on which the earth depends such as groundwater, fisheries and forests, and aggravate carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere, while others have set development goals that will eventually take them along a similar, unsustainable path.

  9. Recognising that the only pro-development strategy in the long term requires deep cuts in global carbon emissions, this situation provides a compelling case for developed countries, NICs and RIDCs to now develop along a low-carbon emissions growth pathway which will enable them to meet their development objectives while also lowering their ecological footprints. We also recognise standing forests (such as Iwokrama in Guyana, which has been supported by the Commonwealth) as valuable resources that must be included in pro-development strategies.

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