By Ajong Mbapndah L
There is nowhere that the common wealth will not go, no one to whom the Commonwealth would not speak to, and no action that we are not prepared to take, if it will faithfully respond to the needs of our countries when it comes to fighting climate change , says Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland.
In Madrid where she is leading a delegation to the UN Climate Change Conference, COP25, the Right Honorable Patricia Scotland says there is no barrier that the Commonwealth is not prepared to lawfully cross, in order to help member states, and others navigate the serious challenge that climate change is.
“Our generation is the first generation to really understand the enormity of the challenge that climate poses to us, the tragedy for us is we may be the first to understand it, but we will be, and we are the last generation on this planet who can do something about it,” the Secretary General said in a skype and phone interview with Pan African Visions.
With a membership of 53 independent countries, and home to a population of 2.4 billion people, living in advanced economies, and developing countries, the Commonwealth has taken a leadership role in the fight against climate change. Citing examples of some of the initiatives spearheaded by the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland spoke at length on the Commonwealth Finance Access Hub, the growing momentum of the Blue charter, and the CommonSensing project that that adds satellites to the tools available to fight climate change.
At the Commonwealth, it is not just about talk but been proactive in the quest and implementation of innovative solutions that meet specific and shared needs of its member states, said Patricia Scotland in the interview.
You are in Madrid for the 2019 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. How is the forum going?
Rt Hon Patricia Scotland: Well, you know it is an incredibly important moment for the world. Right now, the IPCC responsible for writing the reports have been able to alert us to the emergency right now in our face,and are asking us for greater effort. they believe that we will have to go 5 times faster if we are are going to meet the needs of the world in terms of global warming, and keeping down the emissions to try and avoid some of the disasters that they anticipate would continue to happen if we don’t take collective global action to bring down the heat that is being generated by our planet.
What message is the Commonwealth bringing to the forum and what proposals are you bringing to the table to fight climate change?
Rt Hon Patricia Scotland: Well, the consequences of inaction on climate change are now really clear, and it is not an issue for the distant future; this is an issue which is unfolding right before our eyes at this very moment. Just weeks ago, we witnessed the fateful disasters that took place in Kenya, when there were landslides. Indeed, in our Commonwealth, India and Bangladesh, there was Cyclone Bulbul and there was traumatic and drastic flooding in the United Kingdom, so this is global. And what we are seeing is the need to take new action, not just a need to take drastic action, on the emissions I spoke about just a moment ago, especially from the industrialized nations, but all Commonwealth countries really need to play their part in delivering the commitments made under the Paris Agreement.
But we in the Commonwealth have been listening really carefully to what our countries need. Many of our small and developing countries say, we have suffered the disasters, we have suffered the consequences of climate change, although we have made virtually no contribution to creating the disaster. And as you will know, the global community have come together to create the Green Climate Fund to enable such countries to make applications but many of them simply have not been able to do so.
And so listening to that need, the Commonwealth in 2015, at the Commonwealth executive meeting in Malta, decided that we would try to improve on more Commonwealth climate finance access help, that would basically [assist]Commonwealth states to device the support they need to make the applications, but also once they shape projects, it will help them to know how they get them delivered too, because change has to happen and it has to happen quickly.
So, this climate finance access hub has already placed advisers in 3 of our African Commonwealth countries, that is, in Eswatini, Mauritius, and Namibia, but we are also looking very shortly to place climate finance advisers in Kenya, Lesotho and Seychelles.
At the moment, with a relatively small amount of money. We have already been able to deliver 28.9 million dollars to our member states, but we have almost 500 million dollars’ worth of projects in the pipeline. Now, these projects aren’t just something which is good to have. These are projects which will materially impact and help our countries to adapt, and to mitigate to the climate change to which they would have been subject to, without having had much opportunity to change what is happening, so it is incredibly important.
And in addition, we have created the Commonwealth Blue Charter to help us better manage, and to respond to the things we need to do to help keep our oceans alive and vibrant. You will know that 46 countries in the Commonwealth are ocean states, and 3 countries are faced with great lakes. Now, this is something which is incredibly important therefore for our Commonwealth, and since 1989, we have been working hard in the Commonwealth, to raise this issue of climate change, because in 1989, in Langkawi, in Malaysia, the Commonwealth 53 countries, there were 2.4 billion people in our Commonwealth, 60% of them are under the age of 30. And in 1989, we said, any delay in addressing this climate crisis would have a deleterious impact on our countries and for the small and many of the developing countries, it is an existential threat.
So many of our countries simply would not survive if it goes much more over the 1.1 that we now have. So, if you look at [the situation], even if we were to hit the global warming to 1.5 that would mean countries in the Caribbean, countries in the Pacific in particular, may no longer be with us. So, this is a real fight for our lives. The Commonwealth Blue Charter has set out an action plan for what it can do together, and this is already working, and that’s something that we launched at the Commonwealth meeting last year in April 2018. And this year, we are looking at the Commonwealth disaster risk finance portal, what that is all about is that, many of the countries who find themselves responding to disasters, some of which we alluded to earlier, don’t have the money, don’t have the skill and understanding available to them immediately to know where do I go? Where do I get the money? Who do I turn to? So, what we looked at, the need: we are now creating the Commonwealth risk portal, it is like a one-stop shop, many African countries only knew about what they could apply for when a disaster hits them, or when they feel a disaster is about to hit them. And some of our countries who are extremely vulnerable, but may be middle income countries, they may be high income countries, but their vulnerability because of their size, because of their geographical location, is great, and those countries would not be able to get access to ODA, that’s the development assistance that they need because they do not comply with the rules, or they are basically not sufficiently impoverished to take advantage of them. Yet they are so vulnerable, and they have a terrible future.
So, what we have done is we have worked together with all the international agencies, and we pulled all the resources anyone has available for countries and we put them into a one-stop shop so that when a country is in need, when they are afraid, when they don’t know where to go, when they don’t know whom to ask, they can come to look at the disaster risk finance portal and they will have in one-stop, an understanding of what may be available to them.
And the last thing we are doing is the CommonSensing Project and I say the last because it is the new thing that we are doing. We are continuing other things that we have done in terms of climate finance and mobilizing the management law, the use of sustainable economic development, renewable energy, alternative development, that’s all the normal things we are doing. But this new thing, is the CommonSensing project, and CommonSensing is an innovative project based on partnership between Fiji, Solomon Islands ,and Vanuatu and a consortium of international partners in the Commonwealth secretariat, and the objective of CommonSensing is to support our countries to build resilience by developing satellite-based information services to enhance climate actions, and we believe that this satellite technologies will save them and are really going to help us to tackle climate and support risk disaster management, especially when it is combined with the applications such as the geographic information system for detailed analysis, for example, we are looking at how we manage land, and you will know that in Africa, one of the really painful issues is desertification, drought and water management.
While many people talk about the storms and cyclones and damage caused by hurricanes, the silent killer, the one that doesn’t get mentioned often, that doesn’t get the headlines is what is happening on drought, what happens to lack of water, and what is happening to desertification. And in relation to that matter, Namibia has agreed to be our standard bearer on desertification. To lead this is something that we have to look at, and right now we will be talking about how we put together something equivalent to that which we put together for oceans in our Blue Charter. Now, we need to do something equivalent for land, for desertification, for water management and for holistic improvement and this CommonSensing is an opportunity to use satellite to see what’s happening globally and to move quickly before disaster strikes is going to be a really creative and important issue for us.
The project is funded by the UK space agencies, international partnership program and implemented in partnership with United Nations Institute for training and research ,and also ourselves at the Commonwealth secretariat and various other agencies, including the satellite applications catapult, the UK Met office, and some universities.
You can see that it is a consortium of people, institutions, nations that is coming together to see what we can do. So the Commonwealth is important in this area, because we are really listening to what our members are telling us and we are trying to come up with solutions to help us. Human genius got us into this mess and human genius will have to get us out again.
Thank you, Madam Secretary. Now, how do you strike a balance between the expectations, approach or positions of the Commonwealth as a body, and the challenges and priorities of your independent members when it comes to fighting climate change?
Rt Hon Patricia Scotland: Well, I think one of the things that has really been so good about our Commonwealth family is that all of us, all 53 of us, with no exceptions, are committed to climate change. Now, we demonstrated this at CHOGM in 2015, in Malta, when we, the Commonwealth, were the first to say that we should have an international enforceable agreement. We were the first to say that we should try to keep emissions down to 2 degrees if we can, but that we should have an aspiration or target of at least 1.5 degrees, that we should not allow the Greenhouse emissions to get close to global warming to more than 2 degrees of the pre-industrialized standard.
But that is a challenge and we have been pushing, so the great thing about it is that that’s where we were in 2015, in November, and that’s what the rest of the world agreed to in Paris, in December; that was in 2015, 4 years ago. But what has happened in the last 4 years is we needed to not just talk, we have to act and deliver, we have to do, we have to commit and we have to bring changes, and the thing behind being lighted up are basically put in effort when it matters, and so moving forward, we are moving forward together on this agreement, we are making changes about how we do business, how we live, to make sure that we are moving towards a more sustainable path.
So, this is why as I described to you, we set up Commonwealth climate finance access in 2016 when I became secretary general of the Commonwealth and it is why we put so much energy into creating the hub which is in Mauritius and we are also grateful for the grants we have got from Australia ,the UK now, together they have only 1.5 million, but look at what we have done with 1.5 million to have 28.9 million already delivered, so you got a 30 fold increase as a result of the relatively small investment and the fact that we have got almost 500 million more projects in the pipeline, I think is really impressive.
But we need to do more, we need to do so much more if we are to go as fast as we need to go to meet the new targets, because nature is not waiting for us.
Countries, especially in Africa and some in Asia that you mentioned earlier, the complain is that they don’t have enough resources and they clearly lack the capacity to adequately respond to climate change issues, how far is the Commonwealth willing to go, to support these countries step up the fight?
Rt Hon Patricia Scotland: We are absolutely delighted to help our members, and that is why we have created the Commonwealth climate finance hub, that is why we are developing the disaster portal that I told you about, that is why we are doing the CommonSensing, and that is why we created the Blue Charter for action. And that is why we are now going to be looking at creating something similar to the Blue Charter for land, for land degradation, for desertification, for draught in order to help our countries better manage water, and also therefore, to respond to their needs, because a number of our countries have indicated that they are thrilled by what we have done in relation to the oceans, and how we are responding with the Blue Charter, but you know, quite naturally, they are saying, what about us? What about those of us who are dying? Not because of a side cliff, not because of a hurricane, not because of a tsunami, what about those of us who are dying from desertification? Getting poorer because our land is degenerating and being degraded and because our cattle have nowhere to graze, what about us?
So, we are listening to that, and right now, as we speak, we are putting together something which will respond to those issues in the same way as the Blue Charter is responding to oceans, the oceans are 70% of our whole planet, but land and oceans go together and we have to look at how we manage both if we are to regenerate our world, so there is nowhere that the common wealth will not go, no one to whom the Commonwealth would not speak, no action that we are not prepared to take if it will faithfully respond to the needs of our countries, we know this is urgent, there is no more time to waste, this generation; our generation are the first generation to really understand the enormity of the challenge the climate poses to us, the tragedy for us is we may be the first to understand it, but we will be, and we are the last generation on this planet who can do something about it.
That puts a heavy responsibility on us, and it actually puts a heavy responsibility on the industrialized North to help to make sure that the embattled South who have been the recipients of this trauma, but who have contributed to it least, it is now our time to make sure that all the help and assistance is given to our countries who are in need, and of course, Africa, in the South is suffering greatly and we are determined to respond.
Just to give you some of the data, drought and desertification threatens the livelihood of more than 1.2 billion people in 110 countries, but the problem is particularly acute in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southern Asia. So, out of the countries substantially affected by land degradation, 36 are situated in Africa and you have to know that there are only 19 African countries in our Commonwealth, maybe soon to be 20. So, this is a big issue for every single African country, so all of our Commonwealth African countries have submitted their national and voluntary land degradation neutrality target, the UNCCD land degradation neutrality are setting targets, setting programs, they have all set those baselines and developing targets, and support could be extended to achieve these targets and this is one of the things that the Commonwealth secretariat is looking at, how can we support member countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, develop the road map for achieving the national target set to the countries, and build institutional capacities and access climate finance through the Commonwealth finance access route.
Madam Secretary, in the course of the year, member countries of the Commonwealth in Africa like Malawi and Mozambique were severely battered by storm, by the cyclones, what specific support did the Commonwealth provide for them to help with recovery?
Rt Hon Patricia Scotland: The Commonwealth as an organization does not have a mandate or capacity to provide humanitarian assistance when such disasters occur. However, we are able to urge and rally support from those who can, and this is what we did. Our interventions happen in the preparedness stage, that is, in building resilience before a disaster strikes. We are working as I mentioned to you, on the disaster risk finance portal which will serve as a one-stop shop for streamlining access to the numerous financing tools already available. It includes guidance on navigating the complex funding processes and broad range providers, each with different eligibility and access criteria and challenging terms and conditions.
But in addition, we reached out to charities and other nations, and other countries. For example, as a result of our efforts, we teamed up with Team Rubicon, who are authorized to go the last mile, and they did an amazing job in Mozambique, rescuing people, helping set up hospitals, helping to change, and they met and managed thousands of people and helped them. So, that’s something that we can do, we are facilitators, we are procurers, we are able to network with our countries, so even if we do not have the resources, we try to find others who have and support them to deliver better support.
Critics say a lot of the large forums are often full of much talk and very little action. How would you define a successful participation for you .and the Commonwealth at the ongoing United Nation Climate Change Conference in Madrid?
Rt Hon Patricia Scotland: Well, as you have seen through this discussion, we are all action and little talk, so when we come forward, we do a lot of listening to what our members say they need and what they want for themselves, and we then make contact with those who could network with us, to provide the solutions. So the negotiations on Cop25 are very important, they can be very technical where delegates seem to be talking about the same issues, but it is not easy, we have to get an agreement between 190 countries and we have to get them to agree, nobody believed that that was possible, but we did it, in Paris in 2015, and we are trying to do it now, to get to an agreement.
Now, there are few key issues of concern for Commonwealth countries at this Cop 25, and this Cop is the first Blue-Green Cop there has even been. Article 6 of the Paris agreement that is aimed at voluntary, cooperative approaches between parties in the implementation of their national commitments. This article of the Paris agreement remained a contentious issue at the previous Cop24 in Poland, and countries could not reach an agreement on its implementation. Here, we are going to try really hard this year to try and get to an agreement on article 6. That’s going to be high on the agenda at Cop25, this Cop, in Madrid. We also want higher climate ambitions, next year is the next round to accept the national determined contributions for climate change. We know that we have to do more. The current national determined contributions as they stand, do not put the world on track to limiting temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees. So, if we stay where we are now, we know we are doomed to failure. However, there is a need to agree on what type of information to be included, how are we going to account? What is the time frame and what are we going to do? So, that is the next issue.
The third issue is climate finance and we have spoken about that already. There have been some new pledges raising the replenishment total beyond 7.4 billion dollars, but there are problems about how that money is going to be distributed. Therefore, that’s why we are promoting our Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub as a vehicle for our countries to be able to tap into that money from the climate financing that is being made available.
And the last area is oceans. As I have mentioned, the ocean covers 70% of the earth, and absorbs 90% of the emission, but there is a critical blue gap between climate ambitions and ocean action. Less than 1% of all philanthropic funding goes towards marine conservation and sustainability, while large international funds established for climate action appear reluctant to support work on the ocean. So, the Commonwealth is seeking to address this through the Blue Charter action groups, but also what we are trying to do is to create a Blue Charter action fund to help with the implementation of these matters so that we won’t just be talking and talking, we actually will be doing and doing.
And we end with a the word on the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting coming back to Africa in 2020, and specifically Rwanda, how are the preparations going and what are some of the broad themes expected to be in the discussion?
Rt Hon Patricia Scotland: Well, we are really excited about the Commonwealth heads of government meeting, which is going to happen in Rwanda, in Kigali. The theme of the meeting is ‘Delivering a Common Future; Connecting, Innovating, Transforming’. And there are 5 sub-themes which have been identified for discussion, and that is governance and the rule of law, ICT and innovation, youth empowerment and trade. And we are building on the progress that we made in London, in 2018. Leaders are expected to discuss the contemporary Commonwealth and how we can transform our societies in accordance with Commonwealth values of democracy, multilateralism, sustainable development and empowerment of women and our youth.
So, these are very exciting topics, as I mentioned, this is going to be the second time that we are going to be in Africa in the last 10, 15 years. The last time was in Uganda. I think now we are going to go to Rwanda, and Rwanda is the youngest member of our family. So that is also innovative and new.
Madam Secretary, thank you so much for talking to Pan African Visions.
Rt Hon Patricia Scotland: Thank you very much for speaking with me and I hope you have a good and blessed Christmas.