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 The devastation of Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean due to the series of hurricanes this year has brought an increasing sense of urgency

Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland visits the India pavilion during the Bonn climate summit [image by: Commonwealth Secretariat]

Why was the Commonwealth Secretary General at the UN climate summit? “The Commonwealth is very involved in tackling climate change,” answered Patricia Scotland. “We were the first to put climate change on the agenda, in 1989. It is an existential threat to Commonwealth countries. Barbuda and Dominica have been destroyed and are uninhabitable right now, after the series of devastating hurricanes. The hurricanes have become so strong because the sea is so warm.”

With climate change, “There’s a threat to all member countries of the Commonwealth – mudslides in Australia, floods in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, while the rainfall is 35% less than usual. Nine Caribbean countries are very badly affected,” the Secretary General explained. “It’s an issue that’s unavoidable for the Commonwealth.”

Consisting of countries that were once part of the British empire, the Commonwealth has both developed and developing countries as members. As its Secretary General, Scotland is inevitably worried about the bickering between rich and poor nations that bedevils every climate summit and has been partly responsible for the slow progress in tackling “the defining threat of our age,” as former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon once put it. Asked about the negotiations going on next door, Scotland said, “It (the climate threat) should not be seen as them and us, it’s all of us.”

In an exclusive interview to, she explained, “The Commonwealth has one-third of the global population, 78% of oceans, 25% of land.” Put that way, it is natural for her to be worried.

Apart from nudging governments to cooperate more on climate change issues, what has the Commonwealth done about the menace? “We’ve started the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub,” Scotland explained, “because drawing money from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) is proving almost insurmountably difficult.”

Many small developing countries have complained about the cumbersome procedures being followed by the GCF. Even at the last climate summit in Bonn, Germany, a bureaucrat from an African country said that her government decided to withdraw its application for funding by the GCF “when we found that preparing the proposal would take up such a large chunk of the money we could possibly get, and we’d have to have foreign consultants to prepare that proposal.”

To tackle this problem, Scotland said, “We have advisers on ground to help with applications and skill building. We have a hub and a spoke in each region, plus country advisers. Seven out of 18 advisers are already in place. Australia has given the maximum amount of money for this fund. I’m hoping more Commonwealth countries will assist.”

By now, many countries – including Commonwealth countries – have considerable experience in dealing with impacts of climate change. Some have developed drought or flood resistant seeds, some have improved water harvesting and so on. The Commonwealth Secretariat is putting these experiences together for the benefit of all member countries.

“We’re also starting the Commonwealth Innovation Hub to cull solutions from all countries,” Scotland said, “to see what has worked in tackling climate change and what hasn’t. India’s Smart Cities Mission is very important in this regard. I’m going to India in December and hope to learn a lot more about this, and especially to learn what India is doing so that its SME (small and medium enterprises) network can deal with the climate crisis. India, Singapore, UK – all ministries are interested in this.”

None of this will have much effect unless tackling climate change becomes a popular movement involving both governments and citizens. For this purpose, “We’ve started a Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network,” said Scotland, “which is holding a climate change month, starting tree planting and setting up a youth platform for innovative actions, because it is the youth who have to live in this era of climate change and will have to deal with it.”


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