Commonwealth heads of state call for climate action at Rwanda meeting

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Kigali, Rwanda – Commonwealth leaders called for increased climate action at a meeting in Rwanda this week, ahead of a United Nations summit on climate change in the coastal resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt later this year.

Climate change is a major concern for the 54-nation bloc of small island states that face growing threats amid global warming. Recent weather events and longer-term weather trends, including heat waves, temperature extremes, droughts, cyclones, floods and rising sea levels, affect most of the Commonwealth member states.

Alok Sharma, the British official who led last year’s UN climate talks in Scotland, urged member states on Thursday to focus on implementing emissions reduction targets set for 2030.

“What you need, friends, is that we focus on implementation, and every country must respond to the Glasgow climate agreement,” Sharma, speaking at a business forum on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Summit in the Rwandan capital Kigali, said.

He said Commonwealth governments must present their emissions cut targets by September 23, “including their long-term strategies”.

Sharma noted that for island nations like Barbados, “the situation is devastatingly clear,” and tackling climate change “is the difference between life and death.”

Britain’s Prince Charles, who represents Queen Elizabeth II as honorary head of the Commonwealth, is expected to advocate for the bloc’s global climate action.

Commonwealth leaders are set to adopt the long-awaited “Live Land Charter” later this week, an action plan to tackle climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss.

Speaking at another summit-side meeting, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said responding to climate change required “the most important political, social and economic effort the world has ever seen”.

She said the Commonwealth Living Lands Charter is “a testament to our commitment. It helps summarize our combined efforts to keep the average global temperature increase at 1.5°C (2.7°F).”

According to the Charter concept note, obtained by The Associated Press, the Commonwealth’s commitments will focus on five main themes: climate-resilient agriculture for food security, soil and water conservation, green cover and biodiversity, climate-resilient livestock farming, and climate-resilient indigenous development. In what is described as a “five by five” approach, it aims to achieve its climate goals through a combination of policy impact, financing, technical assistance, governance and knowledge sharing across nations.

The Commonwealth includes countries with a combined population of 2.5 billion, most of whom are former British colonies. It claims that if the charter were ratified and fully implemented, it would “protect and manage a quarter of the world’s landmass”.

The charter also calls for “more attention to the inclusion of indigenous peoples” in countries’ voluntary nationally determined contributions to climate action.

About 32 of the Commonwealth of Nations member states are small states, 25 of which are small islands and developing countries classified as vulnerable to climate change.

Island nations at the forefront of Commonwealth climate action have already called for enhanced ocean action.

“The oceans and climate are inextricably linked, and the health of our oceans dictates the livelihoods of millions of people around the world,” said Fijian diplomat Jitoko Tikolevu. “Our answer is simple, we need to take action.”

Kabukoro reported from Nairobi, Kenya. The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. Learn more about the AP’s Climate Initiative here. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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