Commonwealth heads call for climate action at Rwanda meeting

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KIGALI, Rwanda — Commonwealth leaders are calling for more climate action at a rally in Rwanda this week ahead of the UN climate summit in Egypt’s seaside town of Sharm El Sheikh later this year.

Climate change is a major concern for the 54-nation bloc that includes small island nations facing increasing threats from global warming. Recent weather events and longer term trends, including heat waves, extreme temperatures, droughts, cyclones, floods and rising sea levels, are affecting most Commonwealth member states.

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

“What it needs, friends, is for us to focus on implementation, and for every country to respond to the Glasgow Climate Pact,” Sharma said, speaking at a business forum on the sidelines of the Commonwealth summit in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. .

Commonwealth governments must submit their emissions reduction targets by Sept. 23, he said, “including their long-term strategies.”

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

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

Commonwealth leaders are set to adopt the much-anticipated “Living Lands Charter” later this week, an action plan to address climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss.

At another meeting on the side of the summit, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said responding to climate change “requires the most significant political, social and economic effort the world has ever seen”.

The Commonwealth Living Lands Charter, she said, “is a testament to our commitment. It helps encapsulate our concerted effort to keep the global average temperature increase at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit).”

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

The Commonwealth unites states that together represent a population of 2.5 billion people, most of which are former British colonies. It claims that if the charter is fully adopted and implemented, it will “protect and manage a quarter of the world’s landmass”.

The charter also calls for “increased focus on the inclusion of indigenous peoples” in countries’ voluntary, nationally determined contributions to climate action.

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

The island nations at the forefront of climate action have already called on the Commonwealth to step up action on oceans.

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

Kabukuru reported from Nairobi, Kenya. Associated Press climate and environmental awareness receives support from several private foundations. Read more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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