Small island nations are calling for strengthened global support for ocean and climate change action, just days before Commonwealth leaders convene in Kigali, Rwanda, to decide on the group’s priorities for the next two years.
In their executive sessions later this week, heads of government are expected to discuss issues such as shared climate ambitions, financing climate and ocean action, and rebuilding sustainable green and blue economies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, among other key items on the agenda.
During a breakfast meeting co-hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Fiji Government in the margins of the summit, High Commissioner Jitoko Tikolevu addressed an audience of mainly envoys from fellow island nations, from Tuvalu to Cyprus to The Bahamas.
“The ocean and climate are inextricably inter-connected and the health of our oceans dictate the livelihoods of millions of people around the world, from the Pacific to the Atlantic… The challenges facing our oceans and its resources are diverse and complex and yet our answer is simple, we need action!”
Tikolevu added that the ocean’s function both as a ‘carbon sink’ and a source for nature-based solutions for climate change adaptation, warrants more acknowledgement in climate negotiations, which focus mainly on reducing carbon emissions.
His remarks were followed by a roundtable discussion with representatives from the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean, about actions being taken to address ocean and climate change issues, and how the Commonwealth can support.
Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Dr Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, said:
“The harsh reality of climate change is that it affects all sectors of society, and all realms of the planet, including the ocean. The climate crisis is also an ocean crisis. Action Groups under the Commonwealth’s flagship ocean programme, the Blue Charter, are each responding to climate change under their respective themes.”
The Commonwealth Blue Charter is a historic commitment by 54 countries to work together to find solutions for global ocean challenges.
Since its endorsement at the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in April 2018, at least 16 countries have stepped forward to champion ten thematic Action Groups, comprising like-minded members willing to share knowledge and align strategies to tackle issues such as marine plastic pollution, unsustainable coastal fisheries and disappearing coral reefs.
The Action Group on Ocean and Climate Change is championed by Fiji.
Commonwealth Blue Charter programme lead at the Commonwealth Secretariat Dr Jeff Ardron presented the meeting with a report detailing progress achieved over the past four years. He said:
“The Blue Charter Action Groups have proven themselves to be a good model by which countries can take the lead on the climate and ocean issues most important to them. Over the past four years, we have trained more than 450 representatives from more than 40 countries. Now we are focussing on getting more Climate-Ocean projects up and running.”
A survey conducted by the Secretariat of its membership shows that 75 percent of countries reported that the Commonwealth Blue Charter had helped to progress national ocean policy or legislation and allowed them to better interact with external partners.
The Secretariat has also launched a number of successful partnerships with collaborators such as Bloomberg Philanthropies, Arizona State University and the Stimson Centre, with the aim of leveraging their expertise, services and resources to help Action Groups achieve their goals.
Nearly 300 government officials in the ocean sector from across the Commonwealth are registered on the Commonwealth Blue Charter Knowledge Hub, enabling them to access free training, knowledge resources and networking opportunities, including an ocean funding database with details of how to access opportunities worth over USD$150 million from more than 100 funders.
This week’s discussion at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) will lead into next week’s United Nations Oceans Conference, scheduled for 27 June to 01 July in Lisbon, Portugal. They also take place less than six months ahead of the world’s most important climate summit of the year, the UN Climate Change Conference COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt this November.