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Tag: Climate change

Climate Reparations: What Must COP27 Deliver?

The Commonwealth’s small and climate vulnerable states are being lost to the world’s oceans at alarming speed. Extreme weather events are destroying small island infrastructure, upending local livelihoods, and overwhelming public finances.

Despite the urgency of the situation, commitments to help small island and vulnerable states stand largely unfulfilled. The next major global climate conference in Egypt (COP27) presents an important opportunity to refocus the global conversation on the needs of small island states, and our three part-series: The Case for Climate Justice: Commonwealth Small Island States is doing just that.

The loss and damage negotiations under the UNFCCC have so far failed to deliver the climate finance that small and climate-vulnerable states so desperately need. Combating climate change on the ‘front lines’ requires vast sums of money and advanced technology—something that the wider international community has promised yet hasn’t delivered.

The Loss and Damage Collaboration (LDC) highlights key issues that need to be addressed at COP27 based on previous discussions at UN climate conferences.

One such issue is the failure of ‘The Santiago Network’ to get off the ground. The network is intended to help small and vulnerable states ‘avert, minimise, and address loss and damage’ through the provision of technical assistance yet, to this day, no decision has been taken on which international body should oversee its operations, and thus no secretariat has been established to carry out this vital work. The LDC emphasises that COP27 must advance discussions on the structure of the Santiago Network so it can start to act. The LDC also asks that Loss and Damage Finance Facility is operationalised so it can finally dispense funds to countries contending with the worst effects of climate change.

If the central UN processes at COP27 fail to deliver the necessary support for small and vulnerable states, there are alternatives paths to change that speakers at our next Critical Conversation will consider. In October last year, the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS) was established by the Governments of Antigua and Barbuda, and Tuvalu and with the determined support of a group of leading international lawyers.

COSIS’s main task is to seek Advisory Opinions from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), which could in turn support their legal claims to climate compensation. Such a task won’t be easy: the ITLOS has only ever produced two advisory opinions in its history. But if greater numbers of small island states join COSIS, their combined resources will make a favourable outcome more likely.

There is another important pathway to change being discussed in our Critical Conversation. Within the next month, the UN General Assembly will vote on whether the International Court of Justice can consider a landmark climate change case. This vote, which is being brought to the General Assembly by Vanuatu, marks a new frontier in the struggle to protect the planet and its people. Whatever way it goes, the vote will have far-reaching implications for climate change litigation and international disputes on climate harm.

These developments could shape the terms of the climate debate at COP27 and beyond. No path forward will be viable without the multitude of civil society actors—whether Lawyers, negotiators or policy experts—coming together in dialogue to chart a path forward. And that’s exactly what next Tuesday’s Critical Conversation is all about.

Power to the People: the Commonwealth Foundation at CHOGM 2022

After two years of delay and postponement, of anticipation and frustration, the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings (CHOGM) finally took place in Kigali in late June.

For the Foundation, this was the culmination of years of preparation and planning, most especially for the People’s Forum—the largest gathering of civil society in the Commonwealth system that has been a fixture of the CHOGM calendar for almost two decades.

The Foundation also took the lead in convening a half-day of roundtable discussions between Foreign Ministers and members of Commonwealth civil society. An outcome video of the Forum, which was broadcast at the official CHOGM Foreign Ministers Meeting, and also played at the Roundtable itself, can be accessed here.

‘What role could—or should—the Commonwealth of Nations play in these vital steps towards a better world for all its people?’

The People’s Forum 2022: Our Health, Our Planet, Our Future

The People’s Forum 2022 set itself the ambitious task of asking—and trying to answer—the biggest and most important questions of our age: how do we harness the best of humanity—the forces of love, compassion, equality and justice­—to advance our common future and protect our planet? How do we work together to build or re-fashion our institutions so that they support a world that leaves no one behind? And what role could—or should—the Commonwealth of Nations play in these vital steps towards a better world for all its people?

Along with our partners at the Rwanda Governance Board, the Foundation took advantage of the two-year delay to shape a strong and streamlined programme that focused on what is front and centre for so many people of the Commonwealth: health, climate and freedom of expression. The Critical Conversations online event series, launched by the Foundation in 2020 after the first CHOGM postponement, proved to be a gamechanger: giving us experience and confidence in new formats and approaches and expanding our network of activists and leaders across all Commonwealth regions.

‘In a time of growing debt burdens, especially across low and middle-income countries, who should be paying for better primary health care and the other elements of UHC?’

In relation to developing the Forum sessions on climate for example, the Foundation was able to draw on several different events  organised as part of the Critical Conversations series, including one on small states and climate justice held in September 2021 just before COP26, and another on the difficult issue of reparations for climate damage, held in February of this year. Our main climate session at the People’s Forum was explicitly practical: looking ahead to COP27 in November and to what the Commonwealth could and should be doing to advance the interests of those most affected.  Leaders and advocates from the Commonwealth’s small island developing states left the Forum in no doubt about the urgency of the challenge and the moral duty of the Commonwealth, its member countries and its institutions, to demonstrate genuine solidarity through concrete commitments.

The Forum’s sessions on health also benefited from multiple Critical Conversations events the Foundation has convened since early 2020 which shed a bright light on the parlous state of so many national health systems and the apparent incapacity of international systems and institutions (including, disappointingly, the Commonwealth itself) to deliver practical support. At the Forum, the issue of universal health coverage (UHC)—the guarantee that people can access quality health services without facing financial hardship—was front and centre, with panellists interrogating the role that civil society might play in pushing for UHC and the strong, resilient, and equitable health systems that must be at its heart.

Any useful discussion around health and climate must address the thorny question of finance: how do we get the money needed to fund desperately overdue measures aimed at protecting countries and communities from the worst effects of climate change? In a time of growing debt burdens, especially across low and middle-income countries, who should be paying for better primary health care and the other elements of UHC? In the case of climate, Forum participants strongly took up the cause of the Commonwealth’s smaller and more vulnerable Member States, for whom the loss and damage caused by climate change is presenting unique—and in some cases existential—challenges. Across both issues participants were united in their conviction that the Commonwealth has a unique role to play in bringing together those who hold the power to deliver support, relieve debt burdens, and provide restitution. A failure to take up that role with determination would be, in the eyes of Commonwealth civil society, a clear rejection of the very ideas that the Commonwealth stands for.

‘a vibrant and principled Commonwealth is critical to the future of its citizens’

The Commonwealth Charter affirms that freedom of expression—including media freedom—is essential to the flourishing of democratic societies and a basic condition for development. Sadly, this is an area where too many Commonwealth countries are slipping behind. Building on a previous Critical Conversations event, the Forum engaged in a vigorous, at times tense discussion of freedom of expression: why does it matter and how can it be protected? What can the Commonwealth, its member states and institutions, do to support and advance free and responsible media? There was clear agreement that no country can afford to be complacent: direct threats to journalists and freedom of expression are real and growing. Civil society has an important role to play in championing the proposed Commonwealth Principles on Freedom of Expression that could help shore up freedom of expression and break the culture of silence that provides cover for its steady erosion.

The final session of the Forum, A Commonwealth for All’, set itself the ambitious goal of provoking deep discussion and personal reflection about where we are now, and how the Commonwealth—its Member States, its institutions, and its people—can help inspire real and meaningful change. It was aimed at all those who care about the Commonwealth; those who have a perspective on its past; and those who have a stake in its future. The Forum Chair participated in the event alongside the Commonwealth Secretary-General. Both were asked to comment on a provocative video of highlights from the Foundation’s three-part mini-series on the future of the Commonwealth. The passion and conviction of speakers at this final event—and of the many participants who contributed to the discussion—left no doubt that a vibrant and principled Commonwealth is critical to the future of its citizens. The ten-year anniversary of the Charter, which will be commemorated next year, was singled out by many as an opportunity to galvanise action for a reinvigorated Commonwealth.

Weaving together all Forum sessions was the idea of participatory governance: the idea that the involvement of people in their governance is critical to democracy and democratic legitimacy; the idea that citizens have a central role to play in helping to shape policies and decisions that affect their lives. Forum participants acknowledged that participatory governance is a work in progress right across the Commonwealth. We can learn from examples of innovation that have delivered tangible results. But we must be brave in pushing for more meaningful involvement of citizens across every area of public life.

‘How can we measure progress? And how can we push for meaningful action as global economic headwinds turn against us?’

Civil Society and the Foreign Ministers’ Roundtable

The roundtable between participants of the People’s Forum and Foreign Ministers is now an established fixture on the CHOGM calendar: a powerful embodiment of the Commonwealth identity as an organisation of people—and not just of states. For the Foundation, it is an unambiguous exercise in participatory governance—the unifying thread of the People’s Forum.

The 2022 Roundtable was widely proclaimed to be a huge success with the largest-ever number of Ministers in attendance, including a substantial contingent of Foreign Ministers and excellent representation from Commonwealth civil society and accredited organisations. The event was Chaired by the Rwanda Foreign Minister and moderated by me. The seating arrangement, large round tables where government and civil society sat together, and the moderator’s insistence that each take turns in contributing, guaranteed a lively and at times passionate debate. Among the wide range of matters discussed, gender equality and freedom of expression stood out as issues that everyone in the room—government and civil society alike—cared deeply about.

Towards the Future

On the current schedule, we now have less than two years to go until CHOGM 2024. While our future is uncertain, we must brace ourselves for the likelihood that many of the challenges discussed in Kigali will be unresolved. How can we measure progress? And how can we push for meaningful action as global economic headwinds turn against us?

The CHOGM communique—which sets out a bold and ambitious plan of action—should be front and centre. However, many participants in the Forum pointed out the danger of the Communique becoming irrelevant unless Member States commit to measuring their actions against the goals they have set before reporting to CHOGM 2024. Our analysis of the sentiment coming out from the Forum indicates that progress on climate could be usefully measured by the practical steps that Commonwealth countries and institutions take to protect small island developing countries. Progress on freedom of expression is even easier to measure: the Commonwealth must take the final step to adopt a robust set of principles on media freedom that comply with current international human rights standards and put in place mechanisms to monitor implementation. Progress on health requires concerted action to break the debt deadlock that is strangling efforts to deliver universal health care in so many of the Commonwealth’s low and middle-income countries.

So much more could and should be done. But we must start somewhere if the Commonwealth is to hold its head high. Let us decide to hold ourselves—and each other—to account. The people of the Commonwealth deserve no less.

Dr Anne T. Gallagher AO is Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation.

Caribbean priorities for COP26: adaptation, mitigation and access to finance

The Caribbean population has been experiencing the effects of increasing global temperatures for decades. Government and civil society experts have been asking for the resources to adapt to and mitigate the effects of a changing climate, but global funding mechanisms have not been effective.

Now the latest International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has underscored the gravity of the situation, many Caribbean countries hope that the plight of the most vulnerable states will be at the forefront of the upcoming climate negotiations in Glasgow.

‘1.5 to stay alive’: compensating loss and damage

According to the IPCC’s 2018 report, warming is occurring at 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade. At this rate, 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming may occur as soon as the year 2030— much faster than original predictions.

Professor Michael Taylor, a leading Caribbean climate scientist based at the University of the West Indies, said: ‘For the Caribbean, 1.5 is a matter of life and death. After 1.5, there is actually a shift in rainfall patterns, the region moves from marginally wet to dry in the long term. Loss and damage become a significant issue the more you go above 1.5.’

‘In Jamaica, just this year alone, we have had three major flooding events in the last four months, each costing the government upward of 100 million Jamaican dollars (US$675,000). Where is the government to find 100 million? And wasn’t that money earmarked to deal with education or Covid-19 or health? That’s the real cost of climate change.’

Dr Adelle Thomas, renowned Climate Scientist and a Lead Author of the latest IPCC Report, is also a strong advocate of making loss and damage a principal issue for COP26 and beyond.

‘At the international scale, loss and damage has been pushed to the sidelines,’ she said.

‘I did a paper looking at policies and mechanisms in SIDS [small island developing states] to see if we have things in place to assess loss and damage, and we largely don’t. Without having an understanding of [the scale of] loss and damage, it’s hard to say, “I need this support.”’

‘We need funding for loss and damage which is separate from the annual US$100 billion that was promised. I hope that we can get the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage operationalised [at COP26] and start helping countries.’

While efforts at adaptation and mitigation began in the Caribbean in the 1990s with financial support from the Global Environment Facility, ensuring continued access to technical and financial resources has been challenging for the region.

‘Where is the government to find 100 million? And wasn’t that money earmarked to deal with education or Covid-19 or health? That’s the real cost of climate change.’ – Professor Michael Taylor

Dr Ulric Trotz, Former Deputy Director and Science Advisor at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre in Belize, described one such challenge: ‘Since 2015 we put in a proposal to support extending efforts at coral reef restoration in the Caribbean and up to now we have not had any agreement about supporting that,’ he said. ‘That is now six years ago. We have wasted six years and you are seeing increased bleaching of our reefs, increased degradation.’

He is right to be worried. Among many other effects, warming of 1.5 degrees will lead to the destruction of 70-90% of coral reefs globally. In the Caribbean, as elsewhere in the world, coral reefs provide shoreline replenishment and protection, are a major draw for tourism, and serve as critical habitats for local fisheries on which many coastal residents depend.

Dr Trotz also pointed out the failure of the international community over the last decade to keep up commitments from the Cancun Conference in 2010.

‘We were promised in Cancun that the international community would mobilise US$100 billion a year by 2020 for financing adaptation responses across developing counties […] but there is nowhere near the level of investment promised.’

There’s also widespread concern in the Caribbean that the countries most responsible for global warming are not honouring their commitments to reduce emissions and provide the necessary finance.

The Caribbean region in its entirety is responsible for less than 1% of global emissions while the United States contributes approximately 24% at a higher per capita rate. China has now pulled ahead of the United States in total global emissions: last year it built more than three times as much coal-fired capacity as the rest of the world combined.

‘When it comes to climate commitments in the Caribbean, I think that question needs to be turned on its head,’ Dr Thomas commented. ‘We need to ask, “is the developed world adhering to their climate commitments?” They are the big emitters, they are the ones that are supposed to be providing finance for us to be able to adapt, and they are not.’

‘To expect small developing countries to adhere […] without any support, while we are trying to manage impacts of climate change that are already happening now and also having to cope with things like this global pandemic, which has decimated our economies that [rely] on tourism—it’s an impossible situation while also trying to develop.’

Caribbean commitments and progression

All signatories to the Paris Agreement, including 14 Caribbean territories, have strict emission reduction targets known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

Trinidad and Tobago, for example, must reduce cumulative emissions from the three main emitting sectors by 15% by 2030, while public transportation emissions must be cut by 30% as compared to a business as usual scenario.

However, to reach this level of compliance, poorer countries need access to the resources necessary for adaptation and mitigation.

The estimated cost of implementation for Trinidad and Tobago is USD $2 billion, which is expected to be met through a mix of domestic funding and international climate financing, including through the Green Climate Fund.

‘If it’s not coming from the government, then we need to start doing things ourselves.’ – Dr Adelle Thomas

Kishan Kumarsingh, Head of Multilateral Environmental Agreements at the Ministry of Planning and Development, acknowledged that ‘The commitment made by Trinidad and Tobago is a very ambitious one in light of our national circumstances and the peculiar challenges we face as a small island developing state.’

Despite this, Trinidad and Tobago has set up a region-leading system to monitor emissions, and other Caribbean countries are now looking to them for guidance on the process.

The Bahamas, which, like Trinidad and Tobago, ratified the UNFCCC in 1994 and signed the Paris Agreement in 2016, has committed to achieving its mitigation contribution through an economy-wide reduction of greenhouse gas emission of 30% by 2030.

Thus far, Bahamian efforts include the expansion of the marine protected areas from 2 million acres to more than 13 million acres, surpassing national targets.

However, Dr Thomas, a Bahamian, feels that climate change is still not a top priority for the country.

‘Climate change is way down on our agenda of things we are interested in, even though we are highly vulnerable’ she said. ‘There is poverty, there is Covid-19 …  [Hurricane] Dorian came through and that completely destroyed everything and we had to focus on rebuilding so there are lots of other development issues, and climate change doesn’t get as much attention.’

The role of civil society

Dr Thomas believes participation from civil society organisations is critical in the fight against climate change.

‘Civil society really needs to hold government to account, to speak up when there are things happening that are not bringing climate change resiliency into bearing’, Dr Thomas said. ‘They need to be the ones to say this project is not a good project, this project is going to make us more vulnerable to climate change.’

‘In the Bahamas, we are still going after cruise ships, digging up the ocean to put in a cruise ship port—we cannot continue [like] this, we are going to see the negative impacts of that within our lifetime.’

Dr Thomas also advocates for the role of CSOs in community-based projects and top-down adaptation relief, saying that they are key in organising and reaching the community to reduce their vulnerability: ‘If it’s not coming from the government, then we need to start doing things ourselves.’

IAMovement, a Trinidadian organisation that was formed in 2014, has recently embarked on a Caribbean-wide mitigation and adaptation project led by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture. Grassroots4LaVie, as it is known, will utilise vetiver grass and the vetiver system, a unique ‘green’ infrastructure technology that assists with slope stabilisation, erosion control and soil and water conservation.

‘I hope that the growing citizen awareness and pressure globally and realities outlined in the sixth IPCC Climate Report will help to force decisions and agreements to be made at COP26′ – Jonathan Barcant

Jonathan Barcant, an engineer and co-founder of IAMovement, is overseeing training and implementation for the project alongside local NGO partners across Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Saint Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago. He has also been advocating for action on climate change issues within Trinidad and Tobago through marches and community and policy work.

‘Frankly, if we look at the long historical record of knowledge about climate change and lack of action on climate, traditional leadership has failed miserably and I believe may one day be held accountable for it. We are now at a time which is pivotal to the future of mankind and our planet.’

Barcant believes that action on climate change will not happen without the active engagement of citizens.

‘I hope that the growing citizen awareness and pressure globally and realities outlined in the sixth IPCC Climate Report will help to force decisions and agreements to be made at COP26 which are long overdue, and which can play an important role in supporting and determining the levels of security and comfort which our future generations will face.’

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference will take place in Glasgow, Scotland, between 31 October and 12 November 2021.

Reporting by Aurora Herrera.

A clarion call for Commonwealth solidarity

How does a small island state, already suffering from the havoc caused by Covid-19, recover from volcanic eruptions that pushed plumes of dark ash 6km into the sky and forced the evacuation of almost 20% of its population?

That is the billion-dollar question facing the government and the approximately 110,000 residents of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Since early 2020, Covid-19 has virtually eliminated tourism in the country; its main foreign exchange earner and a major source of employment.

Just as it began rolling out its vaccination programme, the country’s active volcano, La Soufriere, erupted into a series of violent explosions lasting for almost two weeks. Though the explosions have subsided since 22 April, ongoing volcanic emissions continue to create mudflows and lahars, a mixture of water and pyroclastic debris which, combined with the voluminous ash spewed by the eruptions, make the fertile northern section of the island uninhabitable.

The current eruption is the third one to strike the country in the last half a century but is far larger and more destructive than those of 1971 and 1979. They confirm the ongoing active status of the volcano which also exploded violently in colonial times. The devastating fallout from the eruptions of 1812 and 1902 are a reminder of the enduring threat with which Vincentians must live.

‘How does one strictly enforce social distancing in evacuation centres?’

St Vincent and the Grenadines does not have the resources and facilities to host evacuees at scale without severe disruption to social life. As a result, thousands are currently being housed in schools, community centres and churches. The National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), with the aid of local, regional and international assistance, has made heroic efforts to house, feed and ensure the well-being and safety of the evacuees along with the countless volunteers who have begun hosting evacuees in their own homes.

This mass evacuation could not have come at a worse time. How does one strictly enforce social distancing in evacuation centres? How can the centres adhere to hygiene protocols when the national water supply system, fed from rivers emanating mainly from the Soufriere foothills, has been severely disrupted?

This eruption has compounded the challenges of Covid-19 and represents a major setback to a country that, until now, has been recording success in its effort to attain the global sustainable development goals. Take education as an example. The sector has been dealt a heavy blow by Covid-19 and after missing the first term of 2021, schools were due to be reopened on 12 April. The volcano struck on 9 April. Now schools are housing evacuees at a time when local and regional examinations are due.

‘The cost of damage stands at a staggering 36% of GDP—a figure that will rise substantially’

The preliminary estimates of the damage paint a grim picture in a country with a total Gross Domestic Product in 2019 of 824.7 million USD. The cost of cleaning up volcanic ash, mudflows and lahars has already surpassed $38 million; five thousand buildings have been damaged at an estimated cost of $35 million; agricultural and forestry losses are estimated at $225 million. The total cost of damage to the local environment and public infrastructure is being assessed but even if we leave those vast sums aside, the cost of damage, so far understood, stands at a staggering 36% of GDP—a figure that will rise substantially.

All this for a national economy that—as estimated by the Ministry of Finance—will contract by about 5-8% in 2021. This follows a 5% contraction occasioned by Covid-19 last year.

The challenges are huge, not only in economic but also in social terms. Children are particularly hard-hit. The forced closure of schools over the past year has disrupted education but above all, it has created tremendous psycho-social problems for children and young people forced to curtail education, sporting and recreational activities. Unemployment has skyrocketed. Food self-sufficiency, a point of national pride, is now fundamentally threatened and mass evacuation has given rise to new fears regarding the spread of Covid-19.

‘Now is the time to demonstrate the power of international solidarity. The Commonwealth can lead the way.’

This situation is one that this proud nation cannot handle alone. The Commonwealth and the international community can help meet the needs of the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines in the following three ways:

  1. Supporting the rehabilitation and reconstruction process with special emphasis on resilience to safeguard communities in at-risk areas
  2. Partnering with Government and civil society organisations in ongoing relief and humanitarian efforts
  3. Long-term funding to build the capacity of regional organisations that work in disaster preparedness such as the Seismic Research Centre of the University of the West Indies (UWI) to establish a state of the art volcano monitoring system

In this, the Commonwealth, both at an institutional level, including the Commonwealth Foundation through its civil society partners, and through Member States, can play an important part. Now is the time to demonstrate the power of international solidarity. The Commonwealth can lead the way.

Renwick Rose is a journalist and coordinator and CEO of the Windward Islands Farmers Association. 

After Cyclone Pam: rebuilding a community multimedia space

When the category five Tropical Cyclone Pam hit on 13 March 2015⁠—packing winds of up to 250 kilometres per hour⁠—people in Vanuatu were in a state of disbelief.

‘No one was ready,’ recalled Further Arts General Manager, Viviane Obed. ‘There were warnings but nobody took them seriously. At the Government level, there was little preparedness. [In evacuation centres] the quality was very poor; toilets were not working and many families were moved to them at the very last minute.’

At Further Arts’ Nesar Studio, a community multimedia space designed to train and support local artists, it was business as usual: the staff and members just expected the cyclone to pass through without causing much disturbance.

‘Half of the building’s roof was down on the road, 100 metres away [….] there was water everywhere.’

Nesar Studio is located just outside of the capital, Port Vila, on a hilltop in a residential area. The studio was created by Further Arts, a local NGO, in collaboration with youth and local communities, as a place for anyone to sign up and benefit from various media education projects and initiatives. Nesar refers to ‘nasara’: a word which translates locally as a ceremonial meeting place within a village for the intergenerational transmission of ‘kastom’⁠—knowledge and wisdom through song, dance, art, and other practices. Nesar Studio is named as such because it resembles a digital, urban nasara, imparting skills in new media so local artists can transmit messages and knowledge. Providing the community with education on these tools is a powerful means to enact change, enabling people to realise their rights to voice.

‘Before Pam hit, Nesar Studio was a centre for many youths in this area. Youth came here with interests in media, video, handling a camera or microphone for the first time, doing interviews, taking photos, and things like that,’ recalled Marcel Meltherorong, a local artist and Nesar Studio member and crew.

‘On Friday the 13th when the wind picked up, we were all at our own homes nailing down roofs and covering windows. But little had been done at the office to prepare it for what was coming⁠—we didn’t expect it to be so ferocious! Once night fell, the storm grew stronger and you couldn’t see anything… you just heard it—things breaking, cracking, landing, and crashing.’

During the proceeding cleanup, Marcel recalled that people helped one another; families helped other families to rebuild homes, and then helped to clear the roads.

When staff and crew finally made their way back to the organisation’s headquarters a few days after the cyclone, the streets were emptied out and damage to the office was colossal.

‘Half of the building’s roof was down on the road, 100 metres away. The wind had thrown it there. Most of the equipment inside was damaged, and there was water everywhere… it’s hard to describe it… I mean, this was where Further Arts and Nesar Studio was born!

‘When Pam hit, it was like this big space was just gutted. Everyone was feeling very down after that’ Marcel said.

Following the devastation, Further Arts staff and crew moved into a smaller space in town.

‘We weren’t discouraged, even though we lost the building. We kept going and didn’t give up because we were passionate about what we did,’ said Roselyn Tari, the Production Co-ordinator at the time.

Before long, Further Arts made an appeal to its key partners and donors for their assistance in rebuilding, and received generous support from many, including new opportunities for growth and activity.

‘When the idea to rebuild came about after Pam, we were all so happy—even though we had to start from zero—to train members and recreate that space. People were starting to feel hopeful again’ Marcel said.

The success of rebuilding was based on Further Arts’ deep networks and partnerships, both in-country and internationally. Working with the local community was also important to ensure that the new space could accommodate the needs of its stakeholders.

Further Arts was extremely fortunate to receive assistance from the Commonwealth Foundation so that it could continue its work. The funding supported the studio to conduct a needs assessment amongst its membership, and then purchase multimedia equipment and train members in its use. This enabled the facility to continue its work relatively quickly, which lifted morale during a very hard time.

Everyone agrees that disaster readiness and preparedness has become a major priority in the community following Cyclone Pam. Further Arts itself has begun implementing stronger disaster preparedness measures to mitigate future disaster impact to its resources and personnel.

‘It’s the work you do before the storm that is most important. Really, these storms, they’re just a part of our lives,’ the organisation’s Finance Officer, Ladonna Daniel, pointed out.

Production Co-ordinator Gina Kaitiplel believes Further Arts Nesar Studio has a very bright future because of all the work it has done supporting young people and local communities.

‘Further Arts has become a main powerhouse to support communities in Vanuatu through multimedia, arts and culture. It helps individuals within the community to know where they come from, and what the true meaning of culture is. And it does that by building the knowledge of young people in the media industries.’

This post was written collaboratively between Further Arts and Nesar Studio staff and crew.

Seasonal message from the Director-General

As we start to look forward to a seasonal break, we pause to reflect on the year that’s passed.

For the Commonwealth Foundation, one of the highlights of the year was the Commonwealth Summit held in London. This biennial gathering of Heads of Government, Foreign Ministers, civil society, and business naturally focusses the system’s energies. We played our part, convening diverse civic voices at the Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF 2018), which placed inclusive governance at the centre of Commonwealth renewal.

Creative expression helped to animate the discussions and dialogues at CPF 2018 and made a real impact on the delegates. Seeing Karlo Mila deliver the poem that she wrote for the occasion to more than a thousand people was electric. She used the form to bring issues from Oceania to London, including colonial legacy, inequality, and climate change.

We were able to take some of those messages from civil society to the climate change talks taking place in Poland. Indeed, I write from Katowice, where 33,000 people are gathered at COP24. Here the Foundation is driven by the need for international processes to listen to and hear less heard voices. We gathered 40 of these in Barbados earlier this year in partnership with UNDP Global Environment Programme to explore the intersectionality between gender and climate change.

Our grant making continues to illustrate the ways in which participatory governance shapes people’s lives. Since 2012-13 we have invested nearly £6 million in projects that span a wide range of sectors but have one theme in common. They show how people’s participation in a wide range of governance processes can enhance development outcomes. We were able to add a further five projects to the portfolio this year.

One of the Foundation’s defining characteristics is a commitment to South to South and South to North knowledge sharing and learning. We saw a good example of this in action at the learning workshop that we convened for new grant projects in October. This annual activity aims to help project leaders to refine their approach to monitoring and assessment. This year we included sessions on gender sensitivity and its intersectionality, which helped underline the importance of holistic and integrated approaches.

These highlights give a sense of the busy and productive year that we have enjoyed at the Commonwealth Foundation. On behalf of staff I would like to thank our member states for their sustained support as well as our civil society stakeholders for continuing to walk with us.

Vijay Krishnarayan is Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation.

Changing together or falling apart: global climate frameworks need concerted action – now

I was working as a member of the environment team at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in 1992, when the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was signed in Rio. At the time we were full of optimism and hope that the global community could come together to address the defining issue of our age. It was with some trepidation that I travelled to Katowice with colleagues to hear about the progress had been made in the time since the Convention was ratified in 1994.

The Foundation’s delegation was joined by more than 33,000 delegates including heads of state, ministers, officials, businesses, the scientific community, and the widest range of civic voices. We converged on the city’s vast conference centre, which symbolises the transition Katowice is making from a coal dependent town to one that increasingly looks to the service sector for its jobs. Perhaps this was why the conference strap line read ‘Changing Together.’

‘Will governments grasp this opportunity to convene and coordinate the multi-stakeholder approaches that are required? Will they put the “together” in changing together?’

This was the 24th time that the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention had met and this year the focus was on getting agreement on the rule book that should govern the way that countries go about achieving agreed targets. Small states – many of them Commonwealth members called for more ambitious targets when the parties met at COP23 last year. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was asked to provide scientific evidence that might support these more stringent limits on global warming. That report (Global Warming 1.5˚C) provided the backdrop to COP24. Its message was that more needed to be done and quicker. The science is clear.

More than 32,800 delegates from around the world registered to attend this year’s event, a record number

Governments found it difficult to agree how the report should be received and what the rulebook should say. This only served to highlight the importance of multilateral spaces. The majority of national governments, municipalities, businesses and civil society organisations signalled their intent to accelerate efforts. Thinking about how should these coalitions of the willing operate focuses attention on implementing national adaptation plans and delivering nationally determined contributions (NDCs). NDCs are statements on how each country will reduce national emissions and adapt to climate change impacts. Those NDCs have to be more ambitious and are due to be shared internationally by 2020. The Fijian government as President of COP 23, last year introduced the concept of Talanoa, a Pacific process of storytelling that enables agreement and action. The Talanoa Dialogue was introduced as a means of helping countries to upgrade and act on their NDCs.


Will governments grasp this opportunity to convene and coordinate the multi-stakeholder approaches that are required? Will they put the ‘together’ in changing together? I heard many government representatives – particularly those from the Caribbean and the Pacific commit to working in this way. This is an area of keen interest for the Commonwealth Foundation. As the Commonwealth’s agency for civil society, the Foundation is focused on supporting those that are less heard. We amplify civic voices as they engage with the institutions that shape people’s lives – UNFCCC is one such institution.

Delegates discussed how to include less heard voices in the climate change debate

The COP23 gender action plan was an acknowledgement that some voices have not been heard. Earlier this year in partnership with UNDP GEF in Barbados we called together civic voices from the Commonwealth Caribbean to explore the intersections between gender and climate change. We have committed to continuing that conversation.

‘If “changing together” is to mean anything, that ambition cannot be limited to the scale and pace of action needed. It must also apply to the inclusion of the widest range of affected peoples.’

We convened civil society at this year’s Commonwealth summit. In their dialogue with Foreign Ministers, civic voices highlighted the unjust burden, loss and damage imposed on small states. They critiqued a preoccupation with adaptation which places an inequitable burden on communities at the margins where climate change impacts continue to be catastrophic. Speaking at this year’s Commonwealth People’s Forum, civic voices from Oceania remind us that politics and history matter too, particularly when considering relocation for already marginalised peoples.

Gender Day at COP24 promoted the fair representation of women in climate discussions

The clear message from Katowice is that this is the time for ambition and action. If ‘changing together’ is to mean anything, that ambition cannot be limited to the scale and pace of action needed. It must also apply to the inclusion of the widest range of affected peoples. As implied by the Talanoa Dialogue, fairer, more inclusive and participatory governance are central to climate justice.

Vijay Krishnarayan is Director-General at the Commonwealth Foundation. Image credit: UN Climate Change Flickr

For more Commonwealth civil society perspectives on climate change, read Commonwealth insights: climate justice. 

Grants roundup: helping civic voices to be heard

Five grants projects were approved by the Grants Committee on 13 June 2018.

In line with the Foundation’s strategic goals, these projects will help ensure that policy, law and government institutions are more effective contributors to development through the influence of civic voices.

This year’s cohort features two projects focussed on disability rights.

The first is to be implemented by the Access Bangladesh Foundation (ABF), a leading Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO) that has a strong track record of working to empower persons with disabilities through community based approaches. Bangladesh signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2007 and passed the national Disabilities Act in 2013. This project aims to crystallise the government’s commitments by building on the advocacy capacities of people with disabilities.

This will be done by organising self-help groups in 20 union parishads (local constituencies) that are spread across three districts in Bangladesh. It is expected that by the end of the project, the self-help groups will be better integrated into planning processes and that government officials will have mainstreamed disability concerns into their programmes.

‘Carers often face a number of issues including deterioration in their own health, financial strain, isolation, and social stigma.’

In a project by ChildLink Inc, efforts are being made to support children with Disabilities in Jamaica and Guyana. In 2007, Jamaica became the first country to sign and ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which was followed by the adoption of the (national) Disability Act in 2014. ChildLink Inc. will focus on developing the skills of parents to engage the education system and hold it accountable to the act’s provisions.

In Guyana, ChildLink Inc will work with parents, teachers, children with autism and child-focussed Civil Society Organisations to support special education needs in Guyana. Guyana became a signatory to the UNCRPD in 2007. This was followed by the Persons with Disabilities Act in 2010 which involved a commitment to the special education needs policy (SEN). It is expected that by the end of the project SEN could be mainstreamed into government schools.

Two projects from this year’s cohort will be implemented in India.

The government of India has accorded high priority to building sustainable, smart cities that are resilient and able to meet the challenges posed by rapid urbanisation. A project implemented by Gujarat Mahila Housing Sew Trust (GMHST) will support government efforts by amplifying the voice of women in planning processes to bring about community participation in city-level development. The projects will take place in Ahmedabad and Surat: two of the cities covered by the Smart City Mission.

‘Occasionally the Commonwealth Foundation sees the value in building on the success of former projects.’

Occasionally the Commonwealth Foundation sees the value in building on the success of former projects. There are 26.8 million disabled people in India, many of whom need to be cared for by an unpaid family member. Carers often face a number of issues including deterioration in their own health, financial strain, isolation, and social stigma. From October 2014 to September 2017 Carer’s Worldwide UK sought to tackle this problem using funding from the Commonwealth Foundation.

They used the funds to: raise awareness of local authorities in Jharkand, Andra Pradesh and Karnataka to the needs and rights of carers; enable their inclusion into local authority welfare schemes; provide carers with greater access to medical care; and improve their ability to take up new or additional livelihood activities leading to increased income levels. In a new project starting in 2018, Carer’s Worldwide will build on results achieved at local government level, strengthen civic voice in advocating for the rights of family carers and support the passage of favourable policy and legislation.

Following an uptick in applications from the Pacific, amongst this year’s grants partners is The Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (PIANGO), a regional coordinating body and network of umbrella NGO bodies in 24 Pacific Island countries and territories.

It is well understood that climate change represents the most serious challenge to the future of the Pacific Island countries. Low-lying atolls such as Kiribati are among the countries most vulnerable to its adverse impacts. PIANGO is proposing to work with one of its members, the Kiribati Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (KANGO), in order to collaborate and dialogue with the i-Kiribati government and the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) to help shape policies that reflect the needs, priorities, and voices of local i-Kiribati communities on migration and climate change.

For information on our next grants call and all other updates on our grants programme please sign up here. Profiles for each newly endorsed project will be available on the Commonwealth Foundation grants pages soon.

Amplifying civic voice: a discussion on gender and climate change

Vijay Krishnarayan, Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation, discusses how the Foundation took a step towards achieving its goal, of mainstreaming gender equality into its mission to advance participatory governance, through  a discussion with civil society on the intersection between gender and climate change in the Caribbean.

As the Caribbean hurricane season rolls around, memories of last year’s devastation stir throughout the region. Living with recovery is a harsh reality in Antigua and Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands and Dominica in particular. The costs of hurricanes Irma and Maria are estimated to be in the range of between 7 and 15 billion US dollars. Every Caribbean person felt the events of September 2017, because we all have memories of a storm over the past 30 years that has touched our lives. From hurricane Gilbert in 1988 onwards, living with category 4 and 5 storms has become a new normal.

What we talk about less is the way that those storms impact us differently. There is undoubtedly a strong sense of coming together and pride in people’s stoic ability to deal with devastation. This narrative of community resilience raises several questions though. While we all might be at risk, are some not at greater risk than others? While we all have to clean up afterwards, are some not called on to clean up more than others? While we all have something to gain from effective climate advocacy, might some not have more to gain than others?

Above: Participants in the discussion on the intersection between gender and climate change in the Caribbean.

These are questions that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) had not engaged with until relatively recently. When it was established in 1992 it was the only one of the conventions agreed at the Earth Summit in Rio that did not explicitly make reference to gender. The Conferences of the Parties (COP) that have convened annually since 1995 to take commitments further have attempted to retrieve this situation – albeit incrementally. The establishment of a Gender Action Plan at COP 23 in Berlin last year sent an encouraging signal but since then there’s been less agreement about how this space might be used.

‘There is undoubtedly a strong sense of coming together and pride in people’s stoic ability to deal with devastation.’

The Commonwealth Foundation’s current strategic plan places greater emphasis than before on mainstreaming gender equality in our mission to advance participatory governance. In practice this means identifying the ways that gender intersects with societal disadvantage. In global climate change discussions, small states and the Caribbean in particular can be marginalised. Gender equality considerations doubly so.

Having taken soundings from civil society organisations and others in the region we convened an exploratory Caribbean discussion on the intersection between gender and climate. This set out to understand what the region’s needs might be and determine how we might add value to civil society’s policy advocacy in this area.  In partnership with the UNDP Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme in Barbados, we invited more than 40 civil society colleagues from each Commonwealth Caribbean country to focus on the issue.

The group that convened had many strengths – not least its diversity. There were established civil society advocates like Sandra Ferguson from Grenada’s Agency for Rural Transformation and Renwick Rose from the Winward Islands Farmers Association in St Vincent and the Grenadines as well as emerging leaders like Cordelia Shal from the Toledo Maya Women’s Council in Belize. There were colleagues from the environment movement like Suzanne Stanley from the Jamaica Environment Trust and those who were not like Chelsee Merchant and Bernard Warner from the Association of Persons with Disabilities in Antigua and Barbuda. The Foundation’s own focus on creativity as a catalyst for social change saw cultural practitioners like Kendel Hippolyte and Oonya Kempadoo also participating.

The three days of discussion were expertly facilitated by Janice Cumberbatch of the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies in Barbados. It benefited from an introduction to gender by Kimberly Carr Tobias from UWI’s Institute for Gender and Development Studies in Jamaica. Dizzanne Billy of Climate Trackers in Trinidad and Tobago relayed key messages via social media throughout: ‘Gender is not just about men and women, it’s about correcting the power imbalance’; ‘Gender power dynamics determine who has what rights and what access to resources to deal with the impacts of climate change’ she tweeted.

Above: Participants in the discussion on the intersection between gender and climate change in the Caribbean.

Colleagues also made the connection between governance and effective action on climate change. Some called for transparency in the institutions vested with responsibility for addressing the issue. Others cited what they called ‘transactional governance’ (governance based on incentives and disincentives) as a barrier to broader engagement with the development challenges facing the region. The need for new language to communicate the issues of climate change and gender to a wider audience was called for – not least by the writers that were present.

The meeting closed concluding that while there were opportunities for training and workshops there were not enough spaces for civic voices to gather and consider the big issues facing the region. It was agreed that this gathering had enabled colleagues to learn from each other and so improve their understanding of the issues. While there was value in having civil society talking to each other it was also recognised that there was a need for engagement with policy makers to shape a regional agenda. The Commonwealth Foundation took this message to CARICOM colleagues in Georgetown afterwards and it was warmly received. There’s an emerging area of work for the Foundation here, which could resonate across the Commonwealth.

Vijay Krishnarayan is Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation. 


Non-binary approaches to climate change: time is up for the politics of them and us

It has taken two category five hurricanes to bring the Caribbean and climate change on to the world’s front pages.

The nature of news is such that as we try to fathom the devastation wrought by Irma and Maria, the loss of life and livelihoods caused by the recent flooding in South Asia seem dim and distant. The scale of the damage is hard to grasp: 41 million affected by floods in Bangladesh, India and Nepal; a third of Bangladesh under water; £230 million to repair Barbuda alone; and 90% of Dominica’s buildings damaged. All of this on top of the immeasurable trauma and loss of life.

Will these facts move the international community beyond the standard reactions and urgings to adapt to new climate realities? The Commonwealth and like-minded institutions could play an important role in identifying the need for responses that take their lead from the people most directly affected – most of whom would argue that they have not been listened to so far. The President of Kiribati brought the plight of his Pacific island state to the attention of the UN General Assembly in 2004. He had to wait another three years before there was anything like a global consensus on the nature of the problem.

Aware that established international ways and means were not getting the message across, cultural activists in the Caribbean used song, poetry and performance as part of the 1.5 to Stay Alive campaign in support of the region’s position at COP21 in Paris two years ago. This called for a legally binding agreement, applicable to all, and ensuring that greenhouse gas emissions stop at levels that limit the global average temperature increase to well below 1.5° Celsius by 2100.

‘Whether they are Presidents or Poets those unheard voices tell us that change is needed.’

Whether they are Presidents or Poets those unheard voices tell us that change is needed. This means getting at the root causes of storms and floods, the likes of which we’ve never seen. The principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” has been a rallying cry for the Global South since 1992 and if the argument in favour of calling to account those doing the most damage needed further support it can surely be found in the events of the last month.

People affected tell of the need for space in global discussions on climate change that takes account of local realities. This means real engagement and involvement in the details of making a global agreement stick. They point to the need for joined up and collaborative approaches to natural resource management that work across national borders as well as locally in the interests of people whose livelihoods depend on those very resources, which include rivers, forests, mangroves and reefs.

Those voices are calling for more ambitious climate targets and joined up thinking on economic and development policies. Fundamentally, they have identified inequality between nations and within nations as a major barrier to addressing the causes and consequences of climate change. The humanitarian crises that follow the passage of these storms are a damning indictment on the lack of agency and urgency in addressing the challenge.

‘Senior officials arguing the case for small states in climate change discussions are strengthened by the advocacy undertaken by their counterparts from civil society.’

Of the many startling vignettes revealed by the recent storms, the testimony from Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit as he recalled his experience of taking cover under a mattress as the roof of his house was torn off by Hurricane Maria was powerful. In that moment there was no distinction made between government and non-governmental. This binary divide prevents us from building the coalitions and alliances needed to make marginalised voices heard. The political leaders and senior officials arguing the case for small states in climate change discussions are strengthened by the advocacy undertaken by their counterparts from civil society.

The Commonwealth and other institutions that are committed to global equity can play a role in helping to convey a sense of urgency and by bringing seemingly disparate governments, politicians, officials, organisations and individuals together. The demand is there and manifests itself in the powerful solidarity between sister member states. To see Antigua and Barbuda reach out to Dominica with an offer of support in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria was humbling.

The platform that the Commonwealth provides for its 30 small states is well documented and has achieved real impact. There is more to do. The floods in South Asia and the drought in Southern Africa tell us that climate change is not solely a small state issue and the Commonwealth provides a platform to identify common cause and foster collaboration across its membership. The Commonwealth Foundation is prepared to play its part – in the first instance by supporting dialogue between affected civil society and their colleagues in government to develop a common agenda.

Next year’s Commonwealth Summit, hosted by the United Kingdom takes place under the theme “Towards a Common Future” and it will feature discussions on sustainability and climate change. In addition to taking stock of the outcomes of COP23 in Bonn this November, the Summit will provide a moment to forge and consolidate a community for advocacy – one that brings together big and small, government and non-government, north and south. It’s a good opportunity to articulate “non-binary” positions that draw on the common concerns of diverse partners. As the Summit’s theme suggests, climate change responses call for social justice as much as disaster relief. It also acknowledges that there is work to do in order to achieve this.

Image credit: Flickr CC Cayobo