Tag: environment

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.

Waste pickers discussed on the John Maythem show

Recycling in Johannesburg has become compulsory as of last year due to persisting landfill issues. However, the new separation at the source initiative is threatening the livelihoods of thousands of informal waste pickers, whose contribution has gone unrecognised.

Listen to John Maytham’s discussion below on the impact this is having on the income of waste pickers.

Fin 24 reports on waste pickers project

Informal waste pickers in South Africa have been committed to improving the environment as well as their livelihoods. Waste pickers make an income by combing through waste and selling recyclables from cardboard and plastic bottles to metal, providing a useful service for thier communities.

Fin 24 reports that ‘now they are fighting, not only for recognition, but also for assistance to end their dependence on a series of “middlemen” companies that buy salvaged material to sell on to large corporations.’

Read Fin 24’s report on the waste pickers’ struggle for recognition here.


Frank Ferro reports on waste pickers for the South African Broadcasting Coporation

The South African Broadcasting Corporation’s segment documents the impact of privatisation of recycling on the waste picker community in South Africa and provides an illuminating discussion on how the waste picker community are treated in society.


Grants roundup: steps to a fairer future

The Commonwealth Foundation’s Grants Committee recently approved 14 projects. This new cohort of initiatives complements the Foundation’s key 2017-2021 strategic objective: to strengthen people’s voices so they can engage with governance.

Following a rigorous, multi-stage selection process, the newly endorsed projects are as ambitious as they are regionally varied, with initiatives being implemented from the Pacific islands to East Africa.

Here’s a snapshot of a few:

Find Your Feet are working towards the realisation of the rights of India’s 104 million indigenous people. The Indian government has introduced a number of laws and policies that are specifically designed to promote the rights of tribal communities. Find Your Feet have focussed on the need to adequately monitor the implementation of legislation and policy at the central and state levels of government. The Tribal Rights Fora (TRF) was established by civil society to do just this—but as new entities, they need support if they are to engage policymakers and make recommendations to the institutions responsible for implementing legislative changes.

Find Your Feet of India are going to design and implement a tailored programme of capacity development with TRF members in leadership, advocacy skills and engagement with governance and the media. Its key utility will be to focus on assisting, influencing and engaging with the government’s implementing bodies, particularly the National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs).

AbleChildAfrica are paying close attention to the parliamentary cycle as they form alliances between Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) and government officials.  The Government of Kenya has demonstrated its commitment to the right of Children with Disabilities (CWDs) by ratifying both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). With the Children’s Act due for review in the Kenyan parliament, AbleChildAfrica will facilitate meetings, the attendance of national parliamentary review sessions and develop the coalition’s ability to advocate using awareness-building campaigns. A series of evidence-based reports and the involvement of policymakers throughout will help to better inform the Children’s Act review process.

In Mauritius, Prevention Information Lutte contre le SIDA (PILS) are taking action on HIV. Despite the success of recent harm reduction programmes in reducing the occurrences of the virus among adults, progress has rolled back with a recent spike in cases among people who use drugs (PWUDs), a community with limited awareness of health care options. By facilitating their access to services and raising awareness of prevention techniques, PILS hopes to tackle the spread of the virus while at the same time demonstrating the value of the harm reduction approach to national drug policy.

A welcome upsurge in the number of grant applications to the Foundation from the Pacific region has led to the endorsement of some important new initiatives. The Tonga Strategic Development Framework 2015-2025 provides a roadmap for the localisation of commitments made in international treaties, particularly on the environment. The Civil Society Forum of Tonga (CSFT) plans to work towards a constructive working relationship with the Tongan Government so they can jointly monitor the progress of the Tonga Strategic Development Framework. Crucially, the CSFT will begin the process mapping the alignment of civil society and government priorities. These form solid foundations that make a partnership between civil society and government more likely to work.

In Papua New Guinea, the Centre for Environment Law and Community Rights (CELCOR) have linked the issues of environmental legislation and indigenous rights. They will engage government agencies to deliver changes to legislation and policies that govern the use and management of natural resources to benefit indigenous customary landowners. This will involve conducting a detailed review and analysis of existing policies and legislation, and working with government agencies directly to present and propose changes to the First Legislative Counsel and advocate with Parliamentarians for these changes to be adopted.

In this latest round of grants projects, there is a discernible sense of civil society cooperating with governments and building on their work. Constructive engagement and adding value to development lie at the core of the Commonwealth Foundation’s strategic objectives. Many of the new projects do this by broadening and deepening participation to make national legislation effective. They are aimed at achievable, sustainable and institutionalised change and highlight the importance of including marginalised voices that offer a worldview from which there is much to learn.

Grant calls for the 2017/18 period will open in December 2017.  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.

Luis by Jo-Anne Mason

I was living on Long Island, New York when Hurricane Donna came through in 1960. I was a kid, how could I know that this same storm had just past over and pretty much devastated Anguilla, the Caribbean island I would one day call my home.

We lived on a peninsula, water on three sides and our whole neighbourhood flooded including our basement, garage and playroom. By that time Donna had lost most of her energy, just dumping the rest of her water on us. The storm destroyed most of my mother’s photographs stored in the basement but what I remember was my sister and I throwing bits of paper from the steps of the kitchen into the flooded playroom like little sailboats floating in the current.

In 1992, I packed up, sold everything I didn’t need and moved from the U.S. to Anguilla and purchased a house, a concrete house. After a lifetime of cold weather and grey days, this was a perfect choice, always warm, stunning blue sky, palm trees swaying and crystal clear water.

I stood on the balcony of my new house and wondered why there was so much land available on the sea coast, why didn’t Anguillians want this stunning view. You live you learn; I know why now.

Folks on Anguilla didn’t talk much about hurricanes. We have a hurricane season. It starts in June and ends in November. Everybody knows that, even little kids on Anguilla. There hadn’t been any since I arrived, in fact there hadn’t been any of note since the big one in 1960, Hurricane Donna. She took five lives and destroyed most of the houses on the island. Anguilla has a small population, everybody knew everybody, and it is still that way today. Five people is a lot of people to lose, family, friends, the ones you say good morning to every morning. So now most everyone has a concrete house and most of them have a concrete roof. You don’t have to tell an Anguillian more than once when it comes to a sensible thing to do.

It was Hurricane Donna that made that decision for them.


Anguilla never had much help from anybody so people learned to take care of their own problems. Independent? Absolutely. Bull headed? I would say more often than not. But sensible – yes they are. You have to be strong to live on a small piece of rock with very little rain and few natural resources.

By 1995, I had settled into island life, it was a steep learning curve but I was ready for adventure and I got plenty of that. Heading into the late summer months there was talk of ‘weather’. When island people say weather they mean hurricanes. Aside from the occasional storm, days in the Caribbean are mostly the same, hot, a little breeze, once in a while a bit of rain.

I was working as an artist on a mural for a popular West End seaside restaurant and my work was almost done. Back then we did not have intricate weather systems alerting us every minute like we have all over the internet today. We did not have the internet full stop. News channels and radio programmes broadcasting from the U.S. don’t care about hurricanes in the Caribbean until those storms threaten America. But we did have some reports, not always accurate, but good enough. When you know something is coming you start to prepare.

There was a report of a storm, they all said it would pass us by, maybe some rain, rain is good we always need rain. It came and went, no damage, no problem. So when the next report came in, everyone had sort of relaxed. ‘Probably go the same as the last one.’ ‘We’ll keep a watch but it’s a ways away.’

I remember two days out. We had a party at my neighbours, a ‘hurricane’ party. People laughed, said what an experience a hurricane is, we all made a toast. I was quiet, a little nervous but most were not. Someone talks about how great it would be to experience a storm has never been in a hurricane. I don’t laugh or argue with them anymore, I just wish that was one memory I didn’t have.

The day before Luis arrived, 4 September 1995, it was sunny with a light breeze, too light really and hot; it’s always hot. I stood on the Marl Road on the Sea Rocks, high up looking east past Scrub, marvelling at what a lovely day.

But on that lovely day all hell broke loose on Anguilla. The storm was coming. The storm was big. Get ready. Get ready now. Serious.

I did the best I could. Nailed sheets of ply over the big glass doors on the north side of the house. What did I know? I know better now. Sheets of ply, yeah right. First you don’t use nails, hurricane eat them up and spit them out like little bones in your fried snapper. Screws, big screws are the only things that stand a chance against any storm higher than a cat 2.

We now have hurricane shutters that close the house up tight, but you have to leave a window open for the pressure, because hurricanes have pressure that needs to be released (what did I know?). I cleared out most, but not all, of the main room furniture into a small bedroom, that was the smartest thing I did and then I simply ran out of time. The house is on the sea but high up on a ridge and when the breeze came back, you could feel the difference, it had returned with purpose. I got a call from my sister in Florida. She had friends who went through Andrew. I told her what I had done, prep’ work: water, clean up, best I could. She said, in a funny way, ‘But are you ready?’ I laughed, ‘Well I’ve done the best I can.’ I can still today hear her words exactly the way she said them. ‘You’re not ready.’ She was right, I was not.

Continue reading…

Adaptation, or justice? Climate action in the Pacific

ABOVE: Butaritari, Kiribati – Islands in the Pacific are particularly venerable to the effects of climate change.  Photo Credit: KevGuy4101

What does ‘climate justice’ mean for Pacific Islanders? This was one of the main questions the Foundation aimed to understand with colleagues in Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand earlier this year.  Because of climate change’s cross-cutting impact on people, society and livelihoods, our small delegation met with a range of actors: leaders of civil society organisations, writers and other creative practitioners as well as staff of government agencies and academics working on climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DRR) programmes.

The immediacy of the impact of climate change to Pacific Islanders was clear after my first few meetings. It is happening right now – yesterday. Coastal communities in Fiji have already been relocated due to sea-level rise, with many more communities on the list. Many of the legal ramifications related to relocation such as title and ownership rights, and compensation have yet to be worked out. Some of the existing information on land ownership is ambiguous and if title deed goes way back, perhaps doesn’t exist.

The situation of Kiribati is particularly dire.  Kiribati occupies a total territory of 370km, but of that, 2% is land – low lying coral atolls; the rest is sea – its EEZ or Exclusive Economic Zone.  Kiribati’s main economic industry is its tuna fishery. At current emissions rates and sea level rise, Kiribati predicts that many of its islands will be under sea by 2080 and they would be uninhabitable well before then. The Kiribati President has already sanctioned the purchase of land on Fiji to relocate the entire Kiribati population of 100,000+ people. If this happens, it would be the end of a sovereign state due to climate change.  Another dilemma facing the nation of Kiribati is how to secure continued access to its tuna fishery for the economic and social development of its people. However, because the Law of the Sea states that the EEZ is determined by distance from land it is unclear what will happen to its EEZ if the land is underwater.[1]

“The immediacy of the impact of climate change to Pacific Islanders was clear after my first few meetings. It is happening right now – yesterday.”

For people whose link to the land is closely tied to their livelihood and identity, relocation could have far deeper ramifications. Fijian writer, Mary Rokonodravu, shared her concerns with me on the lack of attention given to the social and cultural implications of relocation. She referred to the historic case of the displaced people of Banaban from whom we could learn many critical lessons on the complexities and pitfalls of relocation. Back in 1945 when the island of Banaba was mined of its phosphate resources by the British Pacific Phosphate Company, the Banabans were forcibly relocated to the island of Rabi over 3000 km away. The provision for their re-settlement and adjustment to an entirely new environment and lifestyle was inadequete, leading to high levels of poverty.[2]

The response from the international community towards the impacts of climate change on Pacific islands has been to put vast amounts of financial support into the Pacific Islands for adaptation and risk reduction. Most of the bilateral and multilateral donors have funded large scale projects. This has created a highly complex landscape of agencies, donors and projects spending significant amounts of money, particularly at the regional level – so much so that those working in the sector seem fatigued by the complexity of the landscape. While there is immense capacity for the technical aspects of implementing CCA and DRR in the regional hub-countries, there is equally enormous and growing demand. The Green Climate Fund, which will bring millions in funding, will bring additional challenges for delivery.

The dominant narrative of climate change has therefore become climate change adaptation and risk reduction. Civil society, for the most part, has also had to frame its participation in the climate change response within the narrative of adaptation. However, none of the funding available from the main climate change adaptation funding pots is available to civil society. According to Krishneil Narayan, Coordinator of the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network (PICAN), currently no civil society organisation from the Pacific, arguably the region most impacted by climate change, is involved in the Global Climate Fund Board – or as observers, where decisions and assessments are made on what will be funded nationally. So even where Pacific civil society could help influence the adaptation agenda and to determine how funds might be spent for the potential benefit of vulnerable communities, they are excluded from the decision-making table. Pacific civil society seems confined to the ‘consultation’ box for adaptation programmes and CSOs viewed as deliverers for climate change awareness projects.

“The narrative of adaptation and risk reduction is ‘crowding out’ the space for questioning the inevitability of climate change.”

Coastal communities at the frontline of climate change impacts undoubtedly need support for adaptation.  But where is the discussion of climate justice? Although climate justice is not a static concept and still evolving, a crucial aspect is the discussion of systematic transformation to tackle the root causes of climate change. But within this dominant narrative of adaptation and risk reduction, the inevitability of climate change becomes accepted. The narrative of adaptation and risk reduction is ‘crowding out’ the space for questioning the inevitability of climate change.

In addition, the space for solutions is limited to those with geopolitical and financial power and transformative change becomes obfuscated.  In discussing the case of Kiribati, one of the technical staff at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat said something that stuck in my mind. Rather than focus on relocation, support should be on development – so that Kiribati has the prosperity to make innovative solutions and be resilient to the changes ahead. However, within the current framework of climate change adaptation and relocation, those on the frontline become portrayed as always in need of humanitarian relief – needing to be helped rather than as co-creators of the solution.

So, what does climate justice mean for Pacific islanders? I wasn’t convinced that the question of ‘justice’ which challenges and advocates for transformative change of fossil-fuel based, consumption-hungry economies was foremost on the minds of civil society. However, what I did find was that civil society in Tonga were challenging the dominant narrative of adaptation and risk reduction in another way. They were considering the response to climate change not as an adaptation question but as one of resilience and ‘green growth’. Although it is still early days and small scale, for Tongans, green growth means building prosperity for people in Tonga through the sustainable use of their resources.

In November 2016, in a meeting organised by the Civil Society Forum of Tonga (CSFT) and the Oceania office of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Tongan government representatives, civil society and regional organisations identified seven principles of a green growth strategy: (1) development (2) justice (3) dignity (4) earth integrity (5) inclusion (6) governance (7) resilience (8) efficiency (9) inter-generational. Enhancing Tonga’s organic agriculture and the productivity of its fisheries through the protection and management of critical fisheries habitat are some of the first steps to realising their vision. A proposed local governance structure to establish structures and processes for a resilient governance arrangement is also being trialled. The challenge however is ensuring that green growth doesn’t just remain a niche but that it becomes the driver of the national adaptation response.

Studies have already shown that despite the commitments made by industrialised countries at the UNFCCC’s Paris COP21 in December 2015, to do all they can to limit temperature rise to 1.50C, just burning fossil fuels from projects presently in operation will produce emissions that will put the globe well past 20C of warming this century. Fiji is the chair of the next COP23 to be held in Bonn, Germany.  Pacific civil society already see this as an opportunity to raise the profile of the climate change struggle in their region[3]. But will the issue get the attention it deserves? Can the stories of relocation and loss in the Pacific Islands help promote a more meaningful conversation from mainstream media in countries of the Global North about transformational change? Or will it reinforce perceptions of humanitarian need and climate change inevitability in current mainstream media discussions?

The Suva Declaration[4] prepared by PICAN and taken forward by the Pacific Islands Development Forum prior to the Paris COP21, is perhaps one of the clearest statements of asks from civil society and Pacific Island governments targeted at industrialised countries. But in addition to the asks, the narrative also needs to change. To do this, civil society needs to build its constituency to shape people’s world view.  This is a challenging task across the islands of the Pacific, but it’s something that PICAN has begun – to strengthen its network of civic voices across the frontline countries of Kiribati, Tuvalu and Fiji. Linking with other networks and movements in high CO2 emitting countries, who are putting pressure on their own governments for systemic change, will help to build their power, influence public discourse and change the narrative from a discussion around adaptation to one of systemic change.

[1] For more on this, see: https://www.ted.com/talks/anote_tong_my_country_will_be_underwater_soon_unless_we_work_together

[2] See more: http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2015/10/14/our-heart-is-on-banaba-stories-from-the-forgotten-people-of-the-pacific/

[3] http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=391260

[4] http://pacificidf.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Suva-Climate-Declaration-final_USB.pdf