In April – just a week after the successful Commonwealth Games in Australia- the UK hosted the 53 member states of the Commonwealth with some 47 heads of state and government all in attendance, by far the biggest global gathering here for 20 years. The Summit had the theme ‘Our Common Future’ and addressed such key issues as democratic values and human rights; sustainable development, including adoption of a new ‘Blue Charter’ to ensure sustainable development and protection of the oceans; trade and investment, notably an ambitious target to raise intra-Commonwealth trade from $600 billion to $2 trillion by 2030; and major security concerns including adoption of a Declaration on Cyber-security and action on counteracting violent extremism.
Sadly, little of this was reflected in the poor BBC and British media coverage which -apart from rightly highlighting the UK Government’s appalling own-goal over the Windrush immigration affair and the resulting fall-out with its Caribbean counterparts- focussed almost entirely on the decision that Prince Charles would succeed HM the Queen as future Head of the Commonwealth. The public therefore got little real information about the substantive and exciting matters discussed and agreed, which are summarised in the official 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Communique and the Leaders’ Statement.
There is much of interest to UNA members in the Commonwealth decisions, not least the frequent endorsement of key Sustainable Development Goals, for example Goal 8 relating to modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour; there was also strong endorsement of other vital international agreements such as the Paris targets on climate change.
Like many summits, there was a lot of broad political commitment, but less concrete action, although a notable exception was in respect of implementation of the Blue Charter, where a number of countries committed themselves to addressing specific issues such as dealing with coral reef erosion and marine plastic pollution. The UK Government also announced a series of financial commitments including £60 million to work with Vanuatu on plastic pollution in the Pacific and £15 million to support cooperation on cyber security; there was further additional support announced for small states – which make up over 30 of the 53 Commonwealth members- and for some other areas. However the Summit was less forthcoming in addressing more sensitive matters such as LGTB rights and the potential negative impact of Brexit on many Commonwealth countries- which will see their existing EU trade and aid agreements disrupted ,for example under the influential EU/African, Caribbean and Pacific Cotonou Agreement which is also due for renegotiation in 2019-2020.
As much, if not more, impressive than the official governmental meetings were the many separate networking and cultural events by the numerous Commonwealth quasi-governmental, professional and civil society organisations. These represent the core strength of Commonwealth links and included special Peoples’ (civil society), Business, Womens’ and Youth Forums, as well as a wide range of other side-events. These diverse organisations provide many potential partners for UNA and its members to collaborate with, especially during 2018-20, when the UK will hold the Chair of the Commonwealth.Like us on Facebook