Commonwealth ends summit with call for action on climate change, trade

KIGALI (REUTERS) – The 56 members of the Commonwealth made broad commitments to addressing climate change and boosting trade on Saturday (June 25) as they concluded a summit aimed at shoring up the relevance of a group that evolved from the British empire.

The club, which covers some 2.5 billion people or about one-third of the world’s population, presents itself as a network for cooperation with shared goals, but critics say it needs to take concrete actions and be more than a talking shop.

The week-long summit in Rwanda’s capital Kigali included comments from Britain’s Prince Charles on Friday expressing sorrow for his country’s role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the first time the Commonwealth has publicly addressed the subject.

Some members urged the organisation to go further by discussing reparations to countries affected by the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

There was no mention of the topic in the final communique or news conference, which instead focused on declarations regarding sustainable development, health care and gender equality.

A “Living Lands Charter” charter stated that Commonwealth countries would work to implement previously-signed international agreements like the Paris climate agreement.

“We know that we are at code red when it comes to climate change and that the small member states are facing a crisis that could be existential,” Patricia Scotland, re-elected during the summit as Commonwealth secretary-general, told reporters.

Scotland also touted rising trade between Commonwealth members, which she said she expected to hit US$2 trillion (S$2.7 trillion) a year by 2030 after collapsing during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Gabon and Togo were newly accepted into the Commonwealth, part of a trend of former French colonies in Africa seeking new alliances beyond Paris’ old networks of influence.

“If the Commonwealth wasn’t alive and vibrant and constructive, why would countries such as Gabon… and Togo join?” Michael Moussa Adamo, Gabon’s foreign minister, told Reuters.

Human rights

Mostly absent from the summit’s public discussions were awkward issues concerning the host country.

Many human rights groups consider Rwanda among Africa’s most repressive countries. The US State Department has cited credible reports of arbitrary killings by the government, including politically motivated reprisal killings abroad.

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