On 28th December 2017, there was a preparatory meeting held in New Delhi to begin preparing for the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) scheduled to be held in London during April 2018. United Kingdom will take over as the Chair-in-Office for the Commonwealth from Malta and will hold office until 2020.
Held under the title, ‘Our Common Future’, the Meeting will focus on themes including, ‘A More Sustainable Future’, ‘A Fairer Future’, ‘A More Secure Future’ and ‘A More Fairer Future’. There will be forums held on topics ‘people’, ‘business’, ‘women’ and ‘youth’.
According to the Commonwealth Secretariat, member states face common challenges: weak global trade and investment flows, new cross-border security threats, the effects of climate change on small and other vulnerable states, threats to shared values of democracy, good governance and inclusivity as set out in the Commonwealth Charter.
Following key developments in the 52 Member States of the Commonwealth will define the outcomes of the Meeting that is held within the backdrop of reducing impact of multilateralism.
- Climate change will push additional 100 million people across the world into poverty by 2030. With 38 of the 52 members belonging to the vulnerable states, natural disasters will affect 28 million people causing economic loss of almost $8 billion;
- Commonwealth is home to half of the globe’s top emerging cities and, with a combined population of 2.4 billion people, nearly a third of the global population;
- It is home to nearly one billion of the world’s young people;
- Commonwealth consistently ranks third in the global ‘Index of Economic Freedom’,
- The ‘Commonwealth Advantage’, with trade and investment flows increased by up to 20% and the cost of doing business reduced by up to 19%; and
- Trade among Commonwealth countries is projected to increase to USD 1 trillion by 2020.
However, the diminishing voice and ability of the member states to project commonwealth as a group that can influence global and regional issues, including on trade, security and environment is a key question for the members that need focus during the Meeting.
The CHOGM 2018 can provide opportunities for some uncommon issues within the ambit of Commonwealth, that has relevance to several countries in the region. These include options to deal with realizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) where in the currently unclear mandate and effectiveness of the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) can be strengthened by focusing on issues such as better ways and formats for voluntary national reports (VNRs), better means to implement SDG 17 on partnerships where actions thus far on realizing the Goal will be discussed during HLPF 2018.
The Commonwealth countries can also discuss possibilities for a common framework to implement SDGs across commonwealth by countries leading actions on specific SDGs, such as India on strengthening local self-governance, Malaysia on SDG 4 related to education, Bangladesh on SDG 13 related to climate action and disaster preparedness, Fiji supporting actions related to SDG 14 on oceans, Samoa on SDG 11 and 13 and others.
While the focus on SDGs is important, the CHOGM 2018 should also focus on linking actions, using the common but differentiated responsibility framework, to other multilateral agreements such as the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction, Samoa Pathway, the Climate Agenda and using the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.
Reducing trade costs, dealing with non-trade measures, strengthening youth and skill development, supporting career-led education actions, use of data analyses and analytics for data economy are other important issues that will need attention.
While all of these are important issues for Commonwealth countries, environment related issues are in many aspects ignored thus far at CHOGM events. This needs to be corrected now.
Lastly, for commonwealth to succeed, the member states need to better communicate actions in the context of discussions related to outcomes of past and current CHOGM series.
India can strategically use the CHOGM 2018 as a forum and platform to counterbalance China and it’s One Belt One Road policy since China is not a dominant member here. In addition, the Commonwealth may present itself as a small part of a larger solution to India’s ambition to its membership to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
I am pleased to be preparing a background document titled, ‘SDGs and Commonwealth’ that will provide a range of options for collective action at Commonwealth level for the CHOGM 2018. If you have any specific ideas, suggestions on how Commonwealth can deal with SDGs, please write to email@example.com
The author is a conservation and development specialist who is working on issues of SDGs and their implementation currently and currently Chairs FLEDEG (fledgein.org).