COMMONWEALTH leaders met in London this week for the biennial gathering of the bloc’s 53 heads of state.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) had a wide-ranging agenda that included trade, climate change, boosting prosperity, and greater collaboration on security issues.
On the eve of the summit, the Archbishop of Canterbury, at a special evensong in Westminster Abbey on Sunday, said that the Commonwealth had a clear purpose. “The Commonwealth will last, and will find its identity more and more deeply even than today.
“Its future will be a blessing to the world — rich and poor, secure and threatened — if it is a body that loves the poor, brings home the refugee, cares for the stranger, eliminates unjust gain and corruption, guards the environment, and does so amidst diversity held together by a common humanity, and a vision of hope.”
The RC Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, also welcomed the Commonwealth’s promotion of “prosperity, democracy, and peace”. In a message to the Queen, on behalf of the Bishops of England and Wales, Cardinal Nichols wrote: “These values are intrinsic to promoting the dignity of the human person and the common good, both of which are at the heart of Catholic teaching.”
The gathering, during which parts of Westminster were in lockdown as dignitaries were ferried between venues, has featured four forums on the themes of youth, business, women, and people. Prince Harry, in his new post of Commonwealth Youth Ambassador, opened the Youth Forum.
The world’s young people, he said, had an important part to play in securing a sustainable future for all. “I am sure that it is the young people of the Commonwealth, not just those in its 22 island nations, who will lead the world’s response to climate change. You are the ones who are experiencing it daily, and we must do more to make these changes a reality and truly move the dial. After all, 60 per cent of the Commonwealth is under the age of 30. And, at 1.4 billion strong, it is you who are going to change the world.”
The Prince also praised his grandmother, the Queen, and her lifelong dedication to the people of the Commonwealth, which she first set out in a speech in Cape Town on 21 April 1947: her 21st birthday.
On Monday, the Queen featured in an ITV documentary with Sir David Attenborough, The Queen’s Green Planet, talking about her enthusiasm for the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, a network of forests being planted across member nations.
The issue of climate change was raised by 170 faith leaders, who signed a letter to The Daily Telegraph calling for words to be turned into action at the summit. The letter, signed by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, and other Bishops and Archbishops, said: “Not even the remotest corner of the Commonwealth remains unaffected or unthreatened by the impacts of climate change. Commonwealth citizens, especially the poorest, struggle to thrive amidst our changing climate.”
The UK Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, Claire Perry, used the CHOGM platform to announce that the UK would consult the Committee on Climate Change on how it can strengthen its carbon targets to ensure that they are compatible with the Paris climate accord. Scientists have said that the UK should be moving to a net zero-emissions economy by 2050.
Elsewhere at the summit the Prime Minister apologised for colonial era legislation against LGBT people, and called for Commonwealth countries to overhaul “outdated” anti-gay laws. “I am all too aware that these laws were often put in place by my own country,” she said. “They were wrong then and they are wrong now. As the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, I deeply regret both the fact that such laws were introduced, and the legacy of discrimination, violence, and death that persists today.
“As a family of nations we must respect one another’s cultures and traditions, but we must do so in a manner consistent with our common value of equality — a value that is clearly stated in the Commonwealth Charter.
“Nobody should face discrimination or persecution because of who they are or who they love, and the UK stands ready to help any Commonwealth member wanting to reform outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible.”