The Commonwealth Heads of Government summit finished in London with a plea from the leader of one island nation for developed countries to take climate change more seriously.
“We believe that we have had enough of the problems over the years, suffering with climate change,” Grenada’s Prime Minister Keith Mitchell said at a press conference on Friday at the close of the two-day summit. Mr. Mitchell said he spoke on behalf of all Caribbean countries that are still recovering from one of the worst hurricane seasons ever last year. The devastation in some countries, such as Dominica, totalled more than twice the annual gross domestic product, he said. “That tells you the problem that we’re facing.”
Small island nations make up more than half of the 53 Commonwealth member states and leaders from many of those countries came to the summit looking for help. Mr. Mitchell and the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, called for debt relief from wealthy countries.
The leaders’ final communiqué noted the plight of these countries but offered little concrete assistance, saying only that the Commonwealth Secretariat should collaborate with international agencies “to better support member countries that suffer severe impacts from natural disasters.” The gathering did approve a “Blue Charter,” which calls for increased protection of the oceans, and a handful of countries announced projects, such as a £60-million program involving Britain and Vanuatu to fund a “Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance.”
There were few specifics from the meeting on any issue although the communiqué offered a long list of pledges to work together to fight cybercrime, encourage sustainable development, uphold “fundamental political values” and improve “gender equality and inclusion.” It’s not clear how any of those initiatives will be funded, particularly since contributions from member countries to the Commonwealth’s secretariat, which carries out the organization’s programs, fell to £46.1-million ($82-million) last year from £48.1-million a year earlier.
Some topics were ignored entirely in the communiqué, including LGBT rights. Despite pledges from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson that they would raise the topic with leaders, the final communiqué made no mention of LGBT rights. Of the 53 Commonwealth member countries, 37 have laws that criminalize homosexuality and restrict LGBT rights. Ms. May gave a brief mention of LGBT rights during Friday’s press conference, saying that “nobody should face persecution or discrimination because of who they are or who they love. And the U.K. stands ready to support any Commonwealth member wanting to reform outdated legislation that permits discrimination, including against same-sex relations.”
Ms. May did offer hope of compensation to the “Windrush” generation, a reference to a group of people who came to Britain from the Caribbean after the Second World War to help rebuild the country. Named after the boat they came on, many of these migrants faced extreme racism once they arrived. In recent weeks Ms. May’s government has been rocked by a scandal over revelations that thousands of their landing cards had been destroyed, leaving many with no way of proving British citizenship to qualify for health care and other services. Ms. May met with several Caribbean leaders during the summit to discuss the issue and on Friday she announced that her government “will do whatever it takes, including where appropriate payment of compensation, to resolve the anxieties and problems which some of the Windrush generation have suffered.”
Ms. May also managed to get some backing from Commonwealth leaders for Britain’s diplomatic row with Russia over the poisoning of a former double agent in Salisbury and the alleged chemical weapons attack by the Syrian military with Russian help. While not expressly mentioning Russia or Syria, the communiqué said that leaders “opposed the use of chemical weapons under any circumstances” and supported the “importance of timely investigations” into alleged attacks.
With Britain pulling out of the European Union next year, the leaders also pushed for increased trade within the Commonwealth. However, there were few specifics beyond a commitment to reduce trade restrictions.
The one area all leaders agreed on was that the Prince of Wales should succeed the Queen as head of the Commonwealth. There had been some speculation that the leaders could choose someone else since the position is not hereditary. However, the Queen signalled on Thursday that she wanted Prince Charles to take over when, as expected, he becomes king. On Friday, the leaders agreed.