The Head of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II opened the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting opened in Trinidad and Tobago on Friday 27 November. ( A video follows, as well as the text of Her Majesty's address.)
The Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma warned of the 'looming existential catastrophe of climate change' and said the organisation had to restate its 'shared responsibilities towards the preservation of our planet'.
Guests to the private session on climate change included The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the President of France Nicolas Sarkozy and the Prime Minister of Denmark Lars Loekke Rasmussen change.
They had been invited to Trinidad by the Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, who said there had been 'some concern about the way negotiations were going ahead of Copenhagen next month'.'A political statement out of (the Commonwealth) is not a statement that one can take lightly,' Mr. Manning told journalists on Thursday.
'It comes with the weight of so many countries and so many people, that therefore we feel it can have some effect on influencing the way that the discussions go in Denmark.
'Sky News reported that climate change and rising sea levels, blamed on global warming caused by greenhouse gases emitted mostly by the world's industrial powerhouses, threaten many developing nations, a number of which are Commonwealth members.The Commonwealth this year celebrates its 60th anniversary.
The conference is expected to decide whether to admit the former Belgian colony of Rwanda as its newest member.According to Sky News, the move is backed by Australia, Britain and Canada, but there is concern over Rwanda's rights record following the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people died.
The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has indicated he will at some point raise the issue of changes to the law relating to the succession, in particular as it affects Catholics and women.
Sky News reported that leaders from Gambia, Namibia and Nauru were absent from the table on Friday, as well as the military leader of Fiji, which was suspended from the Commonwealth in September for refusing to schedule elections by October 2010.
….The Queen's speech opening of CHOGM….
President Richards, Prime Minister Manning, President Museveni, Secretary-General, Ladies and Gentlemen,
This diamond anniversary year is an important time for the Commonwealth to look back – and, more importantly, look forward.
In doing so, I believe we can be pleased with how far the Commonwealth has come in its 60 years, and yet how true it has remained to its origins.
But this does not mean we should become complacent or rest on past successes. Like any good organization we must continue to pay close attention to the things that give it distinctive character.
In my view one of the core strengths of the Commonwealth lies in the commitment to common goals and values.
Our shared pledge to “the pursuit of peace, liberty and progress” that my father helped to enshrine in the London Declaration in 1949 means as much today as it did then.
We cherish freedom, democracy and development as dearly as ever.But the Commonwealth’s strength lies as much in people as it does in values.
Few other global organizations can boast the same rich diversity of humankind and yet also such a commonality of spirit.
The Commonwealth can be proud of the fact that in each of its six decades, it has shaped the international response to emerging global challenges.
And on this, the eve of the UN Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change, the Commonwealth has an opportunity to lead once more. The threat to our environment is not a new concern.
But it is now a global challenge which will continue to affect the security and stability of millions for years to come.
Many of those affected are among the most vulnerable, and many of the people least well able to withstand the adverse effects of Climate Change live in the Commonwealth.
A second area of opportunity for the Commonwealth is nurturing its young people. As with environmental challenges, this area is not new; but while the Commonwealth may rightly celebrate reaching its 60th anniversary, the future of this association lies with the one billion who are under 25 years of age.
The Commonwealth must show that it is relevant to and supportive of our young people who need to be convinced that the Commonwealth can help them to realize their ambitions.Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, it is a pleasure for me to be back in Trinidad and Tobago, and in the Caribbean.
This region is dear to the Commonwealth. For small island states, the buffeting of the economic storms of the last twelve months has provided a stern test; and great resourcefulness has been shown in order to meet the challenge.
As an organization the Commonwealth must remain dedicated to building resilience among its smaller members.But it is not enough to look within the boundaries of the Commonwealth.
In a world where political, economic and environmental problems and opportunities cross continents, the Commonwealth will also need to prove its relevance beyond its own borders and develop a truly global perspective.
The motto of Trinidad and Tobago says: ‘Together we aspire, together we achieve’. There could be no better description of the Commonwealth’s ethos and no better guideline for achieving this CHOGM’s stated goal of a more equitable and sustainable future.
I hope the leaders here present – informed by the Commonwealth Youth Forum, the People’s Forum and the Business Forum held earlier this week – can map out the route for another sixty years of success.
And with these challenges in mind I am delighted to declare open this twentieth meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government.