KAMPALA – The Commonwealth said on Saturday climate change threatened the existence of small island members faced with rising sea levels but it failed to back binding targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
A statement issued on the second day of a summit of the club of mostly former British colonies said the Commonwealth was gravely concerned about climate change, which was “a direct threat to the very survival of some Commonwealth countries, notably small island states.”
It said the cost of inaction would be greater than taking early measures to counteract global warming.
But the declaration by the Commonwealth summit (Chogm) contained only vague language and lacked binding targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, prompting Greenpeace Executive Director John Sauvan to condemn it as inadequate.
“There is a complete lack of urgency, given the need to get climate changing emissions under control ... and the disproportionate impact of climate change on the world’s poorest Commonwealth members,” he said.
The outgoing Commonwealth secretary-general, Don McKinnon, called the agreement “quite a leap forward” although it stopped short of the major statement that many countries had said they wanted.
Before the summit, Britain had called for an “unequivocal message” and had urged developed nations to make binding commitments before an environment conference in Bali next month.
The Kampala declaration stopped short of that, but did say developed countries should take the lead in cutting emissions.
“No strategy or actions to deal with climate change should have the effect of depriving developing countries of ... sustainable economic development,” it said.
The Bali meeting will discuss an agreement to succeed the Kyoto protocol which aims to reduce emissions of the gases that cause global warming but which expires in 2012.
Kyoto exempts developing nations, including major emitters India and China, from commitments to reduce greenhouse gases.Canada’s conservative government said on Friday it would not sign an agreement in Kampala unless it called for all countries to reduce emissions.
The Commonwealth traditionally reaches agreement by consensus and the need to compromise between Canada’s position and the demands of developing nations, especially island states, may explain the vague nature of Saturday’s declaration.
The Commonwealth Climate Change Action Plan called for a post-Kyoto agreement to reduce greenhouse gases but spoke only of “a long term aspirational global goal for emissions reduction to which all countries would contribute”.
Environmentalists sharply attacked similar non-binding language after recent summits by the G8 industrial nations and the APEC Asia-Pacific group.
A British official said the statement “does what we wanted which is to continue ...to build momentum ahead of Bali.”
But he added: “there is a question over whether CHOGM is the right place to commit people to binding targets when we have Bali around the corner. Some participants felt Bali was the right place to discuss commitments.”
Australia has been one of the Commonwealth states most reluctant to combat climate change, but Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd said after winning a general election on Saturday that Australia would now sign up to Kyoto.
Ex-Prime Minister John Howard government’s refusal to ratify Kyoto angered Pacific island nations, including Commonwealth members, who could be submerged by rising sea levels.