March 13th is Commonwealth Day. In the UK, we celebrated this with our biggest annual multi-faith gathering at Westminster Abbey. My country has been honored to host so many leaders and representatives.
Occasions like these provide us with rare opportunities to meet and talk in large groups of old friends. But they are much more than that. Commonwealth Day is an opportunity to tackle our most pressing problems. Consider new treatments for common problems. Let’s shape a fresh vision for an uncertain future.
2023 will be a very special year for our Commonwealth. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Charter of the Commonwealth. It articulates our values and aspirations to work closely together. Values of peace, security, rule of law, good governance and sustainability. These principles must always be our priority. They are more important now than ever.
It is also the Commonwealth Year of Youth. As home to 1.4 billion young people, we should never forget that the fate of the Commonwealth depends on the next generation. Let’s think about what we want to bequeath them.
We have a rich and important legacy from previous generations of leaders, including the late Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Our challenge today is to engage and empower the leaders of tomorrow. To inspire the young people who will one day sit in our current seats. Set an example of kindness and good governance for them.
As UK Foreign Secretary, I am proud that we are members of the Commonwealth of Nations and I am committed to doing everything in my power to ensure that this strong relationship of friendly nations delivers real benefits to the 2.5 billion people who live in its 56 member states.
The foundation of our friendship may be based on a complex history, but it is also based on a shared understanding that we can help each other; that we can meaningfully improve the lives of people around the world, and that sovereignty, democracy and freedom should and must be defended at all costs.
We should never forget the unparalleled composition of this progressive organization. It includes some of the world’s largest and most prosperous economies as well as some of the smallest and most aspirational. The diversity of our size presents an excellent opportunity to address lingering economic imbalances; protect our planet and increase our chances of achieving a sustainable future.
The Commonwealth is a vital network of prosperous free nations in a world of increasingly heated geopolitics and challenged sovereignty.
While there is a lot that the Commonwealth, or any other multilateral organization, can do to really make a difference, I believe we can do our best work when we focus our efforts on a few fundamental goals.
First, the Commonwealth has the potential to achieve more democracy, good governance and the rule of law. We saw this last year when Commonwealth law ministers endorsed the first-ever set of Commonwealth freedom of the press principles.
Second, we should speak with a common voice to advocate urgent action to tackle climate change and protect biodiversity and the natural environment. Commonwealth leaders have highlighted the urgent need to act on climate change when they meet in Kigali in 2022. Let’s push it forward together.
At COP27, the international community agreed to new measures based on the Glasgow Climate Convention. And, in Montreal, we saw a historic agreement for a new global biodiversity framework. We need to fully deliver on these commitments now and go further and faster in this critical decade. I believe the Commonwealth can and should be at the center of this unfolding agenda.
We recognize the particular challenges climate change poses to small, vulnerable states, especially islands near sea level. We continue to advocate for increased access to funding and support in multilateral forums and international financial institutions.
Finally, we must promote trade and investment between Commonwealth countries. The UK believes that in this time of economic turmoil, the Commonwealth can play a greater role by supporting developing members to attract more investment.
Making progress on priority areas such as values, climate, trade and investment will not be easy. It will ask member states to ensure that Commonwealth institutions are driving the agenda forward and are focused on actions and programs that bring about real impact and positive change.
I look forward to discussing these issues with my fellow Commonwealth Foreign Ministers in London this week.
- James Cleverly is the British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Secretary.
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