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Cooperation only path to protecting humanity from ongoing crises

The Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, addressed leaders from 121 Non-Aligned Movement countries, calling for greater cooperation to protect all humanity from overlapping economic, environmental and security challenges.

She was speaking at the 19th Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Non-Aligned Movement in Kampala, Uganda, on 20 January 2024.

Addressing leaders, foreign affairs ministers and strategic partners as an official observer, the Secretary-General said:

“Our world is tightly bound by a tangled knot of crises spanning global economic, environmental and security systems.

“These crises are serious, complex and increasingly entrenched.

“Overcoming them will require a level of international political and economic cooperation, which is unprecedented in this century.”

While acknowledging the immense pressure on the multilateral system, she remained optimistic, adding: “Together, we have the power to shift the balance of our fracturing world from mistrust and confrontation to dialogue and collaboration. Your perspectives are essential, and your action is imperative.”

Touching on the disproportionate impacts of the climate crisis on people, communities and economies across the Commonwealth, the Secretary-General recounted the recent devastation in Vanuatu – a member of both the Commonwealth and the Non-Aligned Movement.

She said: “The beautiful island nation of Vanuatu was devastated by category five Cyclone Lola last year, which hit seven months after the twin cyclones Judy and Kevin wiped out 50 per cent of the country’s GDP, with rebuilding efforts now estimated at 80 per cent of GDP.”

Expressing concern over the absence of adequate international support for climate-vulnerable developing countries, the Secretary-General stressed that the limitations of the global financial system are letting many countries down.

With no alternative, she added, many developing countries are forced to borrow loans for rebuilding on unfavourable terms, resulting in a “vicious cycle of unsustainable debt”.

Research reveals that many climate-vulnerable developing countries spend more on external debt payments than on projects to protect people from the impacts of climate change.

In response, Secretary-General Patricia Scotland repeated her call for the reform of the global financial system, adding:

“We need to rewire the entire system, with action rooted in the sharpest honesty about where we are, driven by evidence, and flowing through every sector: from finance, energy and trade to health, education, and digitalisation. In all of this, we must work and act together.”

Without meaningful reform, she warned of setbacks in the fulfilment of human rights, basic needs, and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Secretary-General further pledged her commitment to the reform process, stating: “The Commonwealth will not rest until all countries, from the largest to the smallest, have an equal say in decisions affecting them.”

Drawing upon the Commonwealth’s decades-long leadership on critical issues, ranging from collective action against apartheid in South Africa to the landmark Langkawi Declaration on the Environment, she reassured leaders of the Commonwealth’s tried-and-tested ability to bring together countries as equals and face the world’s challenges together.

In closing, the Secretary-General thanked the Non-Aligned Movement, which shares 44 of its 121 members with the Commonwealth, for its longstanding engagement with the Commonwealth.

She congratulated President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda on his chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement and promised the Commonwealth’s full support during his term.

The Secretary-General also thanked Azerbaijan, the outgoing chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, adding: “I pay tribute to His Excellency President Aliyev of Azerbaijan for his stewardship of the Non-Aligned Movement over the last four difficult years and commend his government for stepping forward to host the next United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP29) in Baku later this year.”

During the summit, the Secretary-General also met with leaders from Commonwealth countries to discuss shared interests and opportunities for further collaboration.

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