Commonwealth wants 'ambitious', legally-binding COP21 result

Robin Millard, Ella Ide
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Snipers stand on a roof as Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip visit the Heritage Malta centre on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta on November 28, 2015

Snipers stand on a roof as Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip visit the Heritage Malta centre on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta on November 28, 2015 (AFP Photo/Alberto Pizzoli)

Valletta (AFP) - The Commonwealth on Saturday pledged itself towards an "ambitious", legally-binding outcome from the world climate change summit, saying it was "deeply concerned" about the disproportionate threat to its most vulnerable members.

Leaders from the 53-country family, which represents around a third of the world's population, produced a "message of Commonwealth ambition and determination" for the COP21 talks in Paris, which kick off Monday.

"We are committed to working towards an ambitious, equitable, inclusive, balanced, rules-based and durable outcome of COP21 that includes a legally-binding agreement," they said in a Statement on Climate Action, agreed at their summit in Malta.

"Such an outcome, joined and implemented by all parties, should put the global community on track towards low-emission and climate-resilient societies and economies."

Commonwealth leaders at the organisation's biennial gathering agreed the statement following a day of talks amongst themselves alone in a mediaeval coastal fortress.

Because its membership includes industrialised G7 powers like Britain and Canada, emerging giants like India and tiny island microstates such as the Maldives, agreement in the Commonwealth has historically boded well for deals being struck beyond its bounds.

Among the few things concluded at the flop 2009 Copenhagen global climate change summit were those things agreed beforehand by the Commonwealth.

-Debt for climate action swaps -

"We are deeply concerned by the threat posed by climate change, which continues to put at risk the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of our member states and citizens," the leaders' statement said.

"Many of our most vulnerable states and communities are already facing the adverse impacts of climate change."

It committed to hold the increase in global average temperature "below two or 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels".

The Commonwealth launched a Climate Finance Access Hub, a network aimed at smaller island states that want to get access to funds to mitigate against the effects of climate change.

"Access to finance, technology and capacity development are at the heart of the ability to respond to climate change adaptation and mitigation," said Mauritian Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth, who announced its establishment.

The organisation has also come up with a debt swap for climate change action initiative, where developing countries could see their debt written down in return for undertaking projects on improving the environment.

Leaders held talks Saturday at a retreat session in Fort St Angelo, a bastion on Valletta's harbour controlled by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and dating to the middle ages.

The retreat sessions feature just the leaders and the Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma: no advisers, press or other ministers are allowed in.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and French President Francois Hollande had been guests at the summit's special session on climate change Friday and said they were strongly encouraged by what they saw.

- Cameron links corruption, extremism -

Commonwealth leaders also discussed combating radicalisation and corruption, and coping with migration.

"We need to expose this extremism for what it is: a belief system that divides our communities and glorifies violence," British Prime Minister David Cameron said.

"We've committed to do more to counter extremist propaganda on the Internet and to share expertise on prevention."

He said he would host a conference in London in May on tackling corruption.

Extremism and corruption were linked, Cameron said, insisting malfeasance "can foment terrorism if people give up hope in a good and honest government providing the things they need".

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, said terrorists were most scared of "well-educated young girls and boys -- especially girls -- and a prosperous economy".

"The Commonwealth's natural territory is working more on education and bringing the tools for economic development."

Sharma said leaders were concerned about the "scourge of terrorism", saying: "The phrase 'politics by murder' was used."

Queen Elizabeth II, the head of the Commonwealth since 1952, wrapped up her three-day state visit to Malta with a trip across the capital Valletta's Grand Harbour and a visit to the racecourse.

Commonwealth leaders agreed to hold their next summit in Britain in early 2018, meaning the 89-year-old, who has discontinued long-haul travel for the summits, should be attending in person once again.