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Kigali, RWANDA – June 22, 2022: 5pm (Nuku’alofa Times/CF Media): Small Island Developing States like Tonga could benefit from a new initiative that was discussed at The Commonwealth People’s Forum here in Kigali, Rwanda.

The largest gathering of civil society in the Commonwealth discussed how the Commonwealth can deliver climate justice where other mechanisms have failed.

The meeting heard, during discussions on ‘Climate Justice and Leadership for Change in the Commonwealth’, a proposal from Rwandan Minister of Justice and Attorney General Dr Emmanuel Ugirashebuja for the establishment of a World Environment Court.

Dr Emmanuel said he believes the WEC could help in ensuring climate justice, although it is a small window of opportunity.

“I have been a strong proponent of a World Environmental Court. Global challenges need global solutions. Climate change does not have borders, it transcends borders. We only have a very small room of opportunity to really reverse the impacts of climate change and environmental problems and I think the legal avenues at the multilateral level are very limited at the moment,” Dr Emmanuel stated.

The call received loud applauses from participants and delegates at the discussion and also support from other panelists who were on that particular panel.

Dr James Fletcher, former Saint Lucian climate change negotiator who played a pivotal role in the adoption of the Paris Agreement at COP21, supported this in principle, but with some concerns because of the inaction by key players in taking responsibility of the issues.

“I welcome any thought of an environmental court but I know judging from the kind of resistance to loss and damage, we will have problems. That said, civil society can help because if we just leave it to the politicians to argue, compromises will be made back and deals will be made,” he said.

“The Environment Court will be the best way to do that. We will not be able to do it on our own. We need you (civil society) to champion this.”

Dr Jimmy Fletcher speaks during the panel discussion. Photo: Nuku’alofa Times

Dr Fletcher added that added that the time for negotiations is now, whether that’s in court or another multilateral forum  as small island states can’t afford more talk.

“So many small island developing states are disappearing. There are islands in the Bahamas, in the Marshall Islands, that will disappear,” he said.

“In Jakarta, cities are under threat. There is nothing you could do to adapt to that. There is no seawall that you could build to cause that to change. Somebody has to take responsibility for this.”

Mr Maxwell Gomera, a resource economist at UNDP and one of the leading proponents of a Global Green New Deal following the financial crisis of 2008, agreed civil society had a role to play.

“I’m delighted that civil society is taking the initiative here to start the conversation. We require thought leadership, new ideas, but also require new agreements for collective action across governments and society,” Mr Gomera said.

“The Commonwealth can broker these conversations. It can be a partner in thought leadership, for example, as 54 countries of the Commonwealth we are committed to ensuring there’s a decision about loss and damage in the court.”

Mr Harjeet Singh, global expert on climate impacts, mitigation and adaptation from Climate Action Network, weighed in on why historically, climate action has failed to deliver.

Mr Harjeet Singh of India at the People’s Forum panel discussion. Photo: Nuku’alofa Times

“The good thing is over the last few years, we see that terminology of climate justice has become more popular than climate action. People now understand that the challenge is the negotiations,” Mr Singh said.

“When you talk about justice, you have to mention historical responsibility. We have to talk about who is responsible for the crisis, who is suffering and who has to do the most to deal with the crisis. This is a crisis that we have to deal with collectively. So countries or corporations who are responsible for it, have to take the bigger responsibility.”

Civil society groups were part of the discussions and called for the recommendations to be taken to the Leaders’ meeting this week.

The next Climate Summit (COP27) will be held in Egypt in November and alot of eyes will be on that.

Participants and delegates at the People’s Forum on Tuesday. Photo: Commonwealth Foundation


  • Coverage of the CHOGM2022 has been made possible by the support of the Commonwealth Foundation

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