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I am pleased and honoured to share my ideas with you on the state of our world, the pressing need for the renewal of Multilateral and International Institutions, including the increasing role of regional organizations in burden sharing in the major challenges we face as a global community. 


I focus here, particularly, on the Commonwealth, which provides a unique setting for international cooperation, with its 56 Member States (one suspended), across five different regions, including some of the largest and richest countries in the world, and some of the smallest and most vulnerable. 


Let me begin by pointing out the unique nature of the times we live in. Every period, every epoch has generally been described with a common descriptive phrase. For instance, there was consensus on the term “the Cold War”, its implications for geopolitics, the international rules-based system and development cooperation. This is probably the only period we know of that has no distinctive description, signifying the high characteristics of disintegration or disorder. 


While the emergence of a multipolar world, with the ending of superpower rivalry and the domination of one superpower, was welcomed as a necessary correction, the process has, in the immediate period, deepened the challenges to forging effective multilateralism. 


As the genuine dissatisfaction with the international financial and governance architecture grows, and developing countries continue to engage their partners on a development cooperation framework that leads to resilience building and sustainability, other factors at play weaken the needed consensus. These include the fracturing and reconstitution of alliances, a new competition for geopolitical advantage, characterized by both traditional divisions and new players seeking to leverage their wealth to build influence. 


From the perspective of responding to global development challenges and threats to international peace and security, the impact of the jockeying for influence and power and the natural tendency to scramble for friends is not different from that which was driven by inequality between and among States and the unfair international economic order. 


Some, especially on social media, are, rightly, frustrated. But neither declaring a plague on both their houses, nor engaging in protest diplomacy, will result in the cooperation needed for our people and planet to thrive. 


The Commonwealth can be part of the solution. 


The Commonwealth provides an opportunity for its Member States and people to reshape a world fit for the times we live in. 


The Commonwealth has a population of 2.5 billion. 60% of this population is aged 30 or younger. By geographic size, global reach and diversity, potential wealth, numbers, demographic data, and political profile, the Commonwealth should become the second most consequential organization of States globally, after the United Nations. Its Charter provides a strong framework for promoting peace and prosperity, as well as modalities for cooperation among our member states, fostering friendship, fraternal dialogue, and mutual respect. 


Indeed, the Commonwealth has shown remarkable commitment to promoting prosperity, democracy and peace, justice and human rights, empowering women, and young people, both boys and girls, amplifying the voices of small and vulnerable states, and advocating for environmental protection in terms of the blue economy and climate change through its Blue Charter. 


The Commonwealth and its Secretariat’s purpose, as articulated in the 2005 Revised Agreed Memorandum on the Commonwealth Secretariat, and its subsequent revision in 2022, expected the Commonwealth Secretariat to expand and adapt pragmatically, in the light of its experience, to better carry out its functions. Those functions include support for development projects and technical assistance in a variety of fields on a multilateral basis. The leadership of the Commonwealth is to be commended for their innovation and hard work in increasing the Secretariat’s accumulation of a reliable body of knowledge that has contributed to economic development and resilience building across the Commonwealth. 


With its unique identity or "DNA" of little fuss or publicity, the Commonwealth has worked to strengthen democracy, including through election monitoring and good offices missions as well as helping countries to manage their debt or apply for climate financing. 


Unlike large international agencies, it is a nimble organisation of particular use to small island states and less-developed countries. It takes on projects too small for the big agencies, building the capacity of governments at the same time as it solves problems on the ground. Its reputation as an incubator of good ideas is well deserved and needs to be built on further. The Commonwealth, for instance, developed a health worker protocol that was taken to scale by WHO; a vulnerability index that was taken to scale by the World Bank; and reached an agreement on climate change that was approved globally at the climate summit in Paris. 



The Challenges 


Despite these remarkable achievements of the Commonwealth, we do not need to go behind the daily headlines to see that the world, in the words of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of Ghana, “is in a bad place”. Whether it is in Commonwealth countries or the rest of the world, we face existential and troubling challenges.  


Indeed, insecurity best describes our world, in the political, economic, social, environmental and climatic spheres. The business and supply chain impacts of COVID-19, the war in Ukraine and the worsening climate events associated with Climate Change merely exposed the failure of the development cooperation framework fashioned in the waning years of the Second World War. 


The weak resilience that characterizes the economies of Commonwealth developing countries can be traced to their marginalisation in the multilateral trading system, with our very limited footprints on the global trade landscape. The shares of Pacific Island Countries and African countries in world trade are manifestly below potential at 0.03% and 3%, respectively. We operate at the periphery of the multilateral trading system, with a narrow range of exports mostly primary products, minerals, oil and gas. In the cases of the Caribbean and the Pacific, because of their very small populations, they lack economies of scale. This is made worse by high transportation and marketing costs for the Pacific Countries, as they are located very far from the key markets of Europe, United States, China and Japan. In addition to these constraints, their efforts to attract foreign direct investment have also not been very successful. They account for 0.1% of global investment flows. 


          In nearly all Commonwealth countries, social mobility is stalling, even though the future world of work, including climate adaptation, opens new possibilities through the way we teach our young, leverage innovation and services through ICT, social media, automation and AI. 


Jobless growth or wealth creation with high unemployment, and rising cost of living, characterizes nearly all our economies. Commonwealth countries need to create over           50,000 decent jobs each day until 2030 to provide opportunities for young people entering the labour market. It is estimated that together, Commonwealth countries need to create three in every five jobs in the world as the labour force in countries such as Japan, China and Europe shrink.  


Within the Commonwealth itself, labour mobility does not correspond to the labour rigidities of our economies, denying markets the skills and resources needed to create goods and services to power greater inclusive growth and wealth creation. And we have failed to draw the link between young tech workers, the ubiquity of services they provide and anxiety over physical migration. 


The Commonwealth has the world’s greatest vulnerability to Climate Change with thirty-three of its members, being small states. As extreme weather events annually wipe out infrastructure, cause devastating droughts challenging food security, and impede other development gains in many Commonwealth countries, most notably in Small Island Developing States, the scope of the strategic failure for a common strategy around renewables is mindboggling. 


The devastating effects of climate change can be clearly seen in the many beautiful islands of the Commonwealth. With rising sea levels as a result of global warming, several islands are inundated with water. A compelling example is the challenge faced by islands such as Kiribati, where apparently no part of its land rises more than two metres above sea level, making it one of the most vulnerable countries in the world. 


In many ways, African, Asian, Caribbean and Pacific Island Countries face similar challenges as far as climate change is concerned. We contribute very little to the emission of global greenhouse gases yet face disproportionate impacts. Whereas the Pacific Island Countries and African countries account for only 0.03% and 4% of global emissions, respectively, we have been bearing the brunt of climate change ranging from floods, cyclones, droughts and wildfires. It is estimated that the Pacific Island Countries would need USD1 billion, which constitutes 6.5% - 9% of regional GDP for their climate financing needs. Africa would need USD 580 billion by 2030 for its adaptation financing needs alone but gets a fraction of this. The Caribbean is the most exposed region to climate-related natural disasters, with estimated adaptation investment needs of more than $100 billion, equal to about one-third of its annual economic output. Moreover, with electricity largely generated using fossil fuels, energy prices in the Caribbean are among the highest in the world, highlighting the need for investment in lower-cost and lower-carbon energy production. 


Asia’s projected climate finance needs from now to 2030 generally range from $1 to $2 trillion per year. Based on a previous report from ASPI’s Commission, approximately $70 trillion will be required for the Asia-Pacific region to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. These needs could be even higher depending on the scope of the region under consideration. 


The situation is no different on the governance front. 


Today, democracies are facing their greatest threat as Governments are overwhelmed in responding to the expectations of its populations. Inequality threatens our societies, while the fraying of social protection systems opens our societies to threats from populists and ultra-nationalists, in some cases violent extremists. Democratic governance, which in the face of the monumental challenges require consensus building, and even more effective representation, is at its most fractured. No issue is immune from controversy, including apparently even settled national values. 


Commonwealth values are the ethos and strength of our family of nations. To respond to today’s and a fast-changing world, we need to leverage those values and their outcomes to respond fully to the needs and aspirations of all our peoples. We can realize and sustain the democratic dividend for all Commonwealth citizens by: 


  • Building Resilience across the Commonwealth;
  • Responding effectively to the existential crisis of climate change and natural disasters; and
  • Making the Commonwealth work for all its citizens.


          Six Areas for Repositioning the Commonwealth 


          I propose six areas for repositioning the Commonwealth to transform the economies of the countries in the Commonwealth, enable inclusive development and climate resilience and respond to the expectations of the hundreds of millions across the Commonwealth for a good life. These are: 

  • Trade and Investment
  • Youth, Education, Skills, Innovation and Start Ups
  • Mobility and Labour Markets
  • Climate Change,
  • Small Island Developing States and Small states, and
  • Managing resources for an Effective Commonwealth Institution

Based on a community-wide approach to comprehensive actions in these areas, we can transform the economies of the countries in the Commonwealth, enable inclusive development and climate resilience and respond to the expectations of the hundreds of millions across the Commonwealth for the democratic dividend, consistent with an ambitious vision of our Commonwealth values. 


Trade and Investment 

The largest number of citizens in the Commonwealth do not earn enough to power the production and market expansion needed to create economic security, whether in the industrialized or developing regions of the Commonwealth. Across the Commonwealth, policy makers struggle with policies to raise growth in isolation, through austerity and high taxes. The pie is simply not capable of feeding everyone unless consumer-based market expansion considers the potential of our 2.5 billion population. This requires that we             re-envision a framework for Commonwealth trade to end the stagnation that is widespread across our countries, surpassing the potential $2 trillion trade within the Commonwealth.  

Should I be elected as Secretary-General, I will revive the idea of having a free-trade agreement among Commonwealth countries. Recent developments, including advanced negotiations between UK and India, the conclusion of free trade agreements by Australia and New Zealand with the UK, the initiation of negotiations for a free trade agreement between Canada and the UK, the conclusion of free trade agreements between the UK and several Commonwealth members states, as well as the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), have changed the dynamics, and given us a unique opportunity to consolidate those agreements towards a Commonwealth-wide free trade agreement. 

To be transformative, any such trade and development agreement has to respond to the development needs and challenges of the developing countries in the Commonwealth. Our development partners would have to scale up their Aid for Trade disbursements to enable us enhance our productive capacity. It is also necessary to have generous labour mobility commitments, like under the Seasonal Workers Program and the Recognised Seasonal Employer. Furthermore, it is necessary to have provisions that would encourage businesses from the developed Members to invest in the developing members states, with due consideration given to Pacific Island States, the Caribbean and small States, in both services and non-services sectors. 


A successful free trade agreement among Commonwealth member states would allow these states to reap the benefits of enhanced integration and participation in global and regional supply chains and boost their participation in the multilateral trading system. It could also be a model for WTO Members for a synergic mix of regional and multilateral trade integration, as WTO members struggle to conclude agreements to revitalize the organisation. Should the Commonwealth, which has members at all levels of economic development, be able to conclude a free trade agreement, it could serve as an inspiration at the multilateral level. 


Developed Commonwealth members and other donor partners should maintain and enhance non-reciprocal preferential market access mechanisms like duty-free quota-free (DFQF), flexible rules of origin and preferential treatment for services and service suppliers from small developing states to facilitate their integration in regional and global value chains. 


The World Trade Organization, which regulates and promotes global trade, should also consider according effective special and differential treatment, and channeling enhanced aid for trade and viable investment in hard infrastructure to help build the productive capacity of small states in order to reverse their marginalisation in global trade. 


The Commonwealth should support the specific needs and concerns of small island states in fishery subsidy negotiations at the WTO. Ocean sustainability in general and sustainable fishing stocks and practices are critical to the development of the ocean economy in island states, and especially to the millions of mostly poor people who make their living by fishing. 


Services provide a major area for re-envisioning, including potential wealth creation and life-enhancing areas of life, such as portability of health insurance, medical data, banking services etc across the Commonwealth. 

Commonwealth businesses are key to developing the products, markets and the integration needed to create a consumer boom and greater prosperity. 


Youth, Education, Skills, Innovation and Start Ups 

Young people in the Commonwealth constitute a third of all young people in the world. With advances in ICT, automation and AI and the innovations of social media for distance learning, building the tech and other workers of the Twenty- first Century for a Commonwealth-wide market of high knowledge intensive innovation and services is an achievable goal in the short term. Closing the Commonwealth’s digital gap in health, education, and trade; and building the digital infrastructure to boost connectivity within and between Commonwealth countries, should be the way forward. 


Taking advantage of the best practices and attainments across the Commonwealth, we can design core curriculum and common standards and facilitate access to borderless financing to ensure that we are the leaders in innovation, start-ups, and services in the world. 


Mobility and Labour Markets 

Labour shortages, and other rigidities as well as the lack of opportunity drive unsafe, disorderly, and unregulated migration that bedevil policy and public sentiment in the richer parts of the Commonwealth. A Commonwealth-wide mobility compact can help redress labour and skills-demand through safe, orderly and regulated migration, while the ability to teach or train young people, wherever they live in the Commonwealth, as well as a common Commonwealth market, allows work and services to be exchanged without relocation of workers across borders. 


Climate Change 

We have witnessed the dramatic effects of climate change and natural disasters sweeping our blue Islands as well as flooding, drought, change in distribution of rainfall, drying up rivers, abnormal sea-walling, locust invasion and energy production and consumption in poor member countries. We must mobilise to adapt to climate change and to withstand its impacts and those of the natural disasters, which bring devastation to our continents. We need to build greater resilience and achieve sustainability, enabling us to reduce the risk of present and future shocks, and accelerate progress towards fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

It is impossible to look at a future-looking Commonwealth, without a robust Commonwealth strategy on climate adaptation. We need to achieve a resilient Commonwealth by enhancing climate change leadership and technical assistance; unlocking vital finance for vulnerable countries; building blue and green economies across the Commonwealth; and helping members overcome external shocks. 

Within the Commonwealth, we have huge needs for development and installation of renewables; we also have leaders in the production and servicing of renewables. With credit and other financing from the richer part of the Commonwealth, we will ensure that each Member of the Commonwealth benefits from the renewable revolution and low-carbon transition of their economies, and those concerned about the cost of transition, would be open to implementing the emission standards agreed to at the Conference of Parties. This is the true win-win. No one loses, including those who provide financing at market rates. 

I am committed to the Net Zero Target- I know, it is referred to as ambitious but saving our Islands, protecting our ecosystems and literally ensuring our survival as a species in the face of extreme climate events and economic reversals cannot by any stretch of the imagination be referred to as ambitious. 

My ambition is to support Commonwealth countries to find common agreement in responding to climate change. The expectations of small island developing states must be the barometer of our goal. And the Commonwealth must continue to be a champion of small island states. 

I am not unaware of the political costs of enacting the required measures for reaching net zero. We need to support countries to engage their populations in all-of-society approach to reversing climate change, including adopting a standard Climate Change Act. We need to support countries to build non-partisan national consensus on climate. It is clear that unless we meet the 2030 goals, we shall not meet the net zero goal. Community level climate action is required. It is true that in some parts of the Commonwealth, such as the Caribbean and the Pacific, citizens do not need convincing. But that survival response must be the case for all of the Commonwealth. A legal framework that recognizes the phasing out of subsidies for fossil fuels to achieve net zero by 2050 empowers States to implement policies supported by their citizens. 

While we fight hard to reverse the insufficient global response, we must find ways within the Commonwealth to secure sustainable energy security. That is why I have proposed the renewables revolution. 

We cannot afford not to double down on renewable energy. 

We must explore ways to support the achievement of 100% electrification by 2030; accelerated introduction of electric vehicles and outboard motors as well as expansion of renewable energy sources to include offshore wind, tidal and wave energy, to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and reduce the environmental impacts associated with traditional energy production. The Commonwealth should be in the lead in convening all relevant parties to define critical actions, through bold and innovative thinking, new strategic partnerships and instruments, required to access, adapt and exploit research and development on wind, solar and offshore wind, tidal and wave energy. 

I do not underestimate the importance of climate financing for addressing the existential challenge of climate change and the Commonwealth must continue to give voice to our family of nations on that score. The financing mix required depends on catalytic use of development finance and multilateral resources to leverage upfront private sector funding and investments. 

Innovation and strategic thinking will continue to be an important element for adaptation, especially since our States exercise more autonomy in that sphere. How do we build to reduce indoor heat? How do we ease indoor humidity? How do we build to promote more natural light indoors? From our homes to space-based new technology, we need to de-risk the low appetite for innovation and technology around climate action. 

Small Island Developing States must be at the forefront of global efforts to achieve adaptation. SIDS were leaders of 1.5 Degrees Celcius. In this respect, I support Australia’s leadership in hosting the COP 31 in 2026 as the Pacific COP. We must not be blinded by the big outcomes of the COPs, such as reaching agreement on Loss and Damage, to forget about the need for other significant steps needed for faster progress. We need to look at the format for a big bang net zero moment by bringing together all who contribute to decision making on climate action- regulatory change, financing etc. We also need to share best practices for instituting successful local consultations. 

We cannot approach climate change responses as business as usual. Small States and other developing countries are faced with hurdles that test the limited capacity of our countries, in accessing funding and systems and procedures, as well as meeting requirements. We must expect the Commonwealth Secretariat to help shape a Commonwealth perspective on resilience that is shared by leaders and citizens. 

Small states 

Small states face unique development challenges. These countries are particularly vulnerable to exogenous shocks, such as natural disasters and climate change. With limited economic opportunities and significant migration, they often face capacity constraints. Small states remain susceptible to external shocks because of their geographic positioning, inherent structural challenges, and deep integration into the global economy. The Commonwealth should continue to put a special lens on small states and aim to build resilience and promote inclusive development in these vulnerable economies. 

We must prioritise small states to better access sustainable financing, build resilience, and have a voice on the global stage. Leveraging our convening power of member states for consensus building and the formulation of Commonwealth positions in key global policy fora; and advocacy efforts to secure the uptake of Commonwealth ideas in strategic international decision-making bodies to benefit our small States are essential to achieve climate-resilience and economic development. 


Managing Resources for an Effective Commonwealth Institution 

An accountable, effectively run Commonwealth Secretariat is essential for realizing the ambitious goal of a new Commonwealth. Recently, the capacity of the organization has been weakened as member countries have funded work on a project-by-project basis, instead of supporting the organisation as a whole. The Commonwealth Secretariat cannot be a viable vehicle for transformation, if it is treated as a consulting agency. It must be supported as a strong and independent multilateral organisation that can count on adequate and predictable core funding, on a consistent basis. 

I am convinced that agreement around the vision for a new Commonwealth would help unite the Commonwealth to rally around an effective Secretariat. As Secretary General, I will work with member countries to stabilise the Commonwealth's finances. An ambitious Commonwealth should be funded at comparative levels as other multilateral organizations. Together with a more credible Programme resource envelope, it is time to review the human resourcing and budget of the Secretariat. This would enable more resources to be ploughed back into programmes, as well as ensuring a resilient Secretariat with long-term stability, attracting, and retaining the best of the Commonwealth’s talent in service of all members. Across the organization, we need to make decisions on how we take advantage of the expertise from Member States, including from academia and research organizations as well as the private sector, as secondments to the Secretariat, to enable the cross fertilization that would enrich the work of the Secretariat and transform the Commonwealth. We should be creative in tapping into the pool of experienced and retired Commonwealth professionals who want to offer their expertise pro bono to commonwealth countries. 

I support the adoption of the International Public Service Accounting Standards (IPSAS) as well as reforms of the governance system. This requires the formalization of the role of the Board of Governors as an executive Board reporting to the Ministerial and CHOGMs, with the authority to discuss management, financial and audit matters, as in comparable international organizations. In this regard, the periodicity of CHOGMs and the use of virtual conferencing to reduce cost and carbon footprints has to be part of the reform agenda. 

I propose to create a representational office in the Pacific while upgrading existing ones in order to better serve the needs of members. This also requires greater coordination with Commonwealth Foundation and the Commonwealth of Learning to build on synergies and comprehensively realize the ambitious goals of reform. Similarly, the Commonwealth should ramp up its cooperation with international organizations, including the United Nations funds and programmes, to enhance the benefits of programming for Commonwealth countries. 



To conclude, we are in this together. If we are to meet the ambitions of the citizens of the Commonwealth, it is clear that we need a development cooperation framework that works for all the Commonwealth as a community. Such a model cannot be based on the assumptions of progress under which assistance from the rich donors to recipient nations lead to slow, incremental change in the developing countries and locks in financial and other inflows to the donor countries. Either way, this is a cooperation model that is not working for industrialized or developing parts of the Commonwealth. 

We have to redefine Commonwealth values- the commitment to democracy and peace, justice and human rights - as the sum of a democratic dividend that includes guaranteeing a high living standard for each Commonwealth citizen and social protection for all generations. 

While our historic association reinforces shared traditions and norms for our cooperation, our Commonwealth values should provide a standard for good governance, peace and security and prosperity, based on the empowerment of women, and young people, both boys and girls, amplifying the voices of small and vulnerable states, and advocating for sustainable development, in terms of the green and blue economy. 

We need to acknowledge that the true value of our Commonwealth is our common health, our common well-being and our common lives, building on our common values. We need to leverage our common wealth and economic potential as well as potential for re-profiling to build resilience, in the face of our changing world. 

As I said in a lecture in November 2022, “The rich part of the Commonwealth needs the poorer part as much as the poorer part needs the richer part. Unless we strategise on how to make the developing country members of the Commonwealth, who constitute 94% of the organization, a vital part of an agenda of ensuring and promoting democracy and good governance, economic transformation, and resilience of all the Commonwealth, we shall all be the poorer for it”. 

The Commonwealth is a powerful influence for good in the world and we must pledge ourselves to its service now and for the future. 

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