By Irfan Siddiq, OBE, British High Commissioner to Cyprus
Today is Commonwealth Day. In the UK, His Majesty The King, the Prime Minister and other political leaders will celebrate this event in Westminster Abbey with our largest annual multi-faith gathering. It is a privilege for my country to host so many leaders and representatives.
Occasions like these afford us the unique opportunity to meet and speak in the extended company of old and valued friends. But they are much more than that. Commonwealth Day is a chance to address our most pressing issues. To consider new cures for common concerns. For us to fashion a fresh vision for an uncertain future.
2023 is a particularly special year for our Commonwealth. It is the 10th anniversary of the Commonwealth Charter. It sets out the values and aspirations of our close partnership. Values like peace, security, rule of law, good governance and sustainability. These principles must always be our priorities. They are more relevant now than ever before.
It is also the Commonwealth Year of Youth and, with that in mind, last week, together with the Australian High Commissioner here in Cyprus, we had three local school students join our ‘High Commissioner for a Week’ work-shadowing programme. Today, we host the students, their teacher and parents, at an extra special Commonwealth Day reception where they’ll share their experiences of their week with our Commonwealth missions. Home to 1.4 billion people young people, we should never forget that the destiny of the Commonwealth is dependent on the next generation
We have inherited a rich and significant legacy from the previous generation of leaders, including Her late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth. Our challenge today is to engage and empower future leaders. To inspire the young people who will one day sit in the seats we currently occupy. To provide them with an example of compassionate government and sensible administration. I’m pleased to have had the chance to spend last week with just three of the future leaders here in Cyprus.
As British High Commissioner to Cyprus, one of the three Commonwealth countries in Europe alongside the UK and Malta, I am a proud of our Commonwealth membership, and committed to doing what I can to ensure that this formidable fellowship of friendly nations delivers real benefits to the 2.5 billion people living in its 56 members states.
The foundation of our friendship might be based on a complex history, but it is also based on a shared understanding – that we can help one another; that we can meaningfully improve the lives of people around the world, that sovereignty, democracy and freedom should and must be defended no matter the price.
We should never forget the incomparable make-up of this progressive organisation. It includes some of the world’s largest and most prosperous economies as well as some of the smallest and most aspirational. Our diversity of scale poses an excellent opportunity to address lingering economic imbalances; to protect our planet and enhance our chances for a sustainable future.
In an increasingly geopolitical world, where sovereignty is being challenged, the Commonwealth is a vital network of prospering free nations.
While there is a lot the Commonwealth, or any other multilateral organisation, can do to make a real difference, I believe we are at our most effective when we focus our efforts on a few essential aims.
Firstly, the Commonwealth has the potential to deliver more on democracy, good governance and the rule of law. We saw this last year, when Commonwealth Law Ministers endorsed the first ever set of Commonwealth Media Freedom Principles.
Secondly, we should use the chorus of our combined voices to advocate for urgent action on climate change and the protection of biodiversity and the natural environment. Commonwealth leaders highlighted this urgent need for action on climate change when they met in Kigali in 2022. Let us take it forward.
At COP27, the global community agreed to new measures that build on the Glasgow Climate Pact. And, in Montreal, we saw the historic agreement of a new global biodiversity framework. We now need to fully implement those commitments and to go further and faster in this critical decade. I believe the Commonwealth can and should be at the epicentre of this unfolding agenda.
We recognise the particular challenges that climate change poses for small and vulnerable states, particularly islands close to sea level. We continue to advocate in multilateral forums and the International Financial Institutions for enhanced access to finance and support.
Lastly, we must boost trade and investment between Commonwealth countries. The UK believes that the Commonwealth can play a larger role by supporting developing members in attracting more investment during this economically turbulent time.
Achieving progress in these priority areas of values, climate, trade and investment won’t be easy. It will require member states to ensure the institutions of the Commonwealth are driving the agenda forward, and focussing on actions and programmes that deliver real impact and positive change.