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Commonwealth leaders retreat to fortress to finalise climate deals

PMBThe Commonwealth was finalising fresh agreements on climate change and turning its focus to tackling radicalisation and corruption on Saturday as leaders retreated to a medieval Maltese fortress for intimate talks.

Prime ministers and presidents from the 53-country organisation were fine-tuning plans ahead of next week’s world climate change summit in Paris, on the second day of the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

Canada pledged nearly two billion US dollars over five years to help developing countries cope with the effects of climate change, doubling its previous commitment.

“Canada is back and ready to play its part in combatting climate change, and this includes helping the poorest and most vulnerable countries in the world adapt,” said new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The Commonwealth was working on finalising 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, with Australia already announcing it would be putting money in.

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.

– ‘Benefit of a global goal’ –
“Thirty-one of our 53 members are small states and 25 are small island developing states, which are most vulnerable to climate change,” said Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma.

“Islands in the Pacific and the Caribbean are having to deal with rising sea levels that could drive them from their homelands,” he said.

Britain has committed £21 million ($31.6 million, 29.8 million euros) for Pacific disaster management, with Prime Minister David Cameron saying Saturday that it was “vital” that small island states “see the benefit of a global goal and that they sign up to it.”

Talks were continuing 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: no advisers, press or other ministers are allowed in.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and French President Francois Hollande were guests at the summit’s special session on climate change Friday.

Hollande, who rushed here after a memorial ceremony in France for the victims of the Paris attacks, said the issue of extremism should be tackled by all Commonwealth countries — a sentiment echoed by Cameron.

“Here at this summit we’ve committed to do more to counter extremist propaganda on the Internet and to share expertise on prevention,” the British PM said at a press conference.

“We need to expose this extremism for what it is: a belief system that divides our communities and glorifies violence,” he said.

– ‘Evil in itself’ –
Cameron also urged his Commonwealth counterparts to be tougher on corruption.

The Conservative leader, who will host a conference on the issue in Britain next year, said corruption was “an evil in itself” and also “exacerbates other global challenges such as poverty and extremism.”

Transparency International announced Friday it had signed an agreement with the Commonwealth which included an eight-step programme to tackle corruption.

“The Commonwealth includes both countries where vast amounts of wealth are stolen from the people and major financial centres that can be used to launder corrupt wealth,” it said, without pointing the finger at specific members of the organisation.

Corruption and extremism 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 like public services or access to justice”.

“There’s so much more that can be done,” he said, including “following the money, returning stolen assets, (and) using transparency to prevent corruption in the first place.”



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