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Commonwealth Summit Ends in Kampala

  • Malcolm Webb

The three-day Commonwealth summit has concluded in Uganda. Malcolm Webb reports from Uganda's capital, Kampala.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, known as CHOGM, drew to a close, with statements by the leaders of a number of Commonwealth countries. Key decisions made included the suspension of Pakistan, after Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf failed to meet a deadline to lift emergency rule and resign as army chief.

One of the main issues discussed has been climate change. The Commonwealth leaders issued a statement on climate-change policy Saturday, after struggling throughout a long meeting to try to reach consensus.

At the closing ceremony, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Patrick Manning, the host of the next CHOGM, stressed the urgency of addressing greenhouse gas emissions.

"This CHOGM, ladies and gentlemen, is outstanding for a number of reasons, particularly as it relates to Trinidad and Tobago and the Carribean," said Patrick Manning. "The question of climate change - very significant indeed - Trinidad and Tobago being now an industrialized country. It has become very clear to us following this CHOGM that we will have to move on very fast to deal with this whole question of greenhouse gas emissions, the effects on the world and our contribution to it."

At the start of the summit Britain had called for a strong statement on climate change that would urge developed nations to make binding commitments on reducing emissions at a world environment conference next month in Bali. Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon had said the statement was expected to be significant.

But when it was released Saturday, it quickly came under criticism for containing only vague language, and for not suggesting any move towards binding international agreements.

International environmental campaign group Greenpeace said it lacked any sense of urgency, and St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Denzil Douglas said he thought it should have gone further. St. Kitts is among countries several Commonwealth countries likely to be heavily hit by global warming. Many members are small islands with populated coastlines, which will be submerged by rising sea-levels.

It is widely thought at the summit that Canada, a big oil producer, was reluctant agree to a stronger statement. Commonwealth decisions are generally made with consensus, so without the support of all members, a stronger agreement could have not have been made.

Outgoing Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon, speaking to press at the end of the summit, acknowledged that the statement failed to meet some members expectations, but he said it was still a worthwhile step forward.

"The Commonwealth leaders did spend a lot of time debating it, they clearly have gone further than their foreign ministers were going," said McKinnon. "This statement does raise the bar, raises the bar of expectations of what Commonwealth countries can deliver."

This CHOGM was McKinnon's last, after holding the position of Secretary General for two four-year terms. Commonwealth leaders Saturday appointed his successor, Indian Diplomat Kamalesh Sharmar. He will take over from Mckinnon April 1, and will lead the Commonwealth at the next summit to be held in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009.