The Commonwealth is the largest association of states by land mass and includes 53 countries which span the globe; from India with a population of over 1.2 billion to Nauru in the Pacific with 10,000. The Commonwealth has a combined population of over 2.2 billion people (1 billion more than China) and over 60% are under 30. This all means that the Commonwealth has a huge and growing potential to increase global trade and its charter and track record can ensure that this can be done with a positive impact on the environment.
The Commonwealth was an early adopter of environmentally friendly policies. The Duke of Edinburgh was one of the first to address conservation issues with his prominent involvement in the World Wildlife Fund which was founded in 1961. This influenced Commonwealth countries’ approach to the environment, for example in the creation of national parks, the protection of endangered species and the introduction of stronger environmental laws around the world.
The Langkawi declaration on the Environment in 1989 by the Commonwealth heads of government representing a quarter of the world’s population was an environmental commitment from both the developing and developed Commonwealth members. This was followed up by the 2007 Lake Victoria Commonwealth Climate Change Action Plan.
The Commonwealth has only 10% of the world’s crude oil reserves and so, as well as the cultural pressure for sustainably, there is also a pressing economic reason for efficient energy policies. Australia is one of the leaders in water conservation. The UK has been a leader in climate change legislation, for example 2008’s introduction of binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Major companies’ ethical sourcing commitments, such as those included in Marks and Spencer’s Plan A, have helped make organisations more energy efficient, reduced wastage of natural resources and focused on the environmental impacts of manufacturing.
India is set to take over from China as the ‘manufacturer for the world’, with Africa having the potential to succeed it. This can either be done in an efficient sustainable manner or not. Increasing trade between Commonwealth members which have all signed up to the demanding principles laid out in the Commonwealth Charter can drive forward global trade and growth in a sustainable and ethical way. The creation of a Commonwealth Free Trade Zone would underpin this efficient, sustainable approach.