Essay by Eric Worrall
Did I say “Empire”? Sorry I meant to say British “Commonwealth”…
Commonwealth ends summit with call for action on climate change and trade
The newly expanded Commonwealth has made broad commitments to address climate change and boost trade, concluding a summit aimed at shoring up the relevance of a group that evolved from the British empire.
- The African nations of Gabon and Togo have been admitted into the Commonwealth group of nations
- Australia’s delegation to the meeting was led by Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles
- A controversial asylum deal between the UK and hosts Rwanda loomed over the summit
The week-long Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Rwanda’s capital Kigali included comments from Britain’s Prince Charles expressing sorrow for his country’s role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the first time the Commonwealth has publicly addressed the subject.
“I want to acknowledge that the roots of our contemporary association run deep into the most painful period of our history,” Prince Charles told leaders.
“I cannot describe the depths of my personal sorrow at the suffering of so many as I continue to deepen my own understanding of slavery’s enduring impact.”
A Living Lands Charter stated that Commonwealth countries would work to implement previously signed international deals like the Paris climate agreement.
“We know that we are at code red when it comes to climate change and that the small member states are facing a crisis that could be existential,” said Patricia Scotland, who was re-elected during the summit as Commonwealth secretary-general.
Don’t underestimate the influence green fanatic Prince Charles has over global climate affairs.
The British Commonwealth has just expanded, it now includes French speaking Gabon and Togo, which must annoy the French no end.
The main reason for the expansion is likely trade opportunities. While Britain was part of the European Union, it was unable to cut sweetheart deals with former colonies or members of the Commonwealth, because it had to abide by the common European trade policy. But now Britain is in theory an independent actor, they are potentially a chink in Europe’s trade barrier armour. Better relations with Britain are potentially a route to cheaper access to EU markets.
Don’t underestimate the power of such trade networks. The military phase of the British Empire more or less arose out of a series of trade links – soldiers sent to protect far flung trading posts eventually caused the emergence of an empire.
So why do I think this expansion, the apparent vigour of the Commonwealth network, gives Prince Charles an opportunity to exercise and increase his global climate influence?
The royals in Britain, behind the scenes, are still quite powerful, through their exercise of soft power.
Prince Charles is reputed to be a prolific letter writer, and apparently has no qualms about rocking the boat to get his way. The much sort after honours, knighthoods and a whole array of different “Order of the Garter” and who knows what else, are only granted after consultation with the Royals. Kind of like karate belts for civil servants and politicians, which demonstrate to others how important they are, how much influence they have.
As Prince Charles edges closer to being crowned, and assumes more royal duties, that increasingly means you need Prince Charles’ support – which likely means you have to impress him with your climate zeal.
As more countries like Gabon and Togo are sucked into the Commonwealth, they will likely also be seduced by this ladder of British patronage, knighthoods and international prestige, in which to a great extent you have to impress Prince Charles to make it to the next rung. When politicians want to impress each other at Commonwealth meetings, they wear their knighthoods etc. The array of British honours each guest can display is a demonstration of their importance.
Why does any of this matter? When Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin once asked “How many divisions does the Pope have?”, he jeered at the idea of power without armed might. But it was the Catholic Polish Solidarity movement which delivered the fatal blow to the Soviet Union, by highlighting its weakness to others who yearned for freedom.
The Commonwealth contains 56 countries and growing, including Canada and Australia. Don’t underestimate the global importance of soft power influence over the Commonwealth.
Prince Charles is a climate fanatic. I believe Prince Charles mean well, but given his green fanaticism I’m concerned about the apparent extension of his reach.
This just popped up, UK police are investigating an alleged honours for sale scandal, people associated with one of Prince Charles’ charities allegedly offered to help rich donors secure royal honours. This might not make much sense to people in the USA, but people with connections to the Commonwealth often appear to be prepared to do extraordinary things in exchange for knighthoods and other royal honours, like hand over millions of dollars if the opportunity presents, or do political favours for Britain or the royals. Its a big deal. As King, Prince Charles will have a great deal of influence over who gets the honours.