World

Leaders of 53-nation Commonwealth call for legally binding climate deal in Paris

The 53-nation Commonwealth has said climate change poses an "existential threat" to some of its member states, and urged participants at the Paris climate talks to produce a legally binding agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The Commonwealth — a grouping of Britain and many of its former colonies that is home to more than 2 billion people — includes industrialized economies such as Canada and Australia, resource-hungry India and small island states vulnerable to rising sea levels.

"Climate change actually unites us, puts us all in the same canoe," Baron Waqa, president of the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru, told a news conference Sunday at the end of the biennial Commonwealth summit in Malta. "When a big wave comes, that canoe is going to be washed away, and everyone in it."

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the Commonwealth's "convergence" on the issue boosted chances of a deal at the Paris talks, which start Monday.

In a statement, Commonwealth leaders said that "many of our most vulnerable states and communities are already facing the adverse impacts of climate change ... (and) for some it represents an existential threat."

They said the Paris talks should produce "an ambitious, equitable, inclusive, rules-based and durable outcome ... that includes a legally binding agreement."

Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said one country had expressed reservations on that point. He did not identify the dissenting country.

The United States has cast doubt on whether Paris will produce a legally binding deal. Secretary of State John Kerry said this month that there were "not going to be legally binding reduction targets" agreed at the meeting.

The Commonwealth leaders called for developed nations to spend $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries deal with the effects of climate change.

At the end of the three-day gathering in Malta — a which has been an arrival point for thousands of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa — Commonwealth leaders also promised to combat extremism and to boost international efforts to control "irregular" migration.

The summit was opened by the head of the Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth II, who during her 63-year reign has helped unite an organization seen by some as ineffectual and by others as a relic of the British Empire.

It had been speculated that this might be the queen's last Commonwealth summit, because at 89 she has given up long-haul travel.

But the organization has decided its next gathering will be held in Britain in early 2018. It had been due to take place in 2017 in Vanuatu, but the South Pacific nation was devastated by a cyclone in March.

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Lawless reported from London.