The UK should lead the Commonwealth into the new green revolution

Today is Commonwealth Day. It is a day that probably means little to the average British citizen. Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, many have come to question the purpose of this association of 56 nations. And while the historical and cultural bonds that bind the Commonwealth together are still strong, so much more could be made of it.

With many of its member nations on the frontline of the world’s environmental challenges, it’s time for the Commonwealth to do more together to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss, and no nation is better placed to lead those efforts than the UK. We raced ahead of our rivals in accepting the need to tackle climate change, moving away from coal power, and setting a net zero emissions target. The fact that we are now the first major economy to have halved emissions since 1990, alongside delivering strong economic growth over the same period, is testimony to our status as environmental pioneers.

The pace of global action to tackle climate change has been – and still is – too slow. But the fact that it exists at all owes a lot to British – and Conservative – leadership on the world stage. It was Margaret Thatcher’s seminal speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 1989 about the dangers of global warming that paved the way for the creation of the first global institutions and treaties to focus on this issue. It was David Cameron who showed that rapid increases in renewable energy as a replacement for fossil fuels were possible. And it was under Boris Johnson that the UK chaired the COP26 climate talks, resulting in vital progress in cutting emissions. Indeed, with the UK as president the share of the global economy covered by net zero targets rose from 30% to 90%.

We shouldn’t stop now. While the long term economic case for action is overwhelming in the developed world, for many of our Commonwealth partners, the environmental question is much more about their immediate well being and security. In an era characterised by upheaval and instability, a greener foreign policy for the UK and the Commonwealth can be good for more than just cutting emissions.

Leadership is much needed on climate finance. Democratic nations bemoan the influence of China in the Global South, but the truth is that we have done far too little to offer an attractive alternative investment path for nations in desperate need of support. The Commonwealth is filled with countries for which the environment is of immediate and paramount importance – it’s time for the UK to step up and look at how we can provide significant public and private financial flows to these climate-vulnerable countries. This would help to boost democratic values around the world, increase trade opportunities, and weaken a major trigger for migration flows from increasingly inhospitable parts of the world.

We should also blaze a trail on agriculture. Outside of the EU, the UK is free to pursue its own policies on farming, which is crucial for tackling climate change and biodiversity loss. With distortive agricultural subsidies totalling nearly $2 trillion globally, creating perverse incentives to exploit nature way beyond sensible limits, the UK’s new model of rewarding farmers for environmental services should be replicated across the world. Many countries in the Commonwealth are highly reliant on agriculture, and building resilience in their systems is key to boosting their food security – and our own.

Strong action on environmental issues is not a ‘nice to have’ – it should be an integral part of UK foreign policy and cooperation within the Commonwealth. By leading from the front, we will take others with us and ensure that our own contribution to environmental action is measured not merely by the carbon emitted on these shores, but by how the rest of the world follows in our footsteps. is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.