As the 2009 meeting of the heads of government of the Commonwealth began on Friday — inaugurated in a colourful ceremony by Queen Elizabeth II — the normally sedate gathering of heads of former British colonies was energised by the presence of an unexpected guest, French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Along with the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and the Danish Prime Minister, Lars Rasmussen who are here in Trinidad at the invitation of its Prime Minister Patrick Manning, Mr. Sarkozy is on a mission to persuade the 53-member grouping to take a stronger stance on climate change.

With British Prime Minister Gordon Brown having described the current meeting in Trinidad as an “important springboard towards Copenhagen”, and the recognition that among the Commonwealth countries are members of the G20, besides the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, India and South Africa, CHOGM 2009 is being seen as a platform to consolidate a stand on climate change negotiations.

India, which has been playing a leading role in steering the negotiations on climate change, is being urged to use its influence with other CHOGM members to arrive at a consensus which could form a basis for the parleys at the Copenhagen summit starting on December 7.

Mr. Sarkozy who is here on a day’s visit on his way back from Brazil made it a priority to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the afternoon. Dr. Singh also had a meeting with the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. With a special session on climate change scheduled on Friday, the emphasis placed by the attendance of Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Brown’s repeated exhortations to the summit to focus on climate change were seen as not too subtle attempts to take control of the negotiating direction of the talks at Copenhagen.

About half the Commonwealth members are island states, many threatened by rising sea levels and are pushing for an agreement on carbon emissions at Copenhagen. India has reiterated that it is committed to the principles of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and has indicated that whatever outcome in Copenhagen must be in consonance with the UNFCC and the Bali Action Plan.

Indian officials here familiar with the negotiations said that India was in favour of the summit carrying a strong political message to Copenhagen which would balance the obligations of the developed and developing countries. In other words, the four elements of a climate change regime, mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology must have equal priority in evolving a document on climate change.

A legally binding document would have the commitment to provide financial resources and technology to developing countries undertaking climate change obligations, written into it and thereby would represent a sharing of the burden between developed and developing nations.

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