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It now seems like quite a long time since many of us met in August 2008 in Tunis at the IGU Congress and we held the 9th General Assembly of the CGB. It was so good being able to meet many members of the CGB, and particularly past, present and future Committee members. It is reassuring to know that Geography has a strong presence in universities across the Commonwealth. I was particularly impressed with the large representation from the Indian sub-continent, who comprised almost half of those attending the General Assembly.
The new Officers and Committee members took up their roles on 1st January 2009. As President, I firmly believe that I have a really good team of Officers to work with. Professor Elizabeth Thomas-Hope, our new Secretary, has been investigating future possibilities for keeping in touch with members, whilst Professor Nigel Walford, as incoming Treasurer, has taken over management of funding. Nigel has been working closely with our previous Treasurer, Professor Denis Dwyer, who has been associated with the CGB for over three decades, and who was such an able CGB Treasurer for over 16 years. Both Denis, and our Past President, Associate Professor Victor Savage are now Honorary Vice-Presidents, and they both continue to maintain good links with the other officers and myself. I am also very pleased that Dr Alan Dixon has continued to manage the website and production of the annual Newsletter. In an organisation like the CGB, it is so important to maintain continuity between officers and committee members, and to continue to draw upon their very considerable and varied expertise.
One of the first CGB events in 2009 was the Cape Town Workshop on ‘Developing Action-Oriented Discourse: Geography, CSOs and Climate Change’. The Workshop was held at Breakwater Lodge on Cape Town’s Waterfront from 27-30 January, and its organisation was masterminded by Prof. Denis Dwyer, ably assisted by Dr Peter Johnston and Professors Michael Meadows and Ronald Davies. Some 26 delegates attended the conference, from Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, the UK and Zambia. It was particularly useful having David Kalete attending from the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, who spoke about the activities of the Commonwealth Foundation and Secretariat and the Commonwealth People’s Forum. The Workshop proved to be a most informative and stimulating gathering- in fact, just the sort of event that the CGB has gained such a strong reputation for over many years! My sincere thanks go to Professor Denis Dwyer and to the local organiser, Dr Peter Johnston. Denis has produced a detailed and very interesting report, which is reproduced elsewhere in this Newsletter.
Unlike earlier CGB workshops, which mainly included young academics, in Cape Town a special effort was made to also include participation from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations (CSOs). A particularly important output from the Cape Town workshop was a list of proposals recommended for action by the Commonwealth Foundation and Secretariat (CFS). These are;
- That the CFS should support the preparation of national inventories of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) concerned with problems of climate change.
- That CFS should support a professional training programme for CSOs, with the participation of CSO training personnel and academics.
- That CFS should support the networking of CSOs, with the appointment of a series of regional coordinators.
- That CFS should consider how best to encourage the establishment of National Climate Change Committees where they do not already exist.
- That CFS should initiate a review of the response of the Commonwealth’s least developed countries and, in particular, the small island states, to problems of climate change with special reference to the roles of local academics and CSOs.
Later in the year, on the 23 June, Professor Nigel Walford and myself visited the Commonwealth Foundation in London and had a series of very informative meetings with the Foundation’s Director, Dr Mark Collins, and a number of his senior colleagues. From our discussions it became evident that in future the CGB will need to identify and apply for specific initiatives in order to get funding. The Foundation was interested in possibly funding a CGB workshop on urban agriculture, and there is also interest in the relationships between culture and development. Any future initiatives would need to include NGO, CSO, as well as academic, representation. I would like to encourage CGB members and readers of this Newsletter to come forward with suggestions of possible future CGB activities. Please let us know of any ideas you might have for workshops, research initiatives, field-based work, etc.
At the time of writing this Report, we are looking forward to receiving news of the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which is being held in Trinidad and Tobago from 27-29 November. Further details can be found on the CHOGM website; http://chogm2009.org/home/node/27.
Finally, I would like to report that I will be working hard in the next two years to strengthen links between the CGB and the New Zealand Geographical Society (NZGS), in my capacity as President of both organizations. I am also very keen to strengthen links between the CGB and other national geographical organizations, and in December, I will be meeting with the Director of the UK-based Royal Geographical Society, Dr Rita Gardner, to discuss possible future collaboration.
I would like to wish you all a very happy and successful 2013.
Professor Tony Binns
University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand