RI President Shekhar Mehta urges countries at COP26 to protect mangroves

RI President Shekhar Mehta urges countries at COP26 to protect mangroves

By Ryan Hyland

Rotary International President Shekhar Mehta joined the Rotary delegation to the 26th United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on 10 November to explore ways Rotary can work on environmental challenges, including by restoring mangroves, a crucial ecosystem that can mitigate the effects of climate change in coastal areas.

The climate summit, also known as COP26 (short for Conference of the Parties), brought together nearly 100 heads of state and governments over a two-week period to set new targets for fossil fuel emissions. This was Rotary’s first time at the annual conference.

Mehta co-led a roundtable discussion with Patricia Scotland, secretary-general of the Commonwealth, that focused on the critical role mangroves play in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Mangroves sequester large amounts of carbon and also protect against storm surges and coastal erosion, filter pollutants, and provide habitat for aquatic life, among other benefits.

Of the 54 Commonwealth countries, 33 contain mangrove ecosystems that together represent 22% of the world’s mangroves. Over the last half century, 50% of the world’s mangrove systems have been lost due to climate change and rapid urbanization.

“The sea is washing away coastlines because mangroves have gone,” said Mehta. “We are losing our ecosystem. Once mangroves die, our marine system and coastal communities will be lost.”

Climate and environmental representatives and experts from more than 20 countries attended the round table and pledged to act alongside Rotary to help save and restore mangroves.

The members of Rotary’s delegation to COP26 were Judith Diment, dean of the Rotary Representative Network, which comprises 32 unofficial ambassadors to the UN and other international organizations; Doug Wills, Rotary representative to the Commonwealth; Karen Kendrick-Hands, who attended on behalf of the Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group; and John MacPherson and Tariq Durrani, who helped organize a competition for schoolchildren in the UK to create posters for display at the conference.

Over the past five years, The Rotary Foundation has committed more than $18 million toward projects that support sustainable, community-based environmental projects. On 1 July, the Foundation began accepting applications for global grants that support the environment, which was added as an area of focus in 2020. Potential projects include using renewable energy to combat environmental degradation, growing food sustainably, and protecting water sources.