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Rotary International President Shekhar Mehta speaks at COP26

By Dave King | RIBI, News & Features

Published Date: November 10, 2021

Rotary International President, Shekhar Mehta, has declared that mangrove restoration will become one of the key threads of Rotary’s environmental focus.

Shekhar was speaking today at COP26, the United Nations’ Climate Change conference in Glasgow, the biggest showpiece event of his Covid-hit Presidential year so far.

He kicked off a session at the Commonwealth Pavilion, which was attended by a number of dignitaries from across the Commonwealth, including Baroness Scotland, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, as well as representatives from several global environmental organisations.

"When Rotary focuses on something, it shows it means business.”

The event was held under the banner of the Commonwealth Blue Charter initiative, an agreement by all 54 Commonwealth countries to work closely on environment issues.

Chief among those issues is mangrove restoration, regarded as one of the most effective ways to accelerate climate change mitigation. The carbon found in mangroves’ ecosystems is reckoned to be up to five times more effective at absorbing carbon than tree-planting.

“The impact of climate change is rising sea levels, tornadoes and cyclones, and the best and the first defender of these in tropical coastal communities are the mangroves,” said Shekhar.

Shekhar Mehta with Dr Paul Desanker who is with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Unfortunately, he said, large areas of mangroves have disappeared. Between 30% to 50% of mangrove cover has been lost globally over the past 50 years. Locals living in coastal regions have used the mangroves as fuel for cooking or cleared the land for more profitable ventures.

The Rotary President, making his first official visit to Great Britain & Ireland in his new role, pinpointed need in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Seychelles, Kenya and Tanzania where Rotary programmes of mangrove planting and education could work.

“There is the money and there is the hard work from Rotary to make this happen,” he told the delegates. “I know this is something which Rotarians would want to do. We will be hands-on.”

It was a point seized on by Baroness Scotland. Responding to Shekhar Mehta’s commitment to the mangrove projects, she said: “Rotary says it has the money so, Mr President, tell me the deal, and we will spend the money extremely well.”

"The impact of climate change is rising sea levels, tornadoes and cyclones, and the best and the first defender of these in tropical coastal communities are the mangroves.”

Afterwards, Shekhar Mehta added: “Any meeting that I come to, I always want to take some action, and I am happy to look to start projects in eight different countries – India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Seychelles, Kenya and Tanzania. I heard what can be done and what needs to be done.

“We heard at the meeting that just random planting of mangroves is not viable. Someone else made a good suggestion about providing women with eco-friendly stoves so that they don’t cut the mangroves for fuel. These are ideas we need to take forward.

“I have suggested that, within a month, we will have another Zoom call to decide a framework and what is going to be the reach of these programmes. We are committed to taking this forward.”

“When Rotary focuses on something, it shows it means business.”

Asked whether the mangrove project could, one day, be put on a footing with polio as a key element of the environmental focus, the Rotary International President was cautious. He said that they would need to judge the initial impact of these first projects over the next 12 months to see how the project could be progressed further.

“That’s when we will see whether this will be a central part of our work on the environment,” he added.

Shekhar told the Commonwealth gathering how Rotary has spent more than $20 million on environmental projects over the past years, and how this one issue has now become the seventh area of focus.

“When Rotary focuses on something, it shows it means business,” he said. “One example is polio which we have been involved with for 41 years, and Rotarians are very passionate about the environment.”

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