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What Rotary contributed to COP26, and how it was achieved

Transcript of a zoom briefing given to the Environmental Sustainability Rotarian Action Group (ESRAG) by Ms Judith Diment, MBE, Rotary delegation leader at COP26, Dean of the Rotary International Representative Network to the UN and international agencies.


“COP26 was the first time that Rotary International had an official delegation, which I was privileged to lead in my role as Dean of the Rotary Representatives to the UN and international agencies. Our representative network has thirty-one Rotary representatives, and we represent Rotary at the UN and 21 other agencies. I have quite a lot of experience, in fact over 10 years’ experience of representing Rotary at UN and other international events, including our global Polio eradication initiative, working with our partners WHO, UNICEF, US Centre for Disease Control, and ‘The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’.

I have also been attending, for many years, Commonwealth Health Ministers’ conferences, Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings, World Health Summits and World Health Assemblies. I have organised many advocacy events at both Houses of Parliament in the UK, also at the European Parliament in Brussels, and Chatham House. So, I have had quite a lot of experience in dealing with politicians and ministers at all levels. This all stood me in very good stead for leading our delegation at COP26 in Edinburgh in November 2021.We started planning in February.

Our delegation comprised five Rotarians: myself, as leader of the delegation, (centre) Douglas Wills, who is the alternate representative for Rotary to the Commonwealth in London (to my right), and Professor Tariq Durrani and John Macpherson, from the Rotary Club of Hellensborough Garelochside (extreme left and right in the picture). Not shown here was our fifth team member, Ms Karen Kendrick-Hands, Co-Founder and Director of ESRAG. Rotary International President Shekhar Mehta, (also not shown here) was able to attend COP26 for two days.) Baroness Scotland, Secretary General of the Commonwealth, shares our picture with us (to my left).

We were limited in the number of people we could have in the delegation. Because of Covid, the UK Government, which was hosting COP26, restricted the numbers. I think we applied to have eight or ten delegates, but we were restricted to five – in fact Tariq, although he is a Rotarian, did not come as part of our Rotary delegation. He is a very eminent scientist and came on behalf of one of his scientific associations. Rotary has had UN observer status since the formation of the UN after World War II. COP26 was hosted by the UK Government, and there were more than 190 country delegations, with more than 1600 international government organisations and national government organisations.

The conference was organised in two areas: a Blue Zone, and a Green Zone. The Blue Zone held the Governments’ plenary sessions and the delegates’ pavilions, also individual government and NGO pavilions, and was only open to registered delegates. The Green Zone, which was on the other side of the River Clyde, was open to the public and included exhibitors from business and NGOs. We did visit the Green Zone while we were there, but Rotary’s role was very much participatory in the events taking place in the delegations’ pavilions in the Blue Zone.

Partly because of Covid there was very little opportunity for observers to engage in the main plenary discussions or influence them. After 13 days of intense negotiations, COP26 concluded on Saturday the 13thof November with every party at COP26, representing almost 200 countries, agreeing the Glasgow Climate Pact. This global agreement will accelerate action on climate in this decade and finally completes the Paris Accord. A record number of delegates gathered in Glasgow for this critical COP. Powerful progress has been made since the UK was designated the incoming Presidency.

The aim of the UK COP26 Presidency was to keep alive the hope of limiting the rise of global temperature to 1.5deg.C and the Glasgow Climate Pact does just that. Combined with increased ambition and action from the countries, 1.5deg. C remains in sight, but it will only be achieved if every country delivers on what it has pledged. The UK Government insisted that COP26 had to be a face-to-face meeting, as it is impossible to conduct detailed negotiations, often well into the night, on Zoom.

The key things coming out of COP26 were an agreement to reduce Methane, [a fossil fuel commonly known as Liquid Natural Gas (LNG). It is 25 times more lethal than CO2 to global warming if released, as a gas directly into the atmosphere, particularly arising from cattle farming and melting Arctic permafrost]; a phasing out of coal–although they didn’t get as much as they wanted, because India and China didn’t agree with the original statement, but they have agreed to phase it out more gradually; also stopping the destruction of forests: and encouraging reforestation. So, there were some clear gains – and I am absolutely convinced that we would never have achieved that if we did it virtually, by Zoom - I know there is a lot of criticism about thousands of people flying into Glasgow-but in fact, sometimes you just need to do that. I really felt that this was a conference where you absolutely needed to be face-to-face, to be able to meet with people, discuss with people, and to make good progress.

Because of the scale of the conference, and the small size of the Rotary delegation, it was essential to have a clear focus, based on existing relationships, in order to achieve anything meaningful. So, my main focus was with the 54 countries of the Commonwealth, building on engagement, over the last seven years, with the Commonwealth Secretariat and High Commissions, and maximising the opportunity of our Rotary President being from India, the largest Commonwealth country.

So I had five priorities, based on a briefing meeting I had with President Shekhar in February, and his brief to me was that he would attend COP26 if I could organise a high-level discussion with ministers. He wanted to work at ministerial level- he didn’t want to come in and talk to junior assistants and NGOs - he wanted to talk with ministers, as clearly, by talking to ministers that’s  where you can make a difference, and change lives for the better. So my first priority was developing a high level engagement for the Rotary International President with Government ministers and heads of NGOs.

And we achieved this by working at COP26 through the Commonwealth Blue Charter team on the high-level Round Table groups, attended by the Secretary General of the Commonwealth and also seven environment ministers, ambassadors, and experts from NGOs and academia.

And you might ask why did we choose mangroves? The reason for this is that in 2018, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, the Commonwealth launched the Commonwealth Blue Charter, and, arising from this, are ten Commonwealth Action Groups, on different aspects of the environment. One of these is the Commonwealth Action Group on Mangroves, and when President Barry Rassin was in London in 2019 we had a meeting with the Commonwealth Blue Charter team, and we discussed the possibility of Rotary working with the Commonwealth on mangroves in the Commonwealth countries.

And, of course, the importance of mangroves is, first of all, 50% of mangroves have been lost in the last 30 years, and one of the things I learned at COP26 is that mangroves have the highest uptake of CO2 of any trees, so they are very, very important from that point of view, but, of course, mangroves also preserve the habitats of wildlife and fish, and many of the local coastal communities are dependent on fishing in the mangrove areas. But most importantly, having a strong mangrove development along coastal areas helps to stop sea erosion when you have hurricanes and typhoons.

So this is the reason for choosing mangroves, and we had some seven ministers or their ambassadors at the High Level Round Table on mangroves at COP26 hosted by President Shekhar Mehta and the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Baroness Scotland.

Rotary President Mehta is seen here with Secretary General of the Commonwealth Baroness Scotland

Before we got to COP26 I had a lot of discussions with the minister in Kenya and his staff, and also discussed it with Rotarians in Kenya - where they are planting mangroves, and I was pretty confident that we would get one project in Kenya as a result of this round table. President Mehta was much more ambitious than me, and he said, when I told him the ministers that were coming, the day before the meeting was due - from Bangladesh, India, Kenya, the Maldives, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania, - he said, “You should do mangrove projects in all of those countries. There’s no reason why we can’t.”

The lady sitting on his left in the photo below is the deputy minister from Bangladesh, and she made a comment at the end of our meeting. She said,” This is the best meeting that I have been to, and I recommend that we meet again next year at COP27, to see what progress has been made.”

The lady sitting to President Shekhar’s right is the Minister from Sri Lanka, who is also the Chair of the Commonwealth Action Group on Mangroves, and it was wonderful to have her present at this meeting. And so, that was my first aim, to organise a high - level, Round Table discussion that President Shekhar could host and lead, and it was hugely successful.

A second aim was strengthening relations with delegates from the UN and UN agencies, including the UN FCCC (UN Framework Conventions on Climate Change), which, of course, organised COP26 with the UK, also with the United Nations Environment Programme, UN Habitat and key governments and other international agencies and NGOs, and we achieved this by attending many side events.

We got to COP26 by 8:00 o'clock most mornings and we were there until about 6:00 o'clock most evenings. We went through the programme and decided which - I mean there are hundreds of meetings we obviously might have attended, and one had to be selective - and I attended many meetings, including six meetings where mangroves were being discussed in one way or another.

We attended many side events, but we also had one-to-one meetings and some of the pavilion meetings we attended were lengthy. For example, Bangladesh had a very long meeting on mangroves, attended by their minister and deputy minister, and there was a Rotarian member of ESRAG, and he's very involved with an NGO planting mangroves in Bangladesh. We also went to a key meeting in the Kenya pavilion. We got the invitation to that through Doug Wills, and that was attended by President Kenyatta and Evgeny Lebedev. Evgeny Lebedev owns the Evening Standard and Independent newspapers in London and is passionate about wildlife conservation in Kenya. That was a very inspirational meeting, talking about restoring habitats as well as preserving them, in Kenya.

I attended another Commonwealth meeting - another one on mangrove restoration - with ministers from Australia, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. Also on the panel was another Rotarian, Steve Crooks, a British Rotarian, who now works running an environmental consultancy in California. That was a wonderful thing about COP26.We met quite a lot of Rotarians who were there under different umbrellas. Steve Crooks was there as a UN advisor on the environment.

Another aim I had was to create opportunities for action by developing environmental service projects with partners, and as I've mentioned already, we’ve achieved this through the round table discussions on the commitment to start mangrove projects in seven countries, but we also had one-to-one meetings, with some gender-based organisations, so were looking to follow up some gender - based projects, following several bilateral meetings we had with President Shekhar.

We had meetings with the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate and several women's organisations, and we are going to be progressing how we can work with these organisations. Again, with the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate, one of their lead directors is a Rotarian, from the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.

The fourth thing was to give young people a voice, and we achieved this with a wonderful project organised by the Helensburgh Garelochside Rotary Club, through their COP26 poster competition for Primary schools.


The twenty best short-listed posters were exhibited in five locations in Glasgow, and in the Commonwealth pavilion. The picture you see here are the posters in the Commonwealth pavilion. On November the 5th, the first Friday of the conference, the whole day was devoted to youth and the environment, and we had a session at the Commonwealth pavilion. I was able to give a short speech, but also, I was able to announce the poster competition winners.

We had quotes provided by former Prime Minister Rt Hon Theresa May, and by Holger Knaack, the Rotary International President 2020 – 21, and one from the Lord Provost of Glasgow. So these posters had a very high profile. All 20 short-listed posters were displayed in the Glasgow Town Hall where the Lord Provost is based (below left) and in the airport lounge another set were framed and exhibited superbly (below right). The display will be there for three months.

A Rotary day at Glasgow airport is being planned for local schools by Tariq Durrani with John Macpherson. And the Lord Provost’s staff, have requested to retain their display for an art exhibition on COP26 planned later in 2022. And plans are also being considered to expand the competition for COP27.

I mentioned that Doug Wills was one of our delegates. He’s a Rotarian from London, but he's also the managing editor of the Evening Standard and Independent newspapers, and he did some wonderful stories while we were actually at COP and got the coverage you see (top left) on the Evening Standard on the media posting on November 5th..And he also got coverage for the mangroves round table, with quotes from Baroness Scotland, Secretary General of the Commonwealth and President Shekhar.

We also hosted some receptions because we wanted to involve Rotary in Scotland and to give them a platform to create awareness. We achieved this, again by working with the Rotary Club of Helensburgh Garelochside, who I thank for welcoming me and helping me organise a reception at the Trades Hall, and a small reception for the first night when President Shekhar arrived. President Shekhar gave Paul Harris Fellows to Tariq Durrani and John Macpherson for their outstanding work on the poster competition and the outstanding work on getting it publicised right across Glasgow.

This was the 3rd place poster by Lucy Santer who was from a school in Buckinghamshire, Pipers Corner, submitted by the Amersham Rotary Club.

COP26  Talk by Judith Diment

Second place was Austin Harris from Aberdeenshire–I think the concepts of these posters are just outstanding,

 - And first place went to Emma O’Donnell from Kirkburton Middle school in Yorkshire, and it is such a clever concept. So we were able to involve Rotary in Scotland through the poster competition, and apart from having the posters at the Trades Hall and in the airport, they were also exhibited in three of the main hotels in Glasgow.  It was just stunning.

I would sum up Rotary's attendance at COP26 as putting Rotary on the global environment map. I received numerous comments from delegates how pleased they were to see Rotary participating, and many requests to work with Rotary going forward. The importance of partnerships and involving civil society was mentioned in most meetings I attended, and we can build on this for COP27 in Egypt by involving our Rotary representatives to key agencies in Africa, including the United Nations Environment Programme, UN Habitat, the African Union, the African Development Bank and UNICEF.

And, tomorrow I've got a meeting at the Commonwealth with Doug Wills and Heidi Prislan where we are going to develop a strategy for getting the projects in the several countries that were announced by President Shekhar, so we are starting on that process tomorrow. We look forward to working with Rotarians right across the world, and we will work to help support these projects in their countries and also with ESRAG, as working with Rotary Action Groups is one of the remits of the Rotary Representative Network.


So I'm happy to take questions. Thank you very much.”


A Q&A session was then introduced by Malcolm Rooney, ESRAG Co-Chair:

“Okay, thank you very much. I will run through a few questions which may not have been covered.”

Q Do you have a continuing role after COP26 and, if so, how does this look like with ESRAG?

A -  My appointment to the representative network is a Rotary International appointment and it goes through 2022. I shall certainly be working on this until next June, and I look forward to working with ESRAG and other Rotarians on these projects.

Q  What did the RI President say about India, as a nation, not committing to coal phase-out?

A - Well I've not discussed that with President Shekhar because  he literally came in for two days, which was a massive commitment for him, and we are very indebted to him for doing that, but he had to fly back to a very big Rotary Institute meeting in Tucson AZ, and the announcement about India not committing didn't come out really until the Friday or Saturday so, by then President Shekhar was back in the US, so I can't comment on that.

Q My question is fairly straight forward. I take it the delegation went to COP26 with many things they hoped to achieve. What progress, added to meeting in various areas, are important to Rotary worldwide? How much of that do you think you managed to progress successfully?

A - Well I think that's what I've just outlined in my talk actually. As I said, the environment is such a huge topic. The conference had 30,000 delegates and there are meetings on all aspects of the environment and climate change. It's impossible for a small delegation to cover the whole spectrum of environment and so, as I said in my talk, I focused on five things. The main aim was President Shekhar’s high-level round table discussion at ministerial level on mangroves, actually homing in on something that is practical and do-able, where we can get some action and some projects coming out of it.

Q The plans forCOP27. What and how can the delegation improve next year?

A - As I mentioned at the end of my talk, I think the way forward is to work with the UN agencies. We have 31 representatives in UN agencies, very talented, dedicated individuals, many of whom have been ambassadors for their country. It’s a very high level. Skilled people, and I think the best way forward for us is to work with these agencies, such as I mentioned, the UN Environment Programme in Nairobi, UN Habitat in Nairobi, UNICEF, and UN FCCC, which was the organiser of COP26,  and incidentally, one of their directors, Dr Paul Desanker, who came to our high-level discussion at COP26 hosted by President Shekhar, is  also  a Rotarian, being President of the Rotary Club of Bonn.

It was extraordinary how we have Rotarian’s popping up everywhere. I'm used to this as wherever I go round the world, you always find the Rotarians in key posts. So having Dr Paul Desanker at UN FCCC could be a huge benefit to us going forward, and he was extremely helpful throughout the process, getting the delegation to COP26, and while we were there.

Q On a question about the necessity of Rotary delegates flying around the globe to conferences; Judith, would you like to expand on that?

A – Rotarians were working, meeting people right through every day and we were not there having a ball. It was jolly, jolly hard work and when I got back home each day, I was absolutely exhausted. I would say the same thing is true about the Rotary International Convention, although at the conventions there are post-events, and you have a lot of fun. But it's not all about that. Plenary sessions of the Rotary International Conventions are serious. It’s a serious conference with world-class speakers, all on really important topics, and you cannot do that in the same way on Zoom.

Last year I participated in more than 250 Zoom meetings and, yes, it's a way of connecting, and it was great being able to connect with people all around the world very usefully, just sitting at my desk at home, but it's not the same as meeting face-to-face. There is absolutely no question in my mind, and I pride myself on my networking skills, and I can tell you it's extremely difficult to network on Zoom. But it's much easier when you're face-to-face in a room with people, and you can engage with them.

Q Will mangroves be a continued focus of concern for Rotary after COP26?

A – Well, certainly going forward in the next 12 months, there’s a brief from President Shekhar: we have to get mangrove projects going in all these seven countries so, yes, we will certainly be working on that. But that's not to say, you know, we're not working on other things. That’s just one of many areas that Rotary clubs will work on.

Q Thank you. How is Rotary planning to up the ante with the environment for COP15? We did it with the campaign to end polio. How can we get youth service clubs involved, and the findings from COP26?

A – Well, my experience is this. Young people feel very strongly about the environment, and for some it should be very easy to engage with your Rotaract clubs, and I think Tariq and John showed it with their poster competition, despite the pandemic, despite schools and lockdowns, overstretched because of Covid. They still had nearly 4,000 entries from school children wanting to express themselves with regard to climate change. I think that speaks for itself, and I think it beholds every Rotary Club to get their Rotaract and Interact clubs involved with the environment, and with all other aspects of Rotary action. For clarification: COP15, is a Biodiversity COP, a different series from the Climate COPs.

Q How and by whom was the Rotary delegation determined? To what extent was ESRAG GB&I and the Environmental Sustainability group represented at cop 26?

A - Karen Kendrick-Hands was the representative for ESRAG. As I said, we only had 5 delegates, although I think eight were submitted and so four of the ESRAG members were not able to come   because of the Covid restrictions. The selection was done through Rotary International, and we've been having Zoom meetings with ESRAG, both the International ESRAG and ESRAG in Great Britain and Ireland, mostly monthly meetings, sometimes twice a month, since February. So we had very close liaison with ESRAG and other interested Rotarians leading up to COP26.

Q You haven't touched on nuclear energy. Was nuclear energy a subject of debate and controversy? Or is there a consensus that nuclear energy is a necessary means to reach the COP26 reductions targets?

A - I think I did see one or two meetings in the programme, but I don't know what the outcome of those were with COP26.

Q Rotary action groups have dedicated people with technical expertise. How can you with your role strengthen our relationship with UN agencies? That would be fantastic and incredibly helpful for progress, to work more with UN agencies.

A - As the Rotary representative network, part of our remit is to work with Rotary action groups. We are doing that quite successfully with several action groups and we would like to work well with ESRAG.

Q What realistic impact will Rotary be able to make during 2022? Are we being taken seriously?

A – Yes.  I think we'll be able to make an impact. If we can get the mangrove projects off the ground, and we're also looking at a Maldives project on plastics, if we can get some of those moving, that will certainly have an impact. There's no question in my mind that Rotary is being taken seriously. People, ministers, heads of NGOs, everybody I met in COP26, they were all delighted that Rotary was there, being part of the discussion.

Paraphrasing President Shekhar, he said something to the effect that “Climate Change has been seen as a political matter. Now it is an “existential question”, and to my mind the future of humanity will be determined by political decision-making.

Q How does Rotary engage with politicians?

A – Well, I think through the work that we do. We need to do advocacy with politicians - to highlight the importance of mitigating climate trends. And doing a lot of work with the Commonwealth. Many of the Commonwealth countries, both in the Caribbean and the Pacific, are in danger of being completely swamped if we don’t keep to the 1.5degrees temperature target. The islands will just disappear. There’s a wonderful former Rotary scholar working with Oxford University at the moment. He was out in Australia for a couple of years and did some research on the impact of climate change on rising sea levels in the Pacific. I think his estimate is that if we don't stop it, -I mean it is a humanitarian crisis, no question about it, - more than three million people could be become migrants and have to leave their islands.

That is massive. You know we have a terrible migrant problem in the UK at the moment, but three million people is a huge number of people. And it is not only the Pacific, the same thing threatens the Caribbean. There is a lot of research going on, but one of the things that really struck me at COP26 is the commitment, the determination, and people wanting to work together to really make a difference, to stop climate change. I thought there was a huge will to do this from everyone I met and spoke to there.

Q Were population issues part of the discussions?

A - Not that I was aware of.

Q Is there an opportunity for clubs and districts to get on board with this mangrove project, and when is that possible? And in what way would that be helpful?

A - Absolutely! As I said, tomorrow I've got a meeting with the Commonwealth Secretariat because in the countries that President Shekhar listed,  (several are Commonwealth countries), the feeling is that we wanted some sort of template, so that we are all working in the same way. I think there could be scope if some of the pilot studies that we are trying to get off the ground happen, there may be scope for quite a big global demand. You know, joining up countries, say, in East Africa. Joining up countries through their Rotary Clubs, and the same, maybe, in the Pacific. I think there's a huge scope. We need Rotary Cubs to get involved.

Q What are the proper channels to follow when Rotarians wish to contact UN organisations? Is there a protocol for contacting individual UN organisations?

A - I would suggest, in the first instance, that they come through the Rotary representative network in the UN, because we have representatives at all the key agencies, and they could be the best conduits. If you want to contact or work with them, do it through the Rotary representatives to the UN.

The thing that impressed me was a comment by John Kerry, US Presidential Envoy on Climate and Energy, leader of the US delegation, in his closing speech. He said,“COP26 was a starting line. What we make of it is really up to every individual one of us.”


For a full copy of this article as a Word document, contact Francis Phillips at: fephillips27@msn.com

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