by Dr. Pat Armstrong, ESRAG Chair, and Dr. Yasar Atacik, ESRAG Chair-Elect

Pakistani Rotarians on front lines of climate crisis.

RI Director Faiz Kidwai and RI President Gordon McInally outside the tent of a family whose home was destroyed by the vast devastation of Pakistan’s 2022 floods. Many villages were still submerged in April, 2023.

Pakistan’s catastrophic 2022 floods, Europe’s deadly wildfires, and the titanic cyclones slamming Africa are just three of the rising global toll of disasters which justify the urgency of the Synthesis of the Sixth Assessment Report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR6), which made global headlines in March. ESRAG’s 2022 Policy Statement on Climate Action summarizes the global scientific consensus:

  • The science is clear.
  • Climate change is happening now.
  • Humans have caused it.
  • It is serious and life-threatening.
  • We know how to fix it, but
  • We need to act quickly, ambitiously, and sustainably, and
  • We need to act together.

ESRAG’s network of skilled and dedicated volunteers are here to equip you to choose and implement life-saving climate action.  Leading by example, you will inspire and encourage the people and organizations that look up to you to act as well. In our climate policy statement, you’ll see that the Rotary Four Way Test guides this work and gives us all the courage to persevere.

If you’re attending the Rotary International Convention in Melbourne, come a day early for inspiration from ESRAG’s Environment Action Summit on May 25. Learn about projects on mangroves, solar power for community development, and more. Melbourne is home to one of us (Pat) and we’d both love to meet you in person! Register here.

In this blog, we’ll explain why climate action is a Rotary priority. We’ll share some of the IPCC’s scientific findings, plus troubling truths on climate finance: a symptom of the social and financial realities that are slowing down the world’s response and accelerating humankind’s existential risks.

We’ll share examples of how Rotarians are uniquely positioned to bypass these barriers to help the most vulnerable communities build resilience. Then we’ll link you to ESRAG’s online resources, which we’ve been building through worldwide virtual seminars and team meetings since 2020.  You’ll discover an array of effective climate actions described in videos, articles, and manuals. Use them to find projects that fit your club’s context and capacity.

Why Rotary is taking action: Rotary’s Directors and Trustees voted unanimously in 2020 to adopt Environmental Sustainability as a new Area of Focus. Over the next two years they built and adopted a comprehensive environmental policy which includes specific, evidence-based actions to meet the existential peril of climate change. ESRAG’s mission is to help Rotarians transform these powerful words into powerful action. We’re writing to you as ESRAG’s Chair and Chair-Elect to connect you to ESRAG’s technical assistance and moral support.

IPCC Key Findings: “Human activities, principally through emissions of greenhouse gases, have unequivocally caused global warming,” says the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report in its opening section [A.1].  “Global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase with unequal historical and ongoing contributions arising from unsustainable energy use, land use, and land-use change, lifestyles, and patterns across regions, between and within countries, and among individuals.”

The report quantifies the massive unfairness of who emits the most planet-warming gas.  “The 10% of households with the highest per capita emissions contribute 34–45% of global consumption-based household GHG emissions, while the bottom 50% contribute 13–15%,” it reports.

But wealthy nations have failed year after year to fulfill their pledges for $100 billion in annual public climate finance, even as rising needs have ballooned far beyond that figure. The Loss and Damage Fund agreed on by the Climate Conference participants last fall is supposed to close this gap, but is nowhere near operation yet. The OECD reports that over 70% of the public climate funding that has been provided is in loans, not grants, saddling hard-hit countries with debt.

RI President-Elect Gordon McInally was clearly shattered by his tour of Pakistan last fall. The record-shattering monsoons and Himalayan glacial melt of 2022 submerged a third of the nation, devastating farmland and infrastructure and bringing an onslaught of malaria and dengue. Speaking in March, 2023 to the BASRAN conference of Rotarians working to prevent pollution of the Baltic, he called out the injustice of climate change: that Pakistan, which generates less than 1% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, must now rebuild destroyed communities and millions of people’s livelihoods. President-Elect Gordon called on Rotarians to bring hope to the world through climate action.

The Rotary tests of fairness and benefit to all concerned shape our urgent call to action here.  ESRAG can help you inform and equip your community to take the first essential action: reducing carbon emissions. The second is to increase funding to help the most vulnerable communities build resilience to current and future climate harms including drought, floods, and crop failure. Part of that can be through Rotarians’ generosity and ability to implement cost-effective humanitarian projects.  Part of that will be advocacy with the businesses, financial institutions, and national governments you influence.

This month’s update on RI Director Faiz Kidwai’s Smart Villages project exemplifies how Rotary can overcome inequity for small, impoverished communities by direct Club-to-Club grants. Pakistani clubs are encouraging villagers to use their traditional building skills and local materials they can make or grow themselves, to build climate- resilient structures. Rotarians will help villages finance new infrastructure for health and economic development.

Launch Your Climate Action!

Pakistani villagers will be able to protect their homes and health by combining new flood control systems and traditional building materials. Sketch provided by Faiz Kidwai.

Another resilience initiative perfect for Rotary is Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR), an incredibly cost-effective strategy African farmers are using to resurrect eroded soils, sequester carbon, and restore local food security and income. Click here to see the ESRAG webinar by FMNR founder and World Vision Climate Action Advisor Tony Rinaudo.

The IPCC reports that worldwide trends – such as the expansion of wind and solar energy –  have slowed the rate of global warming. But our pace is far too slow. “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all. Climate resilient development integrates adaptation and mitigation to advance sustainable development for all… The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years.” (C.1).

Fortunately, effective ways to reduce emissions are becoming far more available and affordable. For example, new tax credits under the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act significantly reduce Americans’ cost and payback time for efficiency retrofits like heat pumps.

Those of us who live in high-emission economies have corresponding power to benefit the world by making ethical, practical changes informed by what we now know.  ESRAG’s Task Forces explain how many climate actions benefit us in other ways. For example:

  • Last month Jaideep Malaviya of ESRAG’s Renewable Energy Task Force reported how Indian Rotarians can help farmers finance solar water pumps. When farmers discover they can earn new income by selling excess electricity to the local utility, they turn off the pumps when they don’t need to irrigate, which conserves water they need to save their crops during droughts. Powering the pumps with sunshine instead of diesel fuel saves farmers money, and reduces particulate pollution which is a deadly risk to community health.
  • ESRAG’s Plant Rich Diet Task Force offers a 15-Day Challenge to equip you to adopt one of Project Drawdown’s highest-impact climate actions. They will provide you a daily email with delicious recipes, cooking videos, and tips on how eating less meat reduces not only atmospheric CO2, but your own your risk of chronic disease.
Earth Day Plant-Rich Diet Challenge

Celebrate Earth Day by signing up for ESRAG’s 15-Day Plant-Rich Diet Challenge.

Here is a list of some of ESRAG’s free resources.  Please browse our website to explore them, share them widely with your network, and sit in on webinars and task force meetings that intrigue you.

  • ESRAG Task Forces are specialized teams to provide you free technical assistance. They meet by Zoom and you’re welcome to join to learn or to share your expertise on Clean Cooking, Climate Solutions, Food Waste Solutions, Plant-Rich Diet, and Renewable Energy.
  • ESRAG Initiatives provide toolkits for successful projects, including Habitat Solar, Lunch out of Landfills, Lithium-Ion Recycling, Operation Pollination – and several more. at this link you’ll also find valuable tools like the iRotree impact app, the En-ROADS climate solutions simulator (putting groups in the driver’s seat), and Every Club Climate Friendly.

Our Rotary International theme for 2023-24 is Create Hope in the World. The IPCC report offers hope: “Deep, rapid and sustained mitigation and accelerated implementation of adaptation actions in this decade would reduce projected losses and damages for humans and ecosystems, and deliver many co-benefits, especially for air quality and health. [C.2]”

Let’s get to work, and put Rotary on the leading edge of protecting human life on Planet Earth.