I have heard some people complain that hosting large global environmental Conferences like the Convention on Biological Diversity (UN-CBD) are unnecessary and very expensive. Not only in economic costs, but to the environment, especially when participants travel long distances and cross time zones to attend conferences. They often speak of the large carbon footprint that attendees have and a virtual conference might be better. Even to Cancun, my flight there racked up a carbon footprint of about 1.1 million tonnes of carbon and I live in the Caribbean! However, to offset the carbon footprint, and to be as ‘green’ as possible, the Government of Mexico and CBD Secretariat have made attempts. With Earth Day coming up this Saturday (22nd April), I will share my experiences.
Reducing plastic use
Every delegate was presented with a stainless steel water bottle so that they could refill their bottles at water stations at the venue. At some of them you could’ve even gotten hot water to make your tea and there was usually free freshly brewed coffee nearby. This aimed to reduce the number of plastic bottles used and disposed of for bottled water. There were also no foam or plastic takeaway containers! The disposable cups (hot and cold), plates, containers and utensils were made completely of plant-based materials. Moreso, the plastic-looking and feeling cups were made of plant-based materials as well.
One of the very first things I noticed at the venue was the vast number of plants. There were thousands of potted plants everywhere. All were very familiar tropical coastal plants such as sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera), fat pork/cocoplum (Chrysobalanus icaco), Beach Naupaka (Scaevola taccada), Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), and varieties of Ficus and Crotons. They were mounted on wooden stands, stacked on the floor and on shelves of the conference venue and outside. Plants produce oxygen and with thousands of people visiting the venue, they helped to improve the oxygen content. I attempted to count them but I gave up after 800 and those were only from a small area. I heard later that there were over 7000 plants at the venue!
There were shuttle buses provided for participants between the venue, hotels and airport at scheduled times for the duration of the conference. Participants also had access to conference-branded bicycles to get from one place to the next. First of all the Moon Palace Resort was humongous. It is 123 acres of hotels, golf courses, the conference centre, pools and a rich bio-diverse mangrove swamp, with birds, mammals, rodents, reptiles and I cannot forget the very large and fearless mosquitoes. These were used by delegates to get around the hotel along with golf carts.
Wood no plastic!
Exhibition booths, stands, seats and signs were all made of wooden pallets rather than plastic or metal. I wondered though if these were made of old pallets which were restored and reconstructed or if they were made from fresh wood. I hope it’s the former.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
There were different waste bins to separate recyclables, strategically placed all over the venue. This was a part of the waste management programme stated in the participants’ note. This included collecting glass, plastic, paper and cardboard, aluminium, used cooking oil, organic waste, multi-layered containers and electronics and appropriate management of chemicals and dangerous wastes.
Less AC, less fossil fuel use
Another thing I was extremely happy about was the reduced air conditioning. I am not a fan of cold temperatures and usually in the Caribbean, the AC is usually very frigid and uncomfortable. However, the conference rooms were a comfortable temperature and there was no need for thick jackets. Participants were even asked to dress elegantly casual or “smart casual” for all the meetings.
All in all, I was very happy and enlightened by the conference and all the side events. As a youth delegate representing the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) and Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN), this was my first Conference of the Parties of any of the 3 Rio Conventions (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Land Management). I dreamt of participating in one since I studied natural resources management and it definitely lived up to my expectations. The experience there was amazing; learning about all the different activities that countries and organisations are doing to preserve biodiversity. I had some comfort in knowing that at an environmental conference, efforts were made to implement conservation practices. However, a few questions came to mind: what was done with the plants after the conference? What happened to the wooden structures after? Were the separated waste items really disposed of correctly? Just a thought!