Reducing environmental impacts at the UN Biodiversity Conference

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. 

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Plants everywhere

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!

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Plants at the venue. Photo credit: Jamilla Sealy, 2016

Transportation

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. 

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Coati on the Golf Course. Photo Credit: Jamilla Sealy, 2016

 

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Source: IISD/Earth Negotiations Bulletin 

 

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.

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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.

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Garbage Bins; Photo Credit: Jamilla Sealy 2016

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!

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Photo Credit: Jamilla Sealy, 2016

 

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Save the Earth, Dr. Seuss Style

Dear colleagues & friends,

As Earth Day swiftly approaches, I reminisce on the basis of the animated film The Lorax. Who could have put it any better than Dr. Seuss? It teaches the basics of sustainable consumption and production and sustainable development on a whole. It also fits in with the theme for this year: It’s our turn to lead!

I often fear that my future grandchildren would grow up in a place like Thneedville, where everything was artificial, the trees and hedges were made of plastic and there was toxic waste. Air was a commodity and persons were subjected to buying bottled clean air so they can breathe at home. Clean air for sale, anyone? Also, high city walls blocked the view of the inhabitants from the wastelands outside of the city. The people there were seemingly extremely happy; walking around with their eyes closed to the real issues. But why not? They had everything they needed in Thneedville. It’s ALL Good! It was much like an island. Also the person who created the bottled air ruled the town and did not want anyone learning about trees which would take him out of business.

Real trees were a thing of the past. But the age-old love story aided in the raising of awareness about the environment. Boy meets girl, girl only wants a real tree and boy tries his best to retrieve said tree no matter the cost. Although the intent was not on conservation of natural resources, I think it shouldn’t really matter how it comes about; once it changes the minds of the public to conserve natural resources, I am happy.

It all began with a budding entrepreneur trying to make a life for himself. When he found his dream material from a tree, he immediately cut it down. The Lorax, Guardian of the Forest, warned him about the dangers.

He declared: ‘I speak for the trees!’ He even tried to run him out of the forest.

The Lorax concerned about the chopped tree (Source: https://littlelessonslearned.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/the-lorax-pic091.jpg)

So when his business started to grow, he started to harvest the material with a conscience. But as his greed stepped in, he started chop, chop, chopping with a vengeance. He asked how bad could it possibly be? His eyes were only the money and pleasing his family. He built his empire as the money piled in but alas, when he chopped down the last tree that was the end of his business. As he did not replant any, his supply vanished and his family left him. As he explained this to the love-struck boy in his old age, he happened to have a seed from one of those trees which the boy ended up planting in the city centre. He educated everyone in the town why they should let the trees grow and showed them the desolation outside the city.

Love-struck boy planting the tree in city centre (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQK7bjYQWQw)

It is a lesson for us to learn especially when it comes down to managing our natural resources. We should not let our greed get in the way and we shouldn’t use up what limited resources we have before it is too late. Islands, especially like Barbados where I’m from, need to start paying more attention to the management of their very limited natural resources, such as land, water and food.

Happy Earth Day!