By John Baaki

I may have forgotten about every other thing that happened at the 2nd United Nations Environment Assembly, UNEA-2, that was convened by the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, in Nairobi, Kenya, from 23rd-27th May, 2015.

I may have forgotten about the speeches, the presentations, the debates at the meetings of drafting groups that worked on the conference resolutions, the discussions at the Committee of the Whole (COW), the discussions in the plenary sessions, the exhibition booths etc.

But there is one thing I will never forget, one thing that was not unusual to climate change conferences though, one thing that may have seemed odd and old-fashioned to many participants, but was unique to UNEA2. That thing was refillable glass water bottles that were sold at the main catering stations at the conference venue. UNEP deliberately, in order to have a green event, and walk it’s talk, did not give plastic water bottles to participants as it was done at previous climate change conferences up until even at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that held in Paris, France in December 2015. Instead, to those who supported the UNEA 2 GHG survey, UNEP provided UNEA branded locally produced stainless steel reusable water bottles. According to UNEP, “By producing these bottles locally, UNEP avoided the extra GHG emissions associated to the bottles shipment…”

But why would UNEP make it mandatory that all catering stations at the conference venue sell refillable glass water bottles and in addition provide participants with stainless steel reusable water bottles? Why not plastic water bottles that are light and very portable and not fragile? The glass water bottles were not portable for participants to carry along around the conference venue. I did not carry it along from the second day, it had added reasonable weight to my hand bag and caused my shoulder to ache when I took it out on the first day.

If you were wondering why UNEP opted for this option, you should have known that UNEP should know better. You should have known that the type of water bottle UNEP would provide would be that which its ultimate goal is not to satisfy the portability desires of the participants, but one that brings no serious health impacts to participant or causes harm to the environment.

And if you are still wondering why UNEP did not opt for plastic water bottles, here are the reasons that will surprise you:

According to One Green Planet, “Plastic bottles contain Bisphenol A (BPA), the chemical used to make the plastic hard and clear. BPA is an endocrine disruptor which has been proven to be hazardous to human health. It has been strongly linked to a host of health problems including certain types of cancer, neurological difficulties, early puberty in girls, reduced fertility in women, premature labour, and defects in newborn babies – to name a few examples. BPA enters the human body through exposure to plastics such as bottled drinks and cleaning products. It has been found in significant amounts in at-risk groups such as pregnant women’s placentas and growing foetus.

In addition to the negative impacts of BPA and phthalates on human health, there are also growing concerns regarding carcinogens and microbial contaminants that have been found in test samples of bottled water.”

New research has also revealed that  Chemicals in plastics, left in a hot place for a long time, mainly antimony (Sb) and Bisphenol A (BPA) can leach into any liquid in a plastic bottle and those chemicals  can potentially cause diseases (such as cancer) when consumed!

What does this tell you? This calls for caution on taking hot tea from plastic containers. This also calls for caution on feeding your children on food from plastic containers. In Nigeria where the use of polyethylene bags has taken the place of plant leaves in packaging and cooking “Moin-moin,” local bean pudding, it calls for serious caution on consumption of moin-moin wrapped and cooked in polyethylene bags.

The Second United Nations Environment Assembly has posed a great challenge before the United Nations member countries and specifically to the Ministers of Environment – the challenge of taking practical actions to protect environmental degradation and human health; the challenge of implementing the 25 resolutions reached at UNEA 2, some of which are Sound Management of Chemicals and Wastes  and Marine plastic litter and micro-plastics.

This is a huge challenge as Minsters of Environment have to choose between satisfying the seeming comfort of their people and preserving the environment and human health.

While other countries have taken the bull by the horns to place bans on plastic bottled water even before UNEA 2, the action of UNEP during the UNEA2 was to incite actions from more member countries to opt for more healthier and environmentally-friendly ways of packaging water and other products.

Now that about 170 United Nations member countries have agreed to the 25 resolutions at UNEA 2 to drive the Sustainability Agenda and the Paris agreement of limiting global average temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, come UNEA-3, let’s all take stock to see which countries are towing the line of Sustainability Agenda and the Paris Agreement.




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