This is my first blog from the beautiful city of Nairobi in Kenya which is the heart of East Africa for almost the century. It was the crown jewel of the Colonial British Empire and today a sprawling metropolis nestled amongst the vast grasslands and abundance of wildlife. Kenya is also home to the only permanent UN office in Africa and world headquarters for UNEP (the United Nations Environmental Programme).
We travelled on a 25 hour flight from Auckland to Nairobi via Bangkok and while on board during a conversation amongst our team over dinner we talked about how of much rubbish one person generated while having a meal. This got us talking and made me feel a little uncomfortable given that we were going to UNEA (United Nations Environmental Assembly) to discuss strategies in combatting and reducing the excessive waste going to our landfills.
Yet during our flight a single person generated a substantial amount of rubbish during our meals and beverages. We all tried to be proactive to re-use of plastic cups and cutlery as much as possible which would often disappear as we fell asleep during our flight. However, the fault lay with no one as we as individuals were trying to be consciously reducing our waste to landfills and airline staff were trying to provide the best customer service as a part of their job.
This intrigued me think as how much waste and carbon emissions me as an individual will generate simply by arriving in Nairobi to attend the conference. Through some online research I discovered the inconvenient truth that a return flight from Auckland to Nairobi will alone generate 2.47 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions (carbonfootprintcalculator.com) and if I was to take into the account the radiative forcing factor this figure almost doubles to 4.66 metric tonnes/head.
This new discovered evidence was starkly disturbing which led me to further grind down and according to a Green America report published in 2010, each airline passenger generates just over a kilo of waste per flight almost all of which is plastic. In 2013, airlines around the world carried 6.3 billion passengers, which therefore, produced more than 3.15 million tonnes of waste of which most of it ends up in landfills or our oceans (stuff.co.nz/travel). Plastic currently is the biggest polluter of our oceans at the moment causing over $13 billion damage to the marine ecosystem and ultimately to humans which consume the contaminated fishes.
The carbon footprint of plastic (LDPE or PET, polyethylene) is about 6 kg of CO2/ kilo of plastic plus the production of that kilo of plastic (PET or LDPE) further requires 2 kg of oil for energy and raw materials emitting 3kg of CO2/kilo of oil (timeforchange.org). Therefore in just traveling to Nairobi to attend the UNEA conference to raise the very issues relating to environmental change, reducing plastic waste and carbon emissions, I as an individual generated over 4.66 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions.
This make me feel like a hypocrite as I travelled to Kenya to understand the global environmental issues and how to tackle them yet by attending the meeting I already have caused irrevocable damage to the environment. It frightens me to calculate how much emissions the total of over 2000 people which are scheduled to attend UNEA-2 conference over next week will generate .
So in conclusion I ask a question to myself: will I gain enough in terms of knowledge and understanding that I can drive a positive change back home in order to offset my footprint of this trip and all the flight trips I have taken?
Also a higher level question is perhaps is it time for UN to re-consider its footprint of holding such conferences around the world and look into more sustainable/innovative options to lead the environmental change through example.
All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not reflect those of the Institute.