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I managed to attend two side sessions of the UN environment assembly last week thanks to my communications consultancy for the waste management company Takataka Solutions. I was duly impressed. The conference was focused on the environmental aspects of the sustainable development goals (which include goals like peace and justice and inequality). The format was assembly meetings of states, and side presentations from states, non-profits and business entities on the things they are doing to move the SDG’s forward.

lead poisoning
Lead paint, lead poisoning mural at UNEA2. Photo by @ASteiner

What did I like about the conference?

The overwhelming focus on pollution. As Karti Sandilya, board advisor of Pure Earth (former Blacksmith Institute) said in a presentation, pollution is responsible for more deaths than all the most common infectious diseases combined. And we need to pay more attention to pollution in all its forms now – soil, air, food, water, etc.

I have written before about the heavy costs of lead poisoning from car battery recycling, an issue that I have done, and continue to do research on. It was therefore gladdening to see lead pollution on the agenda of this UNEA. From the mural on removing lead in paints, to the info banners bearing statistics like

“Exposing children to lead in low- and middle-income countries lowers their IQ, leading to an economic loss of about 1 trillion dollars, shaving 1.2% off global GDP”

Yes you read that right. Heavy costs. Costs that are heavier for lower-income people who are more likely to live near lead recycling factories, and waste dumping sites. Nations set themselves the target of removing lead in paints by the year 2020, among other pollution prioritisation targets.

I also appreciated the use of art to communicate the immensity of the issues at play. Below are some of my favourite art installations at the event. The marine animal ones were all made using litter collected on beaches and shores including plastic bottles and slippers/flipflops. In part they  make the point that it is possible to create beauty from what is essentially rubbish. But they also make the point that there is a whole lot of rubbish in our oceans and shores considering the sizes of the pieces, and that they impact these very animals they represent.

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