World Environment Day – a day to celebrate every other day

UNEP WED2015 Post 2 of 2 – This post was originally published on the UNEP website, I wrote it in my role as the official blogger for World Environment Day in 2015
The World Environment Day celebrations at the Milan Expo were a journey through sustainability initiatives, from the ultra modern – an electric tesla car – to traditional zero-waste cooking classes.

For UNEP Goodwill Ambassador Yaya Touré and Executive Director Achim Steiner, the day commenced in style with a ride in a Tesla. Their trip to the Expo continued in a Fiat Panda, which had been retrofitted with an electric drivetrain. UNEP powered the vehicles with 100% renewable electricity in order to minimise the environmental impact of the journey. Steiner valued the importance of the Fiat retrofit in providing a second life for an old car, while Touré was a particular fan of the driving capability of the Tesla.

Yaya Touré and I with our matching t-shirts. Photo credit: Margaret Badore
But this wasn’t the only reason Touré said he needs a new car. Touré is passionate about the need to reduce the air pollution resulting from our reliance on fossil fuel cars, having experienced first-hand the health and environmental impacts. Aware of his influence as an example to young people, Touré identified the need to reduce the impact of his car usage. Hopefully Toure’s one action will inspire many others to reconsider the role of fossil fuel transport in their own lives. While purchasing an electric car may not be realistic for many, bringing this issue to the forefront on World Environment Day may encourage people to consider other options such as walking, cycling and public transport.

The World Environment Day opening ceremony emphasised the need for everyday actions like this to work in tandem with policy actions. The main policy outcome from World Environment Day and the Milan Expo is the Charter of Milan. Based around the Expo theme of “feeding the planet, energy for life”, the Charter of Milan identifies and addresses the main issues surrounding sustainable resource use. Steiner and the Italian Minister of Environment Gian Luca Galletti signed the Charter during the World Environment Day activities, calling on individuals, organisations and governments to take responsibility to ensure the sustainability of food systems in providing for future generations.

The World Environment Day activities were not just policy-related, there was also the opportunity for some practical learning during the sustainable cooking demonstrations and classes. The focus of the program was the reduction of food waste, which currently impacts the adequate provision of food around the world. During the World Environment Day opening ceremony José Graziano da Silva, Director General of the UN FAO, highlighted that around 1/3 of all food produced is wasted. Rich countries waste as much food as is produced in the entire sub-Saharan region.

The cooking classes aimed to educate children on how food can be prepared to ensure minimal wastage. Touré and Steiner participated alongside Italian schoolchildren in the class in Milan, making a traditional Italian dish – ravioli. This dish was selected as leftover vegetables can be used to in the filling. Unfortunately due to practical constraints, the ravioli made during the class was made with zucchini and ricotta rather than leftovers, but the education outcomes for participants remained.

The same activity was undertaken simultaneously in Nairobi, where the UNEP headquarters is located. Children in Nairobi learnt to make samosas, a traditional Kenyan dish, which also can use leftover vegetables for filling. These sessions were facilitated by talented members of the Slow Food movement, a grassroots organisation which aims to encourage interest in the origins and impact of food.

One of the main things I learnt by attending the World Environment Day celebrations was that, as Steiner emphasised, it is not really about just one day on June 5. The real importance of World Environment Day is its role in recognising positive action for the environment which happens every day of the year. It celebrates the importance of every day actions for the environment by people, organisations and governments. Being a professional environmental engineer, it makes me excited to get back to work on Monday and make a difference!
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