I attended the INC5 mercury negotiations in Geneva last month along with members of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP) from the EU, UNEP, UNIDO, and GIZ, and representatives from SAICM and various countries including Peru and Uruguay. We were there to share information about the GAHP and we did it with the help of “sweet breaks.”
So in the no-nonsense arena of the INC5 negotiations, where 750 participants from more than 140 countries huddled together for over a week, we set up tables filled with hot chocolate, cookies and colorful cupcakes to provide respite for the weary. It turns out, the treats played a small but welcome role on the sidelines of the talks, which produced an agreement between more than 140 countries on rules to curb mercury pollution.
Bringing different groups together is what Blacksmith does on many of our remediation projects, and over the years we’ve learnt that sometimes all it takes is something simple to get people to come to an agreement. The treats refreshed and recharge participants and also provided the opportunity for casual connections. I like to think that the many valuable side conversations about pollution and mercury that took place over cookies and hot chocolate left an impression on the proceedings.
In business, many deals have been sealed over dinner and drinks. The path to a cleaner world, I believe, follows the same general course. It is all about building relationships. The GAHP is the result of an international coalition – a network of relationships – that took hold over years of conversations. Now, we at the GAHP are extending our hands to low-and middle-income countries in need of help to deal with pollution issues. Along the way, I am sure we will share numerous meals and cups of tea with representatives at every level. We will talk, discuss, exchange ideas and work together to get rid of pollution. And when the cleanup is done, we will look back and remember how that conversation started, over hot chocolate and sweet treats in the middle of a crowd.