US Department of State energy efficiency workshop and MEC 11, Chennai, India, November 2015

I mustn’t attempt to cover much technical stuff here: it was very much Lesley Sloss’ show, and she will, for sure, relate it somewhere. She has had every conceivable difficulty thrown at her, but coped effortlessly.

The workshops were held in the context of the expected ratifying of the Minamata convention on mercury soon. India is a signatory.

I’ve not been to Chennai before. Unfortunately, it is currently the monsoon period on this side of the country and it has proved to be one of the wettest for some time, with a ten-year high of 24.6 mm in 24 hours from the 15th-16th of this month while we were here.

This part of the city has some stretches of simple shops and dwellings in the vernacular style, built using anything to hand (or so it seems), interspersed with 5-star hotels. Walking round between deluges, we found electricity cables festooned between poles, but many of the wires also lying in knots on the wet pavement, where there seem to be some connections. There was no fizzing of power from the cables in the water, but we gave them a wide berth. Roads had deeper potholes than at home probably because of the rain.

By Monday, because of the intense rain at the weekend, particularly Sunday night, the papers were full of stories of people having to be rescued, and some had even died. The only inconvenience to us was that we needed hotel cars to convey us from the hotel to the conference centre 50 metres away next door, because the road in front of the buildings and the road between them were flooded.


We had a smaller group than originally planned for both workshops as some delegates were unable to get visas in time. But a number of extra Indian representatives showed up on the day and were made welcome.

Everyone gave valuable contributions to the discussions. This has provided input to the draft reports that we presented, but, more importantly helped with the building of interest and trust that the US Department of State (DoS) wants to foster, to aid future discussions on pollutant control, especially mercury. Lesley, as the supreme wheeler-and-dealer, clearly took everyone with her and will obviously be back soon furthering the UNEP cause. As a mere supporting act, I could only watch on.

The Multi-pollutant emission control (MEC) workshop itself was a tour-de-force for Lesley, in her multi-tasking element. Additional people had turned up for this, too, making up for the cancellations. There were some quite heated but productive debates, and Lesley steered the meeting towards a good starting point for UNEP and the US DoS to make future progress while interest in mercury control is at a high. There was considerable interest in the UNEP Coal Partnership projects, and there were plenty of ideas for enhancing the system.

The power plant visit on Friday was no longer possible, so we hired a minibus for a trip out of town to visit a demonstration heritage village, with example dwellings and other buildings from different parts of Southern India. We drove on to see some 1400 year old Hindu temples and other ancient monuments to the South of the city, ending with a splendid late lunch at a beach hotel, the Fishermen’s Cove. I was pleased on that day to see that much of Chennai was reasonably tidy, with a very attractive road leading out southwards. The minibus driver managed to squeeze through the busy traffic further in quite easily. There were the occasional farm animals in the town, and someone had a goat riding with him on his motorbike, lying apparently blissfully crossways in front of the rider – but no time to get a picture I’m afraid.

Our Chennai hotel bakes a Christmas cake every year that is handed out at Christmas to guests. While we were of course too early to eat it, today was the day when the hotel guests were invited to help prepare it. We returned just at the right time to join in at the base of the atrium, donning gloves, hats and gowns before emptying large quantities of fruits onto a table then mixing them with about a dozen bottles of liquor. Then there were free juices and nibbles. The management were very keen to get everyone involved, and it was quite fun, even for a stick-in-the-mud like me. The highly alcoholic fruit mixture is left for some weeks before the flour and eggs are added a couple of days before Christmas before baking.