Better together or better apart?

imageNever an easy answer! I suspect our stronger instinctive response is to want to be free of the big bureaucracy of Brussels. How very appealing is the nimbleness of a small country able to set it’s own rules and develop it’s own relationships.

Having been a Government lawyer and seen much badly drafted EU law and the difficulty of change in this big beast of an institution, I share some of the frustrations with the EU.

Some of us Greens are also more wedded to the local and the international – worried about fortress Europe that keeps out imports from poorer countries, gives a home to Poles and Spaniards rather than refugees from war-torn countries.

But what are the risks and what is the reality of the counterfactual? We need to understand what may really happen if the UK is to break loose from this regional bloc.

We have another powerful instinct too – to collaborate and work closely with others. We all recognise how hard it is, but this may be what we need to do.

For me, there are five easy reasons to stay and support a regional trade area:

  1. In our globalised world, many areas of law need to be regional or even global. Without the EU, the chances of a race to the bottom on standards is high. EU standards have been developed from product safety to energy labelling, and investments made in urban-industrial infrastructure including waste water treatment and pollution control from factories driven by EU law. With all member states obliged to address these issues, we don’t have to worry about those extra costs creating a competitive disadvantage regionally.
  2. By operating as a global bloc on environmental and human rights issues, the EU has more clout and strength. Just look at the UK’s recent forays into China, and climb-downs on human rights issues. By having a joint position on Climate Change, I suspect the EU has also helped shift the centre ground.
  3. The UK depends on the EU for a large proportion of its exports (about 50%). If it were to leave the EU but seek to be part of the common market, it has two entirely unsatisfactory options:
    • a Norway solution where it accepts all EU law plus freedom of movement of capital, people, establishment plus payment of funds, but without taking part in drafting the law or rules on spending money, or
    • negotiating an EFTA-type deal like Switzerland for which it may need to make similar compromises.

If the UK goes its own way, operating by WTO rules, it will face tariffs and non-tariff barriers from the EU. To take the example of vehicles, considering the large investments in car manufacturing in the UK, imports from Canada are subject to tariffs in the region of 10%.  Do we want to take the risk of relocation with the hope that we will be able to negotiate better trade deals with countries outside the EU? And maybe our trade deals will be worse considering the smaller market on offer.

4.   Interaction and exposure to the EU helps create, in my view, a more dynamic UK economy – it allows the UK to benchmark itself, and learn from others and to make use of a wider market for innovative products. Sitting here in Hong Kong, the disadvantages to business of a small market in terms of innovation is apparent, as is the lack of interaction with others. I am not convinced that being alone, seemingly free and nimble, supports dynamism in business or in social and cultural policy and activity.

5.  On the international stage, the EU supported by the principles of the European Convention of Human Rights, which accession countries have had to sign up to, has helped entrench the values of social democracy. At home, the EU has taken important steps in protecting the rights of women in the workplace, and non-discrimination in the workplace and other fields. And abroad, the EU is seen as a voice in favour of democracy and human rights. How much weaker would EU states be if all operated on their own? We already see this weakness when the UK strikes out on its own – its relationship with Saudi or China.

What of those downsides – the big bureaucracy, a juggernaut on a course that’s hard to alter, law made behind closed doors in Brussels, money doled out in structural funds for unnecessary projects, subsidies to farmers and not urban dwellers, and operating a common market at the expense of poorer countries? Of course, the EU is not perfect – far from it. But nor is national government – it is also also open to capture by vested interests and in my view is more short-termist and populist than the more technocratic EU Commission.

Improvement is needed to make the EU what it should be. But before you veer towards Out, we are moving in that direction. My 5 points on this change and further change needed are:

  • The principle of subsidiarity is accepted but it needs to be developed and refined. In my view, EU law has become less prescriptive in recent years. The bigger problem may be the UK’s focus on defeating proposals for new EU law, rather than seeking to design the law or make what it can make of a regional bloc and regional regulations. Where there is flexibility, and there is plenty, the UK could use it rather than tie its hands to its no gold-plating position.
  • The law is not made behind closed doors – there is an elected Parliament which is now more powerful, and our Government like all others sits in the Council and has its appointments to the Commission. The public and NGOs have to raise their game in influencing it, getting to know their MEPs better, how the European Parliament works, and feed into Government consultations on EU law.
  • The criteria and priorities for structural funds need reviewing and perhaps less money should be allocated this way.
  • A long hard discussion is needed about the taboo subjects: freedom of movement, freedom of establishment and agricultural policy too.  Sadly, it may be the current refugee crisis that prompts a review of freedom of moment.
  • No assumptions should be made about the benefits of continuing to expand the EU or continuing to push to open markets further. There may be an optimum size and we may have reached it. There may also not be good reasons for forcing open the market for services – that also needs consideration.

Through Eastern Eyes – the Ancient Khmer Kingdom

Angkor WatHow far is what we see filtered by the reference points we have?  Here I explore the ancient Khmer Kingdom, part of the Indian Diaspora of the first millennium AD, doing my best to look at it through Eastern eyes – Indian to be precise.

Cambodia is the country of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot, the country of the Khmer Empire with its capital at Angkor, and the home of the lower levels of the great Mekong River. Just those thoughts, make me pause with wonder and an element of fear.

As a traveller I am interested in the “in-between spaces”, both geographically and historically. In Cambodia, those spaces are huge – the unknown flat land where dark fields stretch seemingly barren as far as the eye can see, the giant Tonle Sap freshwater lake, where some of the waters of the Mekong back up rather than flowing to the sea. The historical space – what is Angkor beyond a city established by Hindu King Jayavarman I and with a famous temple built by Khmer King Suryavarman II in the C12th –  is also largely unknown.

Through Eastern Eyes
On entering Angkor Wat, my first surprise was to step into what seemed like India in design and sculpture, taking me immediately to my time in India over the years – from Varanasi to Madurai, Somnathpur to Kerala. A reminder of the dark and dusty museums across the country that display artefacts that tell us little of the stories of history. I visited temples in temple towns and little Tamil villages where outsiders rarely passed. I puzzled over the bronzes and stone sculpture of Mauryas and Kalingas, Pallavas and Cholas, Hoysala and Chalukya, trying to discern something of the shifting cultures and regimes beyond the quality of artisanal skill. I’ll try and situate Angkor, insofar as one can in the Indian diaspora of the first millennium after Christ.

The second revelation was that the Ancient Angkor Kingdom had been the largest state of antiquity covering most of South East Asia – including Laos, large parts of Vietnam and Thailand. Even Angkor was huge. The city of London or the Mayan city of Tikal would have been mere dots in comparison. A visitor to Angkor to a large extent is a witness to how trees like muscular “nagas” (snakes in Cambodian mythology) can destroy old life and create new life – monochromatic, and voiceless except for the sounds of birds and crickets, but new life all the same. In some ways, it is a warning to us all. Our time will come and pass, as a slightly drunk Nicaraguense once told me in an Antigua, Guatemala bar, almost tearful over the Central American experience at the hands of the richer more powerful El Norte. But what caused the decline? Cambodia had almost disappeared by the early C19th. Environmental degradation, warfare, and the cult of the God-king tend to be the 3 main contenders.

The third striking fact is the easy fusion of different Indian sects – Shaivite and Vaishnavite – as well as Buddhist, similar to the sites of ancient Sri Lanka combined with the stark absence of the female gods of India. There is an almost complete absence of the female pantheon: Saraswati – Goddess of Knowledge, Music and the Creative Arts – Laxmi – Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity (both material and spiritual) but also a life force and destructor, and Parvati – fertility, love and devotion, central to the goddess-oriented Shakta sect. With the downfall of the Khmer empire, Cambodia embraced Theravada Buddhism – a purer form of Buddhism more focused on a good life and good deeds. Was the essentially male god-king cult unstable? How much difference does religion make to the stability and strength of a civilization?

I will look at the first and third issue – the second is too large. Perhaps a topic for another blog.

An Earlier Indian Era
Though the people of Cambodia were originally Mons from China, Cambodia’s story is entwined with that of the culture of East and Southern India. Despite the proximity to China, Indian culture would dominate South East Asia much the same way that great swathes of Europe were influenced by the Greeks. The various Indian empires from say 1500BC to 1400AD, it seems were not colonisers or empire builders, not set on demanding tribute of its vassal states as was common in China.

The Indian influence is apparent from the moment of entering Angkor Wat when you come face to face with a 6-arm statue of the God Vishnu after walking across the causeway. This causeway crosses “the baray”, a constructed lake, what in India would be called a “tank”, full of dark pink lotus flowers, dusky in the early morning sunshine. On entering the main building, you will see the depiction of the wars of the Mahabharat.

C12th 6-armed Vishnu – Suryavarman II – Entrance To Angkor Wat


From where does this Indian influence stem from and what period of time? Even before the first millennium AD, ships leaving India for China would have cut through the straits by modern Singapore and then headed up past Cambodia and Vietnam and into the South China Sea. Its not a history as neatly documented and understood as you may think. This may seem a minor mystery compared to the larger questions of how some aspects of this culture travelled around the Pacific to Central America, but still, it remains quite unknown.

The Mystery of Funan
Well before the time of Angkor, in the early centuries of the millennium, it appears there was an established kingdom in the region – called Funan (1st – 7th century). Its capital was close to where Phnom Penh is now. Funan appears to have been a seafaring empire with a navy well-connected to the outside world and, according to the Chinese scholars that visited, it had large libraries. Sadly these are now turned to dust leaving much about this civilization to supposition.


It is to this region that Indian merchants and traders arrived, probably followed by priests. Sanskrit was used as the language of the court and learning, and Chinese visitors recorded seeing vast libraries in Sanskrit. This suggests the influence of the Vedic north of India not the Dravidian South. However, Khmer itself is written in a language of the Pallavas of the Indian South, who we will come to later.

The merchants and traders may have originated from the Kalinga empire(1300BC – 200AD) around modern day Orissa with a long coastline, at times covering almost all of India. You may have heard about the more famous Mauryas and Emperor Ashoka’s deadly battle in around 250BC, before he became a pacifist Buddhist. The battle was against the Kalinga Empire, incorporated by Ashoka into his Mauryan Empire after this battle, gaining independence again after its decline. The Kalingas appear to have been Jain rather than Buddhist, and then later Hindu. The famous temples of Puri are within this region, and they would have taken on board elements of Buddhism too which dominated in the time of Emperor Asoka.

A Matriarchal History?

Interestingly in the latter part of the Funan era, around around 613 AD, Funan had a princess named Liuye or Soma – hard to say whether she was a princess or a Queen. It seems that Queen Liu Ye married the predecessor of the kings of the Khmer era. Sadly of course we get to read little about this queen – only of whom she marries.  Was there an element of matriarchal culture in indigenous Cambodian culture? Did it take some ideas from the more strongly matriarchal South of India?

In the time of Funan, the Indians from the north were unlikely to have been alone, or may not have been the dominant force. There were most probably traders and others from the Southern empires – Pallava, then Chola – reflecting the dominant empire of the time. Some of these states had stronger matriarchal traditions. Perhaps the Kalinga traders were followed by people from the Pallava (6 – 9th centuries) and then Chola (9th -12th century) states in the South.

Then there would also have been indirect influences from Java, in the South, and even Sri Lanka, both within the wider Indian diaspora.

The Founding of Angkor: its Indian Influence
This sprawling city is generally dated to the 9th century, when Jayavarman II moved upstream from the Mekong to found a city on this site, crowning himself as a deva-raja or “god-king” in 802 A.D. Why he chose to do so is unclear – floods or threats from outsiders. Remember the world was in another period of climatic change at the time.

Religion and Culture
What we do know is that the Khmer civilization from around 800AD to 1400AD would have inherited much from its Funan and Chenla predecessors (between the 2 periods). A form of Hinduism (Saivism), later in combination with Mahayana Buddhism dominated. This is evident from the temples, However, unlike Indian temples the sculptures of the Gods have the faces of the kings.

Other than the iconography, there is little evidence of other aspects of Hinduism like a rigid caste structure. Though perhaps that was not as rigid a part of Indian culture as it later became. Some elements of the Vedic Law of Manu may have been taken on board.

Understanding the influences of India is a challenge with the waves of Indian influence from different parts of India and their differing cultures and religious beliefs. The happy mixing of Buddhist and Vaishivite iconography seem quite different from India, though this is to be found in Sri Lanka.

The striking aspect is the metamorphosis of Hinduism into the religion of the God-King. As I mentioned before, an Indian visitor, the absence of female representations other than in the form of apsaras – however beautiful – is also noticeable.

In the end, it was Theravada Buddhism less institutionalized and hierarchical that held sway. It was brought by the Thai invaders in the C14th.  The links with the sub-continent weakened. One of the most beautiful sights of the country remains the saffron robed Buddhist monks, standing in ancient doorways, carrying orange umbrellas, chatting in groups in the course of their everyday life.

But what difference did this new religion make? Some historians contend that the gentle Theravada Buddhism undermined the system. It weakened the loyalty to the God-King and reduced its militarism. But its swift dominance may have been the result of dissatisfaction with the elitism of the God-King system? What about the limited female influences – was this destabilizing in itself? How different is Confucian China or northern Vietnam as a result of different religions and philosophies?

Water Management
Another aspect of the closeness of the cultures – Indian and Khmer – is the system of water management that allowed Angkor to thrive despite the seasonality of rainfall. Large storm water “tanks” were built some just around the city.

Considerable areas of land may have been irrigated, with the resultant capacity to produce 2-3 crops a year and freeing up labour to be spent on construction of the massive temples. The questions of whether the baray were to irrigate the land or whether the civilisation managed on rainfed fields is hotly debated amongst western historians. The original report by French archaeologist Henri Mouhot (1860) suggested considerable irrigation. Groslier in the early 1950s developed the idea of a hydraulic city. Other archaeologists in the 1980s condemned this idea suggesting that the water tanks were for ritual and religious purposes. They argued that Hinduism demanded a system of reflecting pools for its Gods. It was the inherent weakness of the God-King system, disliked in the end by the people, that they say led to the downfall. Do they see this world through a Western lens?

The consensus now appears to be that Cambodia had a well-developed irrigation system, surpassing any similar system in India, though not dependent on the baray. So the collapse of the irrigation system may well have played a part.

Construction and Architecture

So what is the origin of the architecture of Angkor? The similarities with the Pallavas, with their capital in Mahabalipuram, is striking. The stories of the founding of the Khmer Empire (Brahman and Naga Princess) is surprisingly similar. The Pandyas from the South were seafaring people, with their capital in Madurai, that no doubt also influenced South Asia. Some of the decorative work however looks closer to the sculpture of the Hoysala and Chalukya civilisations closer west into the Deccan Plateau.

Temple at Mahabalipuram: Pallava Empire (C3-9th AD)




It is the Chola Empire (900AD – 1200AD), at the same time as the height of the Khmer Empire, that spread the Indian culture most widely: from the Malay Peninsula and into Java and Bali. Even today Bali remains Hindu if a Hinduism of its own form and variety. The Cholas were Shaivites with less interest in Buddhism and Jainism than some of the other empires. Their capital was at Thanjavur, home of temples of superlative design and sculpture.


So as you can see it is difficult to get an objective sense of the source of the influence. Historians from the south and north spar to show the influence of their region. Nevertheless the vast inter-connection between the Indian sub-continent and South East Asia is apparent.

In part this was direct, but also indirect as the Javanese were also expansionist in their aims, and may have brought their variation of Hinduism with them. The dominance of Theravada Buddhism after the Angkor period is also generally explained as Sri Lankan influence in Java and beyond.

Chola empire

Conclusions: An Indian Millennium
Like the Western modernity that dominated and spread from around 1500, it seems there was an earlier modernity, of Indian character that we know little about. The written scripts that seemed to have existed have not survived at least not in the area. The relations between the different parts of Asia, how religion melded and evolved, the extent of trade and movement of people, Chola influence compared with Pallava, are just some of the issues that arise. I also wonder how the pantheon of Hindu Gods lost the trilogy of female gods and what this meant to the local culture? How did religion impact on the state?

All of these issues still need further study. Maybe one day, those artefacts in the dusty museums will tell us a story of culture and civilization

Reading – from the Congo to Saskatchewan

An island, just off the edge of a continent, in the South China Sea, seems to be a good place to read. Not quite in the same way as in my East African childhood: reading hungrily, about places that seem closer to home than what’s on the other side of town from the leafy “African” suburbs. Not quite as you’d imagine Louis Couperus characters would read, urgently before the Indonesian nightfall, escaping from some ever present unknown tropical danger. But in a calmer more detached way.

Three different spaces in three different times but still interconnected. To begin, Patrick Gale dragging us unwillingly perhaps into A Place Called Winter, the western prairies of Canada; Harper Lee luring us back to Maycomb, Alabama in Go Set a Watchman; and then Barbara Kingsolver drawing us deeper into the forest of the Congo. In a way, all are stories of travel and exile. All are stories of innocence lost.

A Place called Winter tells us the story of a young man, not a brave confident man, but a quiet reclusive type – called Jack. He is a lightly and tenderly sculpted character – a lesser Edwardian gentleman, from a family previously in trade, with only a brother as family, having lost his parents at a young age. The one strong blood relationship, with the brother, is not quite strong enough to withstand the revelation of his homosexuality. It is admittedly discovered in a rather lurid way, through a semi- pornographic diary to his part-time actor lover. His relationships with his wife and daughter though, fortunately never soured, melt away. He moves to the harsh climate of Canada, to places called Cut Knife, the Battlefords and Winter. Through manual farmer’s work he does his penance and purges his soul. As his hands and body get used to the tough work, it feels as if ours do too, as if we could also plough into the icy packed post-winter soil of prairie Canada.

It is also a story of a strong woman, though not the main character, who is bold and tolerant ahead of her time. Not only is she able to accept the relationship of this seemingly gentle soul with her brother, but also to work with the indigenous local community. She is able to have the child of a man who rapes her, and accept no humiliation. Somehow she is the planet in the end that they all revolve round even when she passes away.

Momentarily there is this also a moment of heart-warming love, when Jack and his lover finally meet once again after the war, having both taken the other for dead.

Now, with Go Set a Watchman, first how many of you have actually had the courage to pick it up? Or have you been too nervous to see your childhood heroes destroyed. In some ways, this is the more interesting book – it tries more honestly to address the issues of race, our identities and fears. It turns out that Atticus did entirely believe Jim Robinson and didn’t wish to see a person convicted wrongfully. None of that changes. Though it may seem that Atticus is more driven by the illogicality of a conviction rather than the sense of injustice. He never saw the consenting act as an acceptable thing. And he, like others, worries about the end of segregation, about the vote going to black people. They use lack of education as an excuse for the latter and states rights for the former, and even Scout supports states rights – hard for me to understand but then I think Brexit, and don’t get that either.

If Scout has the dilemma of principles vs family, Scout’s possible fiancé (no longer by the end) has to live with another dilemma, not that uncommon. To have a chance of winning his parliamentary seat he mustn’t risk hurting feelings in his own constituency. None of us are really free agents it seems, or perhaps many of us are cowards and self serving. Scout however survives the book her integrity and our faith in human nature and childhood heroes intact…or at least just about intact.

The Poisonwood Bible to me is the most powerful: this is the story of another adventure into that heart of darkness, this time to baptise the African people. But also to salve the consciousness of a man destroyed by surviving WW2, in the Philippines, whilst all his battalion dies. To make up for his survival, he feels duty bound to do the lord’s work. He takes his family mere appendages to his life with him to be missionaries in the Congo. Before you get to be outraged by neocolonial exploits in the Congo, you are outraged by this. It is the story of the 4 daughters and the mother who have a voice, the preacher remains voiceless, in this book of multiple perspectives.

You can imagine their dislocation – this white American family with teenage daughter looking forward to her high school prom, younger children sipping cream sodas in small town diners. All of a sudden all of that is lost and they are in a small village in the middle of the Congo rainforest, no electricity and hardly a road. They face everything from an invasion of ants stripping anything alive in their way to the death of one of the children by a snakebite. Hard to move on:

“Listen. Slide your weight from your shoulders and move on. You are afraid you might forget, but you never will. You will forgive and remember”

The innocence lost is more about the politics – how the Congo is destroyed, its greatest leader killed – by the post colonialists stripping the Congo of its assets. One of the 4 girls at least is fully aware of what happens. She falls in love and in the end stays on in the Congo to live as an African, giving up the comforts she may have had in the USA.

Some lighter hearted learning for us all:
“I’ve seen how you can’t learn anything when you’re trying to look like the smartest person in the room.”

So a good set of books – I’d recommend them – even if a bit of a roller coaster ride of emotions.

An Ecological Civilisation

What is the “ecological civilisation” that we hear the Chinese government talk about? Has China got the answer for creating a society that will safeguard its environment and ensure that we have a planetary home? Can it actually make the change that’s needed?

Just the phrase is enough for the eyes of environmentalists to light up and ears to prick up. Even better when this term emerges from the lips of the powers that be in the new unstoppable state of China. We often secretly suspect that theirs is the system better able to respond to our challenges. We’re all quite weary of the Fox-dominated, Trump main-stage, Tea Party side- stage, CIA backstage, Clinton-Sanders Show that sometimes goes by the name of western democracy.

So what is this ecological civilisation?
Is this the emperors’ new clothes or a genuine commitment that may save the planet? Not that many people seem particularly interested in saving the planet – as long as they have their cars, houses and plasma TVs, they aren’t that bothered as to where they are situated. Why worry about environmental sustainability when social sustainability is plenty bad enough to occupy our thoughts and clearly more important!

Moving on from that diversion – does this mean that we can all relatively soon take a deep breath, put our feet up, and get on with whatever we really enjoy – planting flowers, reading books, doing the DIY or watching the plain old rugby?

Well this idea isn’t new as such. It was in fact the goal of the last PRC Premier, Hu Jintao. It’s in the constitution of the Communist Party of China and reflected in the 12th 5-year action plan. And now it’s safely embedded in the 13th 5-year action plan, “the Shi San Wu”. The environment is one of the 5 tenets of the plan.

President Xi Jinping - 13th 5 Year Action Plan: the You Tube Clip

President Xi Jinping – 13th 5 Year Action Plan: the You Tube Clip


You just need to turn to the Central Document no 12: To quote from the Steps Centre, as my Chinese isn’t too good either,:

“These mechanisms include potentially significant new ways to punish and reward officials, by abandoning “economic growth as the only criterion in government performance assessment” and establishing a “lifelong accountability system”, which would ensure for the first time that environmental violations will affect an official’s chances of promotion and environmental black marks will stay on the work record for the rest of his or her career.”

That’s pretty good going as it is. Whilst the Americans have been thinking about whether the founding fathers meant that all people could or should carry guns, the Chinese have been using their own 21st century minds to include what they think is right in their constitution. One step ahead for sure.

The Emperor’s New Clothes
Getting to the Emperor’s clothes issue, is this anything other than words? What’s happening on the action front? It looks as if the PRC has got a plan. It includes more renewable energy and nuclear, reducing energy intensive industry in China, and a series of targets for all sectors of the economy including those that the West would rather forget about, like aviation. Who would want to be the spoil support and suggest that a holiday in the Caribbean and a few city breaks over the year isn’t acceptable any longer?

To pull out a few bits and pieces. China now leads the EU on investment in low carbon power generation, it has 5 of the worlds top wind turbine companies, in the next 5 years it plans to double its wind capacity and treble it’s solar power. It’s more than a collection of projects but a strategy of sorts, as is evident from this E3G report

Change seems to be taking place:

China's changing emissions

China’s changing emissions

Taking the risks – being strategic
They seem to have the mettle required to make a change, willingness to take the short term pain. So many of those steel workers in Hebei province, who sadly are often affected by respiratory problems as a result of the polluted air, will now be out of a job. Fortunately, it is not so bad. The government is thinking about new skills and new jobs. And admittedly it’s not in everyone’s interest to produce buckets full of steel that no- one needs, filling one’s lungs with particulate matter, and then then having to spend your savings on doctors fees and holidays to give ones lungs a break.

We may all feel thankful for the communist party, but it’s not quite as easy as all that. Can you imagine trying to crank around a state owned enterprise with a lot of powerful people depending on it for jobs and related income? The same old same old vested interests operate here too.

Will it work?
There is hope. Renewable power has been increasing in China; carbon hasn’t increased in proportion to the growth of the economy. There seems to be better planning of transport and increased attention to buildings combined with a determination to stop deforestation.

A lot of questions remain unanswered as to the speed and depth of cutting carbon emissions in China, and whether the end result will be carbon emissions elsewhere. It’s unclear whether carbon prices and buildings standards will be high enough.

A new philosophy
On the philosophical side, we’re still some way away from a new way of thinking. There has been a small renaissance of Buddhist thinking here which may help with countervailing the impetus to have more and more. But on the whole, the dominant way of thinking remains materialistic. Though for many people in China there is still some way to go before they have decent homes and the comforts they are beginning to expect, so it may be that things will change once people have enough.

Confucianism appears to help. The respect for leaders and the high level of trust seems to allow for change rather than the backbiting stagnation of the USA.

So it looks as though China is going to play a major part in a new greener world order. It hasn’t yet quite developed the ideology needed to sustain a different approach. But it has got the political framework and a general technocratic leaning, possibly supported by Confucianism, that mean that it may well take the lead in achieving a new ecological civilisation. It’s a shame about the free speech issue – a genuine shame – maybe it will change. If it fails to take the lead things could be worse – perhaps we will be looking for another planet. Lets keep urging it on. In the meantime, that other show will continue – Trump or Clinton main stage, Tea Party side stage, and the unknown backstage.

The Road to Paris from India

1426279965air pollution

“For me, this is a moral issue. You don’t have a right to exploit what belongs to future generations. We are only allowed to milk the earth, not to kill it.”

Reasons for Optimism
That’s not the Pope in his latest encyclical but in fact India’s PM Narendra Modi back in 2009 as Chief Minister of Gujerat when he began to promote renewables. Its not just talk as Modi has a track record of delivery. He left Gujerat after his stint as CM of Gujerat from 2001-14 with a renewables share of 17%.

This is encouraging in the run-up to the Paris talks – possibly the last chance we have at a global agreement to avert catastrophic climate change! It is the line and leadership we may expect from the 3rd biggest emitter, after China and the USA, and one which is already suffering the effects of climate change and environmental degradation more broadly. India has seen thousands of deaths in recent months from the heat wave and drought, with farmers killing themselves each month as a result of water shortages.

Misplaced Optimism?
At the same time we hear statements from the Indian government questioning why India should do much, with the Brookings Institute to the Guardian suggesting that India can’t do without burning huge amounts of coal. There seems to be a view that because India needs to get people out of poverty it must just be allowed to burn this coal, as its still got a very long way to go before it catches up with the USA or China – which both burnt vast quantities of coal and pumped vast quantities of smoke into the air.

Modi’s one time clear moral conviction isn’t obvious from more recent statements. In September last year, he said “We should also ask is this climate change or have we changed. We have battled against nature. That is why we should live with nature rather than battle against it”. That’s all a bit ambiguous, but worrying when read alongside what seems to have a Tea Party flavour: “Climate Change? Is this terminology correct? The reality is that in our family, some people are old…they say this time the weather is colder. And people’s ability to bear cold becomes less”. This is worrying, and confusing at best.

Leaving aside the question of a clear commitment to climate change, the political challenges are high. Saying that bills may rise is problematic, and India has a system of subsidies for fossil fuels. It also has a complex federal structure.

Why India must act
The view that India need not make a significant commitment to reduce emissions or at least stop them rising needs to be challenged. We need to see world carbon levels peaking and beginning to decline by 2020. Despite its low per capita emissions, the scale of India’s population – £1.2bn roughly a 1/5th of the world’s population – means that its emissions will affect the chance of keeping the temperature increase to 2 degrees and avoiding a tipping point. A failure to make such a commitment undermines the efforts of others, in particular if India goes the other way taking steps in these critical years to lock itself into a high carbon infrastructure. If Europe and the US take action, but countries like India, China and Brazil do not the world is still faced with runaway climate change.

The USA and China have taken a step in this direction agreeing to reduce emissions from 2030. So will India follow suit or even go further?

Some positive steps…
India hasn’t yet submitted its Intended National Defined Contribution (as country commitments for the purpose of negotiations are called) so we don’t know its final plans.

We have however seen some positive steps over the last few years. The Electricity Act 2003 puts a Renewable Purchase Obligation on state owned electricity suppliers. The Congress government under Manmohan Singh put in place a National Action Plan on Climate Change in 2008 with commitments to energy efficiency and solar power, including 1000MW of solar thermal and 1000MW of PV a year.

PM Modi in his first address promised to expand solar power, though this was only a small part of a broader energy strategy. He declared an intention to boost solar capacity 33 fold to 100,000 MW, which would raise solar to about 10% of India’s fuel mix above Germany’s at 6%. He has also set a target for 60,000 megawatts of wind power by 2022.

To achieve these targets, the Modi government is stimulating demand by raising the RPO to require 8%, rather than 3%, of energy purchased by state suppliers to be renewable by 2020. The government is enabling bonds to fund solar power to be dominated in dollars to take away the risk related to currency fluctuation and reduce capital costs.

Modi’s Prakash Path on energy efficient lighting provides one highly discounted LED light bulb to each household.

Some of these changes really inspire hope and must be welcomed. But to really make a difference in the time we have available, the Indian government needs to step up its efforts beyond this.

But not enough…..
So at present though we have had many steps forward, we have no firm overall carbon reduction targets, no enforcement mechanisms regarding these targets, nor a strategy towards building a low carbon economy. There is little evidence of urban planning and design that makes for low carbon cities. The disbandment of the federal level Planning Commission is also a worry. Will it lead to a weaker central government direction and possible regional competition to reduce costs to industry? How will a strategy towards a low –carbon economy be developed?

Can India do it?
The big question is whether India can reduce its emissions by 30% or even be “zero carbon” by 2050 without consigning its people to poverty? Quoting from Jeremy Rifkin as quoted in Energy Central “India is the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy sources and if properly utilised, India can realise its place in the world as a great power”.

A huge proportion of India’s energy can be generated using renewables: a mixture of wind, solar, hydro and biomass. There is a vast supply of sunlight from the Thar Desert to urban rooftops, as well as wind and hydropower. It has about 70% more solar radiation than the EU. Energy Central estimates that India could easily generate 5000 GWh of solar energy a year. They estimate that India could install 1000GW of solar energy, about 4x its current peak demand, using farmland and desert. WWF take the view that by installing wind turbines along its shoreline a further 170GW capacity could be installed. Capital is needed to fund this, but there is plenty of capital in the world seeking reasonable rates of return.

These power resources are available locally and don’t need to be imported. India may have large reserves of coal but it is a net importer importing coal mainly from Australia. Producing energy locally not only safeguards the balance of payments but creates more jobs and injects more money into the local economy. Energy Central estimates the economic stimulus at US $ 1 trillion.

A large part of India remains unconnected to the grid – about 40% of households do not have electricity. This means local distributed energy – using local power sources – with local transmission lines can be more cost-effective.

Research into these new technologies will be needed as India makes progress. It will mean India taking the lead in a high tech world. It can become a hub of such technology making use of India’s many brilliant scientific minds and its educated workforce.

Its not simply a question of clean renewable energies but also of reducing energy need. That means the right approach to urban planning and building design. India is at that stage of urbanisation and industrialisation where it is able to put low carbon design into effect. If it fails to build cities for the 21st century but builds them for the 20th century, the era of the private motor car, it is tied into an obsolete urban model out of step with what will be needed.

Higher density housing and commercial buildings built around a public transport network with pedestrianised walkways and shade from sun and rain are important. Here India needs to face East. It can learn from the experience of Hong Kong, China and Taiwan, which have built excellent well-used public transport systems and pleasant streets and walkways – often elevated and passing through air-conditioned buildings. In Hong Kong 98% of trips are by public transport and they are fast, comfortable and inexpensive. To the extent that private cars are still needed infrastructure can be put in place immediately for electric cars and hybrids.

New towns and housing developments can be planned and built with distributed energy systems as part of the infrastructure. Solar panels can be placed on roofs at the time of building them, and trigeneration plants constructed. Buildings need to be highly energy intensive, designed to reduce solar gain through glass and walls, make the most of through ventilation, and use highly energy efficient appliances. This can vary from low energy air- conditioning to using traditional building practices.

No doubt readers will ask what will all this cost. To dispel some myths, unless India intends to free ride and take advantage of cheap coal because others stop using it, the costs of renewables are expected to hit parity with coal and fossil fuels by the end of this decade. In terms of energy efficiency, building and designing homes and cities to save energy can cost less rather than more. Public transport systems can be self-financing unlike most huge road projects, and will in the long run save money.

But perhaps India just needs to put its head down and focus on growth?

India itself is highly vulnerable to climate change and the evidence is that it’s beginning already. From a climate justice perspective, India as one of the biggest emitters has it almost in its hands to lead the debate and protect the poorer people in India that will be washed away by flooding and whose farmland will lose its productivity. So India needs to lift its head and be bold by giving the leadership that’s needed. It can do so in the knowledge that climate change will also have direct benefits in the form of clean liveable cities with low transport and energy costs as well as energy security.

So we wait in suspense – will India put its head in the sand and say to the world “you have emitted so much carbon, and why shouldn’t we do the same”? Or will it have the courage and vision to lead? Will it take a bold step forward and say: we don’t need to build our cities to be like American cities, we don’t need to supply stuff to the West at as low a cost as possible no matter the consequences, we don’t need to be as destructive in our lifestyles as the West has been over the last 150 years? It has the capacity to learn from others and leapfrog the West to a better path of development. Lets hope that is the path it will choose.