It's hard to find a dominant topic on The Interpreter this week, although energy — clean and otherwise — was a recurring theme. Let's start with Hannah Wurf on speculation that China will join the International Energy Agency: is not clear if China and other emerging economies are ready to join the IEA. The Chinese Government has not made IEA membership a top priority, although it has strong ties with the organisation. There are some who believe the future of energy governance is in Asian-focused organisations rather than the IEA, with its fixed principles and institutional history. The IEA risks going through a series of complicated reforms only for disgruntled members to be told that big players like China and India are not yet interested in membership.

 Shashank Joshi looks at India's counter-terrorist capability in light of the recent Gurdaspur attack:

KPS Gill, a former director of police in the Punjab, renowned for his central role in curbing the insurgency, wrote a scathing column for the Indian Express pointing to a woeful lack of equipment and training for local police. The same newspaper noted that Punjab police had been trained by Israeli specialists four years ago but that funding dried up, leaving police firing 'a handful of rounds for practice' every year, SWAT teams walking around a live siege without bulletproof vests or helmets, turf wars between local and federal forces, and no back-up for two hours. Seven years after the Mumbai attacks, India's ability to respond quickly and effectively to major attacks remains under serious question.

Stephen Grenville on the 50th anniversary of the ANU Indonesia Project:

There has been plenty of Indonesian recognition of the Project's value as a source of research. One top Indonesian economist said 'It is ironic that the best institution...on the Indonesian economy is not in Indonesia but is to be found in Australia.' 

But evaluating its worth as 'ballast' in the relationship has proven harder and its value has often gone unrecognised. One of the regular reviewers noted that the Project's budget (less than A$1 million a year) 'represents significantly less than 1/10th of one percent of AusAID's country program in Indonesia. Effectively, the Project operates on a slender shoestring, while providing plenty of leverage for AusAID's money'.

It now seems clear that Taliban leader Mullah Omar died in 2013. Will that undermine the early stages of peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government? No, says Lowy Institute Thawley scholar Jacob Berah

If we assume the announcement was correct and that Mullah Omar in fact died years ago, as the Kabul rumour mill has long conjectured, then it was a matter of 'when' rather than 'if' his death was revealed. Although the announcement will probably stall talks for now, it was better to have gotten this out of the way early, before talks progressed and the foundation of a negotiated agreement was hammered out. Announcing his death later in the piece would have likely been far more disruptive, potentially calling into question what had already been negotiated and sending the peace process back to square one.

Is Southeast Asia really a piracy hotspot? Statistics can be misleading, says Sam Bateman:

A recent piece by Elliot Brennan (Southeast Asia: Here be Pirates) misrepresents the piracy situation in Southeast Asia. It follows media reports claiming Southeast Asia is now the main global 'hot spot' for global piracy and sea robbery. That may be true in absolute numbers of reported attacks, but before making broad statements about piracy in the region and the counter-measures required, it's necessary to look more closely at the figures.

Turkey and Malaysia are on parallel political-religious trajectories, wrote Daniel Woker:

At opposite ends of the Islamic world, two traditional examples of moderate Islam in a modern state are slipping fast. In their desperate quest for personal power, President Erdogan of Turkey and Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia appear to be not only destroying their personal reputations but also dragging their countries towards religious extremism and confrontation between national minorities.

Prime Minister Abbott announced a new naval shipbuilding plan this week, which was expertly picked apart by Derek Woolner:

Whatever happens, it seems likely that the Navy's force structure will become more expensive as either the surface fleet is expanded or its vessels' operational lives are reduced in line with a continuous replacement program. Whatever the Government's preferences, it also seems that a considerable part of the future submarine program will need to be undertaken in Australia if a continuous build policy is to be sustained.

More clearly, Australian naval shipbuilding is now centred on Adelaide. Some of the smaller regional yards may be able to survive on fleet maintenance, which will also support the continued viability of the industry in Fremantle. However, should BAe wish to remain in Australian naval shipbuilding, it might be best advised to realise the latent real estate value of its Williamstown facility and purchase ASC. Whether that would ultimately contribute to the Commonwealth Government losing more seats in Victoria than it might hope to save in South Australia remains to be seen.

The Interpreter took a close look at President Obama's big clean-energy announcement, via climate experts Frank Jotzo and Howard Bamsey:

The Clean Power Plan will contribute perhaps a quarter of the reductions needed to reach the US national target, so clearly much more needs to be done. But the Plan is an expression of earnest political will, the fuel of the negotiating process. Sustained US leadership throughout Obama's second term has helped move that process from feeble sputtering to a steady tick.

Obama claims US action is the reason China is moving on climate change. This is a massive overstatement. China acts for its own domestic reasons and objectives. But it is true that without commitments and action in the US, it would be harder for China to take a leadership role on climate change. The converse holds true too: if there was less action in China, it would be more difficult for Obama to run hard on the issue of climate change.

ASEAN is once again being outmanoeuvred by China, says Elliot Brennan:

In recent years, Cambodia has been a thorn in the side of ASEAN unity on this issue. In 2012 it blocked any ASEAN unity, and since then Chinese investment into Cambodia (and Laos) has increased. The relationship remains strong; a day before ASEAN foreign ministers began thrashing out a position on the South China Sea, Hun Sen was (with impeccable timing) opening a new Cambodia-China Friendship Bridge...

...If ASEAN can find unity at this meeting on the South China Sea, it will have a far stronger hand at the East Asia Summit in November. But China has already completed a large amount of construction across the South China Sea, and to much surprise on Wednesday, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said construction in the area has now stopped. That will throw a big spanner in the works of any final ASEAN statement. From a position of greater strength, it could also see China become more receptive to discussions on a Code of Conduct with ASEAN members.

Once again, it appears Beijing has outmanoeuvred a laggardly and divided ASEAN.

'How should Australia treat ISIS returnees?', asks intelligence expert David Wells:

Will the possibility of jail time deter potential travelers from leaving for the Middle East? Given that some are actively seeking martyrdom, and given the current rate of attrition for foreign fighters, I'd suggest not.

But importantly, it will and already is deterring or delaying the return of individuals who claim to be disenchanted with life in the Caliphate but who hope to avoid a lengthy jail sentence back in Australia. A successful prosecution in this case would undoubtedly help drum home the Australian Government's message. Conversely, an unsuccessful prosecution could send a message that new counter-terrorism legislation does not stand up to the challenges of prosecuting foreign fighters returning from Syria and Iraq. It's a high-risk, high-reward approach, with significant implications for the Government's counter-terrorism policy as a whole.

Is Australia's embrace of MIKTA risky? Christian Downie thinks so:

...any intrusion of a power-based grouping limited Australia's capacity to establish issue-based coalitions, one of our principal strategies to influence G20 outcomes. This is the risk with MIKTA. Australia's participation has the potential not only to further legitimate power-based and regional groupings, which are not in Australia's interest, but also to undermine the credibility of Australian calls for other countries to coalesce around issues instead of blocs.

Every time Australian officials at the G20, or some other international forum, chastise the G7 or the BRICS for blocking progress or developing positions across a range of issues rather than addressing each issue on its merits, these countries can point to MIKTA.

Catriona Croft-Cusworth took her weekly look back at events in Jakarta:

In other news, an Indonesian non-government organisation made world headlines this week for honouring North Korea's autocratic leader Kim Jong-un with an award for statesmanship. The award came from the Sukarno Education Foundation, headed by former president Sukarno's daughter, Rachmawati Sukarnoputri. Under the media spotlight, Rachmawati defended the award,  saying that human rights abuse allegations against Kim were only 'Western propaganda', and that there were parallels between him and her father for their 'fight against neo-colonialist imperialism'. She did not reveal how the foundation would deliver the award to the reclusive dictator.

Climate economist Fergus Green began a three-part series on Australia's renewable energy wars:

In terms of absolute renewable energy capacity additions, China reigns supreme, and its additions dwarf what Australia is considering. Whereas Australia would need to build only about 1.4 gigawatts (GW) of large scale renewable capacity per year between 2020 and 2030 to get to 50% renewable electricity (ie. 14GW in ten years), China built more than 20GW of wind capacity last year alone. China is planning to add another 100-200GW of wind power and another 75GW of solar in the next five years, targets that are likely to be increased and exceeded if recent experience is any guide (see p. 38 of our recent Policy Brief). A recent report by Chinese government energy planning agencies contained a 'high-penetration renewable energy scenario' whereby China would build 2400GW of wind and 2700GW of solar by 2050.

Of course, China's electricity sector is vastly bigger than Australia's, but the point is that we needn't think that 14GW of large scale renewables in Australia over ten years is anything radical. It's the very least we should be doing.

Photo by Flickr user t.bone1987.