For the 16th time in its history the world’s largest democracy is going to the polls. Social cohesion, economic growth and the fight against corruption dominate the headlines but what about the implications for the environment? Jonathan Galton investigates.
It has been called ‘jaw-droppingly enormous’ (Washington Post) and the ‘greatest show on earth’ (The Economist). As far as the exercise of the democratic process is concerned, this is no hyperbole. By sheer numbers, India’s 16th general election lords it over the democratic world – an electorate of over 800 million (compare the US’ 200 million in 2012) are choosing from an estimated 15,000 candidates at nearly a million polling stations over the course of five weeks. At the national level, two giant coalitions – the United Progressive Alliance (starring the incumbent Congress Party) and the National Democratic Alliance (dominated by the socially conservative Bharatiya Janata Party) slug it out, joined by a fresh new voice in politics, the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party, or Party of the Common Man.
Big, chunky issues – the economy, corruption, employment, secularism – are under debate, and for many, climate change and sustainable development are way down the list of concerns. While this is understandable, it is also true that India’s cities are polluted, its roads congested and its waterways filthy conduits of disease. Alongside its rise to global prominence the country has become the world’s third biggest carbon emitter but this is rarely mentioned. Here I take a look at the three biggest contestants – the BJP, Congress and Aam Aadmi Party – in an attempt to understand this neglected issue.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
With origins in Hindu nationalism, the BJP rose to prominence in the 1980s and has so far produced one Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1998-2004). Chosen candidate Narendra Modi, a self-described Hindu nationalist and current Chief Minister of Gujarat, has only recently shaken off over years of boycotts by the US and UK following his alleged failure to curb anti-Muslim violence in his state in 2002. Now, with a superstar status and widely tipped to be India’s next PM, “NaMo” is equally famous for the economic growth model he pioneered in Gujarat – a business-friendly small government which welcomes multi-nationals with a warm neo-liberal handshake and reduced taxes – dubbed “Modinomics”.
Some suggest that a Modinomic government would be bad news for the environment – a recent Hindustan Times article described the prospect as a “development disaster” with growth coming at the expense of air quality, water security and rural livelihoods. Others point to the BJP’s investment in renewable energy, especially in Gujarat, as evidence that Modi’s red-tape-slashing dynamism is just what India needs.
The party’s manifesto lists “Inclusive and Sustainable Development” within their Ek Bharat – Shrestha Bharat (“One India, Best India”) pledge. A more detailed reading reveals a focus on energy security by maximising the potential of coal and oil as well as cleaner fuel sources. It is stated that the “BJP considers energy efficiency and conservation crucial to energy security” and that climate change mitigation will be taken seriously, although according to environmental activist Rishi Aggarwal this means “absolutely nothing” if the track record of the BJP in its existing power bases is anything to go by.
Surprisingly little is made of Modi’s 2010 book, Convenient Action: Gujarat’s Response To Challenges Of Climate Change. Granted, it has not had the impact of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth but kudos nevertheless to Modi for writing on the subject. Predictably, the book seems to have been met with a mix of sycophancy and derision, and has been accused of simply showcasing pet projects – some of dubious environmental benefit such as the ecologically controversial Sardar Sarovar Dam – rather than presenting a coherent argument.
The verdict? A Modi-led government may create the right conditions for the renewables sector to flourish but this gung-ho approach could also result in energy-intensive, ecologically-detrimental and perhaps socially-inequitable development.
Indian National Congress
Congress has dominated Indian politics since Independence with seven Prime Ministers including the incumbent Manmohan Singh as well as three members of India’s premiere political dynasty – Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv. The current party chairperson is Rajiv’s widow, Italian-born Sonia Gandhi while the candidate for PM is his son Rahul.
Traditionally left of centre and pro-poor, many view the party as weakened by bureaucracy and corruption today. Where the environment is concerned they have some form, having created the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). Jairam Ramesh who led the latter from 2009-2011 was noted for his assertive style which included delaying some major construction projects, speaking out against fuel-guzzling cars and, controversially, suggesting at the Cancun climate talks that India might be open to committing to binding emissions cuts.
That said, an expert I spoke to who asked not to be named described Congress’ recent record on the environment as “abysmal”, pointing to the “emasculation” of the MoEF, now headed by Veerappa Moily who also just happens to be the Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas. Manmohan Singh has made it clear that he feels rich nations are responsible for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions and should therefore shoulder the main burden of climate change mitigation. Sonia Gandhi, meanwhile, has stressed the need for women’s voices to be heard in the climate change debate, while her son Rahul is not noted for his public pronouncements on the subject.
Like the BJP, Congress’ manifesto prioritises economic growth and there is promise of regulatory reform including around the issue of environmental clearances for new development projects. The Environment section - more detailed than the BJP’s – pledges to continue implementing the National Action Plan on Climate Change and to introduce a system of “Green National Accounts” whereby the costs of environmental degradation will be reflected in India’s national accounts. While the latter is a laudable aspiration it is not entirely clear how this information will actually be used.
Meanwhile, despite criticism from the BJP that Congress is using environmental clearance regulations to control big business, the evidence on the ground – new airports and coal power stations approved under Congress’ watch – suggests that there is little to choose between the two parties in the way they let economic growth trump environmental protection.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)
The newest kid on India’s political block, the Aam Aadmi (“Common Man”) Party launched in late 2012 following activist Arvind Kejriwal’s decision to step into politics. Having quit his job as a civil servant in 2006, Kejriwal set up an NGO to promote transparency in government and has since made corruption claims against high profile establishment figures including Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law. By late 2013 his AAP took control of Delhi’s legislative assembly, only to resign after 49 days after its failure to pass a bill to appoint an independent body to monitor political corruption. Undeterred, Kejriwal is now running head-to-head against Narendra Modi in Varanasi, India’s holiest city.
As might be expected, the AAP manifesto has a strong focus on managing corruption, arguing that true swaraj (self-rule) will not be achieved until India is ruled by its people not by self-interested bureaucrats. There is also an emphasis on decentralisation of power and, as Kejriwal put it in an interview with AGI late last year, a “bottom to top approach” where village and town councils are given untied funds every year. Where the environment is concerned, it is interesting to note that Economy and Ecology are linked in a single section although a large part of the section is devoted (perhaps understandably) to the rural economy. The single “Environment and Natural Resources Policy” does not mention climate change explicitly but stresses the role of local communities in managing natural resources with the support of a reformed Ministry of Environment and Forests. It also calls for a phased shift towards renewable energy (locally-owned, of course) and a priority focus on local water resource management.
Kejriwal has a history with water – as Chief Minister of Delhi he successfully delivered on a promise of 700 litres per day of free water for Delhi households with punitive costs for those exceeding this limit. He later announced reductions in electricity tariffs across Delhi and additional bill waivers as a reward for those who had, under his encouragement, refused to pay their electricity bills in 2012-13 in protest over price hikes. This headline-grabbing approach to fuel poverty might spell a golden opportunity to raise awareness of sustainable resource management but Rishi Aggarwal is sceptical, warning that in the fight for votes the AAP can only promote populist policies which may not be in the best interests of sustainable development. Far more effective, he argues in his recent publication The Futility of Aam Aadmi Party versus the Promise of Active Citizenship, would be for individuals to engage with issues at the grassroots level rather than waiting for the elusive dream of political reform.
Let’s not beat about the bush. Modi’s book notwithstanding, India has no Green Messiah among its mainstream politicians. Climate change and sustainable growth are not big ticket issues in this election and it is not hard to sympathise with the view that India has many more pressing concerns. Congress appears to have a (marginally) better track record than the others, but recent performance has hardly been inspiring and Rahul Gandhi has not indicated any great passion for the subject. BJP’s Narendra Modi, generally tipped as the next PM, has a can-do approach to development including renewable energy projects in Gujarat, but there is a risk that his enthusiasm for growth will run roughshod over environmental concerns. And the AAP? Who knows what Arvind Kejriwal’s drive for decentralisation and affordable fuel could mean for the bigger picture of India’s sustainable growth? Definitely a space worth watching. In the meantime, important as the next government could be, equally if not more important are the private and not-for-profit sectors and, above all, India’s billion plus population. If a meaningful approach to climate change and sustainable development is to be achieved, India needs active, engaged citizens more than ever.
We all know tiffin, tofu and teriyaki, but what about the more unexpected words that have come out of Asia? This week, our resident word-lover Jonathan Galton discusses the story of Orange
There is a grand tradition of naming food products after places. Think of Cheddar cheese. Think of Danish pastries. Think, for that matter, of Parma ham. There’s no guarantee that the name corresponds to the food’s place of origin - what we call a turkey, the Portuguese call a peru, which is only marginally closer to the fowl’s actual ancestral home in North America. It should therefore not come as a complete shock that in many languages an orange is referred to as a “Portugal” – take the Greek portokali, for example, or the Arabic burtuqal. Oranges don’t come from Portugal, as it happens, but it was predominantly Portuguese traders who brought sweet oranges (probably from China) to Europe, and the name seems to have stuck.
No amount of etymological twisting and turning will get us from “Portugal” to “Orange” so for the main event we need to look back into history. Until the 16th century, the only oranges available in Europe were bitter oranges, first introduced by the Crusaders with their Arabic name tag – naranj – intact. This word is still used in Arabic, but only to refer to bitter oranges, and a similar usage in Greek has given rise to a preserve called nerantzi glyko. On an English breakfast table, meanwhile, bitter oranges are mostly likely to be encountered in the form of marmalade, typically made from a variety named after the Spanish city where it is cultivated: Seville.
Until the 16th century, the only oranges available in Europe were bitter oranges, first introduced by the Crusaders with their Arabic name tag – naranj – intact.
In Spanish, however, Seville oranges are called naranja amarga (bitter orange) and we can instantly recognise the Arabic origin of the first word, which is now used to refer to all oranges, bitter or sweet. The same is true in other south European languages, where havoc has been played with the initial “n” giving us the Portuguese laranja, Catalan taronja and Italian arancia. To understand what probably happened in Italian, here’s an experiment: say “una narancia” over and over again getting faster each time and what do you get? Un arancia, in my case. The same is thought to have happened in French, where une narange ultimately became une orange, the form in which (fanfare, please!) it passed into English in the 13th century.
But the story doesn’t end, or begin, with Arabic. Naranj, in fact, comes from the Persian narang, which in turn comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “orange tree”, thought ultimately to derive from a south Indian language. Indeed, in many Indian languages narangi, or similar, is still used for some varieties of orange, while santra is used for others. There is a delicious theory that santra may actually be a corruption of Sintra, a town in Portugal, but this is not widely supported and a good rule of thumb for a budding etymologist is that if it sounds that nice, it probably ain’t true. Perhapsthe Dutch and Germans have a better idea with sinaasappel and apfelsine respectively, both meaning “Chinese apple”. Likewise, in Puerto Rican Spanish, sweet oranges are simply called chinas, while Algerian dialects of Arabic use tchina.
And finally… in case you were wondering, the majority of the languages referenced here give the same word (or similar) to the colour as they do to the fruit. I’ll leave you to ponder that one.
Disclaimer: while the above is based on well-established theories of etymology, it should be noted that alternative theories exist for a number of the word origins described.
In 2008 South Korea adopted a “green growth” model that countries around the world are now trying to emulate with the help of organisations like the Global Green Growth Institute. But has Korea’s story been an unqualified success? Jonathan Galton investigates.
Think South Korea and a range of images will swim in front of your eyes: perhaps the yin-yang on the national flag, or the bright lights of a tiger economy with global brands such as Samsung and Hyundai to its name. Or maybe you’d mentally reconstruct video fragments of a certain K-pop single that took the world by storm last year. One image that probably wouldn’t spring to mind is that of a trailblazing leader in the fight against climate change. But that, arguably, is exactly how former president Lee Myung-bak wanted to position Korea when, in a speech commemorating the Republic’s 60th anniversary in 2008, he proclaimed “Low Carbon, Green Growth” as the country’s new vision.
The following year saw the launch of the Green New Deal, a £23bn fiscal stimulus package to fund a million environmentally sustainable homes, 2,500 miles of bicycle expressways and a host of other low carbon infrastructure and research projects. This package formed the business end of Korea’s Green Growth Strategy which included a target for reducing national greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020 relative to a “business as usual” scenario and stemmed from the philosophy that economic growth and environmental sustainability can – indeed must – be pursued simultaneously.
Five sectors, including agriculture, forestry and fuel, were identified as having a huge potential green growth impact as they were responsible for more than three quarters of the region’s GDP and nearly 90% of its emissions.
It was precisely this philosophy that underpinned the foundation of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), established as a nonprofit foundation under Korean law in 2010 with the aim of exporting the green growth model to emerging economies worldwide. Based in Korea, but with satellite offices in London, Copenhagen and Abu Dhabi, GGGI’s activities fall under three key strands – Green Growth Planning & Implementation, Public-Private Partnership and Research.
Countries with specific needs that GGGI can meet are prioritised and programmes are initiated following a high-level request from the country’s government. One of the first countries to benefit from GGGI’s green growth planning support in 2010 was Indonesia, with a focus on the provinces of East and Central Kalimantan. Together these provinces enjoy a high rate of economic growth but to date this has relied heavily on exploiting the region’s natural resources. Extensive deforestation has not only damaged habitats but also released vast quantities of carbon dioxide.
GGGI began work in East Kalimantan in 2010 following Governor Awang Faroek Ishak’s launch of a new green policy setting ambitious carbon reduction targets. Five sectors, including agriculture, forestry and fuel, were identified as having a huge potential green growth impact as they were responsible for more than three quarters of the region’s GDP and nearly 90% of its emissions. GGGI has supported the provincial government in selecting three programmes for detailed research. One of these is Reduced Impact Logging (RIL), a suite of timber harvesting practices that aims to minimise the damage caused by tree felling to the forest as a whole and has been found to be more financially attractive in the long term than conventional logging.
Another programme is to optimise the use of degraded land by planting cash crops such as Palm oil. Often a byword for environmental folly due to its association with deforestation, palm oil when harvested from degraded land is a far more sustainable product as it allows forests to be left intact for provisioning and regulating services, as GGGI’s Anna van Paddenburg points out. She notes that there is still more to be done to ensure greener growth in this area, suggesting that the palm oil sector should focus on intensifying land use and managing the use of pesticides and fertilisers.
[Polls suggest that the vast majority of Koreans feel that the green growth initiative has contributed to addressing climate change and tackling energy crises and think it should be sustained under the new government./quote]
Since starting work in Indonesia, GGGI has expanded its operations into numerous other countries including Kazakhstan, Cambodia and Peru. Heartening as this is, I find myself wondering why these countries would actively pursue green growth when, in the short term, a business as usual approach is probably more attractive. Another key player in this space, the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), has some answers in a recently published paper dealing specifically with “climate compatible development”, a similar concept to green growth with a strong focus on resilience to the impacts of climate change. A range of possible drivers for climate compatible development is identified, including natural resource scarcity, the need for energy security and the lure of new economic opportunities such as job creation and the stimulus of climate finance.
The paper’s lead author, Karen Ellis, is particularly interested in how the opportunities and threats posed climate change and resource scarcity affect a country’s economic competitiveness. Working for the Overseas Development Institute(a leading UK think tank on international development and a key member of CDKN)she and her colleagues are developing a “Low Carbon Competitiveness Diagnostic”, a resource for policy-makers to make a logical assessment of these opportunities and threats and develop an appropriate policy response. The development of the diagnostic has been informed by ODI’s work in Cambodia, Nepal and Kenya and there are now plans to test out these ideas in a variety of other countries and sectors. Ellis is hopeful that the tool will give policy-makers in low-income countries the coherence of understanding needed to convince their governments of the economic sense in pursuing a climate compatible development model where it is appropriate.
Back in South Korea, on the other hand, the goal of green growth seems to be slipping away as the recently-inaugurated President Park Geun-hye steers the country towards a new culturally-led growth model called the “creative economy”. In the process, Lee’s Presidential Commission on Green Growth has been scaled down and the word “green” deleted from the names of various divisions of the Environment Ministry, whose head, Yoon Seong-kyu has criticised the green growth initiative for leaning more towards “growth” than “green.”
This charge is nothing new – from the outset, environmental groups in Korea greeted Lee’s policies with skepticism, dubbing it “old-style fiscal spending with a new label” and pointing to his earlier high-ranking role in the Hyundai Group that stood to benefit significantly from the green stimulus package. The biggest controversy surrounded a multi-billion dollar project to dredge and dam four major rivers in a bid to improve water quality and security while controlling flooding, restoring river ecosystems and promote river-based recreation. Environmental groups have claimed that the project will actually destroy ecosystems and contaminate drinking water, while the Korean media has been filled with reports of broken bridges and flooded farmlands.
Despite this, polls suggest that the vast majority of Koreans feel that the green growth initiative has contributed to addressing climate change and tackling energy crises and think it should be sustained under the new government. Time will tell what Park Geun-hye’s change of stance actually means for Korea’s relationship with the environment and, while GGGI does not comment on Korea’s domestic policy, a representative I spoke to was keen to stress that the organisation enjoys firm support from the new administration. In any case, the global green growth agenda shows no sign of slowing and, challenges and controversies notwithstanding, I find it inspiring.
This year’s Global Green Growth Summit, focusing on the nexus between finance, innovation and policy, is being held in the Songdo International Business District which, a self-proclaimed Sustainable City boasting green spaces and green buildings but facing criticism from Birds Korea due to fears of habitat destruction resulting from mudflat reclamation, is perhaps a perfect microcosm of the complex journey that South Korea, along with the rest of the world, is taking into a difficult future.
We all know tiffin, tofu and teriyaki, but what about the more unexpected words that have come out of Asia? Word-lover Jonathan Galton gives us an example.
I grew up with a vague idea that tea drinking was a habit the British picked up in India. Not an unreasonable conclusion to draw from the tableaux of sari-clad tea pickers on the front of packets labelled “Darjeeling” and “Assam”, I suppose, but totally inaccurate. The early chapters in the story of man and tea are overwhelmingly linked to China.
Whatever the truth of a popular story involving Emperor Shen Nung, a pot of boiling water, a nearby shrub and a gust of wind, Chinese references to tea drinking stretch back over 2,000 years. By the Tang dynasty (7th to 10th Century CE) tea was widely drunk across China, Japan and Korea. The name given to the beverage (and the plant) varied slightly between languages, with most of China calling it something like cha (the name used in Mandarin and Cantonese today), but those in the southeast opting for ta.
Cha was certainly the form that travelled to Iran, where it became chai which, drunk black and accompanied by dates and sugar cubes, still holds a focal position in Persian social life. As chai, the word has found its way into the vocabulary of Russia, the Arab World, North India, East Africa and most recently even Starbucks!
The first Europeans to encounter tea were the Portuguese, as written records dating back to the 1550s attest. As their major foothold in China was Cantonese-speaking Macau, the word the Portuguese adopted was chá. It is ironic that from Portugal, today a nation of coffee-addicts, one of Europe’s most enthusiastic tea-drinkers spread the habit to Britain. Although the first dated reference to tea in England comes from a 1658 London newspaper, it was Catherine of Braganza, who married Charles II a few years later, who really put tea on the English social map (other legacies from the Portuguese princess include the city of Bombay and, allegedly, the use of the fork).
Why, then, do we (almost always) call it ‘tea’ rather than ‘char’? The answer lies with another European sea-faring nation with trading interests in the Far East. Back in 1606, the first consignment of tea from China to Europe was shipped by the Dutch. They traded with the Fujian region where the word ta was used, and routed ships via Java where this had morphed into teh. As Europe’s principal supplier, the Dutch scattered their thee across Western Europe, giving the French thé, the Italians tè and the Germans tee.
And what about those tea pickers of Assam? My childhood theory actually played out in reverse. By the 19th century, tea had started to spread from Britain’s elite to all levels of society and demand for Chinese imports grew ever higher, prompting the East India Company to investigate the possibility of growing tea in India. Assam, home to an indigenous variety of tea, seemed a logical choice of location and by the 1850’s cultivation and import of Assam tea was in full swing although it was only well into the twentieth century that tea achieved the ubiquity in India that it maintains today. Most of India refers to it with some variant of chai or cha, while some southern languages use teneer (“tea water”) or simply ti. Round the corner in Burma they call it lahpet and eat it pickled as a salad, but that doesn’t really sound like my cup of tea.
Disclaimer: While the above is based on well-established theories of etymology, it should be noted that alternative theories exist for a number of the word origins described.