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Korea should step up to reduce emissions

Annual Peace BAR Festival held under theme of climate justice

Sept 20,2019
From left, Irina Bokova, Miwon scholar of practice at the university; Choue In-won, chancellor of Kyung Hee University System; Ian Dunlop, a member of the Club of Rome; and Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University discuss the role of the civic societies and communities worldwide and in Korea in combating climate change at the Peace BAR Festival of Kyung Hee University at the university campus in eastern Seoul on Thursday. [PARK SANG-MOON]
Korea must play a larger role to combat climate change as one of its major contributors, experts said at the Kyung Hee University’s Peace BAR Festival on Thursday.

“South Korea is one of the top producers of carbon dioxide in the air - if I have the correct statistics, I understand we are within the world’s top-10 largest producers of carbon dioxide,” said Choue In-won, chancellor of the Kyung Hee University System.

South Korea ranked as the seventh-highest producer of total carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion in 2015, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group based in the United States. First on the list was China, followed by the United States, India, Russia, Japan and Germany.

“In countries like Korea where climate change is not a priority among political and corporate circles, I suggest to communities here to start to say [combating climate change] is absolutely critical,” said Ian Dunlop, a member of the Club of Rome.

Kyung Hee University in eastern Seoul holds the Peace BAR Festival, a forum on the topic of peace, annually to commemorate the United Nations’ International Day of Peace, which falls on Sept. 21. This year’s forum was held from Monday to Thursday under the theme “The Future Unhinged: Climate Justice for All.”

“We are facing a fast changing climate phenomenon,” said Ban Ki-moon, former secretary general of the United Nations and current head of Korea’s presidential agency on resolving the fine dust issue. “From record-breaking heat waves to wildfires, from typhoons to hurricanes, these events no longer seem like anomalies... If we allow the global temperature to rise more than 3 degrees Celsius [a rise of around 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit], then it may be the end of humanity.”

But according to some experts at the forum, the world is headed for a 4 degrees Celsius rise by 2100 at the current rate. The UN had also announced last November that global temperatures are on track for a rise of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius by 2100.

“The problem is, at the moment, we are not reducing emissions at all - we are actually producing more,” said Dunlop. “We are on a path of increasing the world temperature by 4 degrees Celsius, which brings an environment incompatible with an organized global community. In other words, that represents global collapse.”

Dunlop said one of the main reasons people are not mobilized to act on the issue despite its expected gravity is that the effects of climate change are not immediately apparent.

“Whatever we put into the atmosphere today, we don’t see the full effect for 10, 20 or 30 years to come,” he said. “By the time [the effects] becomes clear, it will be too late to act. That means we have to act now.”

Some of the more specific actions outlined by the experts to roll back climate change included decreasing business-as-usual industrial output.

“We should stop all carbon consumption today [and] wind back existing industries immediately,” Dunlop said. “We need to phase out fossil fuel by no later than 2050. We should remove subsidies to fossil fuel industries, tighten controls on fugitive emissions from fossil fuel operations and redesign agricultural practices to emphasize soil carbon sequestration, ocean sequestration and reforestation. Solutions are available to us but what we lack is political will to make it happen.”

“There are five priority areas to work on,” Ban said. “They are early warning systems, infrastructure projects, improving dryland agriculture, protecting and restoring mangroves which protect people from flooding and fortifying water supplies.”

The leadership of the United States was mentioned often throughout the forum.

“What is most concerning is that the United States decided to withdraw from climate agreements,” Ban said. “In regards to the Green Climate Fund [GCF], there were pledges by the United States, Canada, Australia, the UK and France to mobilize $100 million by 2020. But the GCF has now become an empty shell after the United States stopped paying.”

In discussing the rising sea level in the Arctic, Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at the University of Cambridge, said it was unfortunate to see governments appearing more interested in securing resources than saving the planet.

“U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a statement regarding Chinese and Russian movements and investments in the Arctic region, that the United States will build more forces in the region to ‘fortify America’s security and diplomatic presence in the area.’ The U.S. is ramping up an aggressive posture to counter those by China and Russia in the area. These are unwelcome trends in the Arctic, and the Arctic council is not well equipped to deal with these issues.”

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]


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