[Outlook]Clear air, clean oceans

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[Outlook]Clear air, clean oceans

The president-elect of Korea must be busy these days examining a route to navigate for the vessel that is Korea over the next five years. I believe he must be thinking seriously about environmental issues, which have become more important these days.
It will be helpful to understand environmental problems when drawing up appropriate measures. Pollution resulting from the oil leak off the coast of Taean damaged not only our country but also our neighboring countries around the Yellow Sea. The water of the southeast China Sea comes into the Yellow Sea and circulates there for some seven years, maintaining a shared ecosystem.
Because of this oceanic trait, international bodies such as the United Nations attempt to group oceans in regions by shared ecological traits and manage them in an integrated way. Thus, the task of forming policies to protect oceans must start with an understanding of international society’s efforts to form institutions and regulations and to take part in the process.
Not long ago, a conference on climate change was held in Bali, Indonesia. Since then the issue has drawn more attention in Korea, too. People present many ideas about how to respond to climate change. However, as the world’s 10th biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, Korea alone can’t resolve the global climate issue no matter how hard it may try.
Every country agrees in principle that we need to reduce greenhouse gases but they differ over the details of concrete measures, such as who will take the most responsibility and how we should reduce greenhouse gases.
All seem like good ideas, but they resulted from calculations of interests. Therefore, Korea also needs to pay attention to debates in international society and protect our interests when it draws up measures to resolve climate change issues and persuade other countries that its measures are good and effective.
How would the president-elect change institutions to respond to international environmental issues?
The economy is important but the ministry of finance and economy does not handle all economic issues. The president-elect will assign different roles and duties to several government offices depending on the characteristics of the certain economic issues, and seek efficient ways for these government agencies to cooperate with one another.
Likewise, it is important to distribute roles to several government bodies when it comes to international environmental issues, too. It is good to reduce the size of government to pursue efficiency but at times a division of labor also boosts efficiency.
To resolve international environmental issues, we need to cooperate with countries that have different laws so it is important to have diplomats with professional negotiation skills to protect our national interests. Negotiators must coordinate stances among countries before conferences and respond to newly raised issues at conferences.
They also need to have skills to lead debates that produce results that benefit our country as well as international society.
Just as professional negotiators negotiate for a large-scale merger and acquisition, a government ministry that performs international negotiations must take a leading role in diplomatic efforts concerning environmental issues.
As for the ocean’s environment, we need to think about the specialties of government agencies so as to make collective efforts with neighboring countries.
For the atmosphere, it is most difficult to set boundaries. Air flows freely so it is more efficient to have an international body.
It is worth noting that in the United States, not the Environmental Protection Agency but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration handles issues concerning oceans and the atmosphere because oceans and the atmosphere have similar characteristics. The issues involving them need to be addressed internationally.
I hope that the president-elect will get a good understanding of environmental issues, find a balance between division of labor and integration and nicely wrap up preparations for the journey.

*The writer is a professor of international studies at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Chung Suh-yong
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