[Outlook]An environmental hub

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[Outlook]An environmental hub

Recently, I went to Geneva, Switzerland to attend a meeting of the compliance committee for the Basel Convention, an international treaty that regulates the movement of hazardous waste between nations.
There are countless international organizations in Geneva, and the office for the Basel Convention is located in the International Environment House.
The International Environment House refers to two buildings on one side of the city which accommodate 50 international environmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations and private organizations.
One of the reasons why these environmental organizations chose to locate in Geneva is that the Swiss government has made conscious efforts to accommodate them.
The Swiss government built the Geneva Environment Network and provides all the necessities these organizations need to cooperate with one another.
It is, of course, the Swiss government that provided space in the International Environment House to these organizations.
As many international environmental organizations are located here, they create huge synergy. They share an international environmental library, run a joint Internet site, publish newsletters and produce all kinds of information on international environmental issues.
This is certainly the mecca for international environmental issues.
As large-scale conferences are frequently held there, countless visitors spend huge amounts of money in the city, adding to income from tourism.
Seeing the Swiss government’s efforts made me envious and I wished that we had a similar place in Korea.
Because Northeast Asia is one of the busiest economic regions in the world, there are a variety of environmental issues affecting this region.
It would be wonderful if Korea started a debate on environmental issues in Northeast Asia, drawing attention from people around the world and beating China and Japan to the punch.
There are not many international environmental organizations in Korea, but we have a few. The office for the UNDP’s Yellow Sea project is in Ansan, Gyeonggi, and the office for the UNEP’s Regional Seas Programme―Northwest Pacific Region is in Busan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is said to be working hard to open an office for the Northeast Asian Sub-regional Programme of Environment Cooperation.
There is talk about making the demilitarized zone an ecological park. It could be a good idea to open an international research center to study the effects of the oil spill off the coast of Taean and to prevent this kind of incident from happening again in other countries as well as in Korea.
A joint body to resolve the yellow dust phenomenon might also be created. Organizations addressing these issues would be enough to create a center of environmental issues in Northeast Asia.
The Lee Myung-bak administration pursues efficiency, pragmatism and globalization.
It would be a perfect task for the new government to bring together offices that are now scattered here and there and to establish a new office for an international organization, which would increase Korea’s brand value.
A place that has a well-developed infrastructure would be a good candidate.
Workers for international bodies will bring their family members and they will need services.
It would be great if the place has good educational facilities for children and is conducive to family life. As many people from other countries will visit, transportation and accommodations are important factors as well.
The place should be close to the diplomatic district because diplomats from many countries will visit to gather information or lobby. If it is easy to make contact with their respective related offices in Korea, the place will be even more attractive.
Just as Switzerland brought together environmental organizations from around the world, provided services for them and became a center of the international environmental movement, I hope that Korea will provide a place where international environmental organizations can work together.
I hope that Korea becomes a center for environmental diplomacy to resolve issues not only on the Korean Peninsula but also around the globe.
I dream that some day I will take a bus near my house to go to a conference, instead of flying halfway around the world.

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

by Chung Suh-yong
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