[Outlook]Making the environmental grade

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[Outlook]Making the environmental grade

The 18th National Assembly will likely fail when it comes to environmental issues. In the April 9 legislative elections, 245 district representatives and 54 proportional representatives were elected, and few of them are experts on the environment.
Issues, such as climate change, air pollution, yellow sand, protection of marine life and the import of Chinese products that are harmful to the environment should be handled in conjunction with other countries. However, almost no one among the newly elected lawmakers has the capacity to handle the issues on an international scale.
In the 18th National Assembly, the ruling and the opposition parties will probably be busy confronting each other over a cross-country waterway, and they will not likely discuss environmental issues, which are very important to the people.
Globalization is an irreversible worldwide trend. This means that the era in which a country wields exclusive, absolute power within its boundaries is nearing an end.
For instance, fish are unaware of arbitrary undersea territories that we humans have set. Even if we protect fish within our territorial waters, it is pointless if China catches the same fish recklessly when they enter its waters.
Korea, one of the world’s top 10 countries in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, must respond to climate changes while it pursues economic growth. To create proper measures, the country must pay attention to what is being discussed in the rest of the world.
But the National Assembly is busier with domestic issues rather than discussions about international society.
During the legislative election campaigns, candidates usually present pledges that will attract the attention of citizens and they hardly address international environmental issues.
There is hardly any chance that experts on international environmental issues will become lawmakers. Proportional representatives are supposed to address such problems, but both the ruling and opposition parties selected proportional representatives who are also interested in domestic issues.
The National Assembly has 17 standing committees, and it is doubtful that environmental issues will be discussed in any of them.
A committee for reunification, foreign affairs and trade seldom handles international environmental issues. A committee for environment and labor is expected to become a battlefield deciding the fate of the cross-country waterway and is unlikely to discuss international environmental issues in depth.
It is hard to expect a committee for agriculture, maritime affairs and fisheries to address the issues, either. The ministry of maritime affairs and fisheries has even been shut down, which runs counter to an international trend to address a variety of issues in maritime affairs as a whole.
Environmental issues are not merely political slogans but are directly linked to our survival and that of future generations.
The 18th National Assembly must be aware of this and must be able to address issues that are important in international society.
I once went to an international conference for protecting the marine environment in the Yellow Sea.
The conference was organized by an international body and attended by legislators from China and Korea.
English was the official language for the conference but one Korean lawmaker spoke in Korean, causing all the other participants to be taken aback.
Chinese participants made remarks and speeches in English in deference to the rules of the conference. The Korean lawmaker seemed to be a nationalist who didn’t have etiquette or good manners, rather than a confident person who is proud of the Korean language.
It would have been better for the Korean lawmakers to well-prepared to attend international conferences and cooperate with the Chinese lawmakers to find measures to protect the Yellow Sea.
Korean lawmakers have been busy conducting numerous tasks to become familiar with international issues in other fields. But unfortunately, few of them have been interested in or worked for the resolution of environmental problems, the key to protecting the Korean Peninsula, the living space for us and our descendents.
Each individual lawmaker and the National Assembly as a whole must be aware of the urgency and importance of resolving problems pertaining to the environment through globalization and must put their efforts into that.
They will likely fail in this subject for now, but we hope that they will do their best to improve and get a good grade in the end.

*The writer is a professor of international law at the Division of International Studies of Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Chung Suh-yong
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