[Viewpoint]Winning the climate war

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[Viewpoint]Winning the climate war

The four seasons in Korea used to be distinctive, but the characteristics of the Korean climate seem to be disappearing due to global warming. According to the Korea Meteorological Administration, the average temperature rose by 1.4 degrees Celsius (34.7 F) over the last hundred years, with shorter winters and considerably fewer frost, when temperatures fall below 0 degrees Celsius. The rise in temperature has moved the center of apple production from Daegu to Yeongwol, Gangwon. The pollack in the East Sea have become a lost species.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expressed concern that if global warming continues, the glaciers in the Himalayas would melt away by the end of the 21st century and sea levels would rise by 0.5 meters (1.6 feet), putting coastal metropolitan cities such as New York, Tokyo and Shanghai in jeopardy of being submerged.

The effective response to climate change is obvious. The solution is to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide. Yet countries prefer different methods of accomplishing this depending on their national interests.

The 13th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted the so-called Bali Roadmap last year. However, the roadmap was limited to preparing the framework for negotiations to reach agreements on climate change and failed to propose clear answers.

Therefore, the exhausting process of developing follow-up measures to the Kyoto Protocol by 2009 will continue for a while. The outcome might bring tremendous changes to the economic order of the international community, possibly shifting from a fossil fuel-oriented economic structure to a hydrogen economy.

Korea is standing at a challenging crossroad in the chaotic climate negotiations. At the moment, Korea enjoys the status of a developing country, which means it is not obligated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Korea is the 10th-largest greenhouse gas emitter and has the 23rd-largest volume of accumulated carbon dioxide every year. As a member of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, however, Korea would end up facing severe criticism and international isolation if we try to keep our status as a developing country.

Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible for us to initiate a new standard that suits Korea’s situation in climate negotiations due to our political, economic and scientific caliber at the moment. We need to confront this reality fully and prepare an effective negotiation strategy.

In order to bend the negotiations in our direction, we should carefully build an alliance. As a member of the Environmental Integrity Group, a negotiation group under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, we have been seeking mutual action. However, the Environmental Integrity Group is comprised of smaller countries such as Switzerland and Mexico, and it is difficult to stand as a negotiation group against the European Union and the Group of 77, where developing countries are members.

The latest trend in climate change negotiations is represented by the European Union, which is leading existing UN agreements, and the United States, which has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol.

Unlike EU nations that prefer a more drastic reduction plan, the United States opposes obligatory emission reductions and wants an approach based on technology and market economy. The United States is initiating the so called Major Economies process, which has participation from the 16 countries that produce more than 80 percent of the worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. This group includes Korea, G8 nations, China, India and Australia.

It is also leading various consultative bodies with emphasis on technology and market economies such as the Asia-Pacific Partnership, the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy and the Methane to Markets Partnership.

These groups consist of a few countries that produce most of the world’s greenhouse gas, so they have a strong bond and can strongly influence the trend of international climate negotiations.

Korea’s role should not be limited to simple participation. It needs to create an alliance through the consultative groups and partnerships led by the United States.

In the long run, we cannot maintain our developing country status, and if we want to avoid the restrictive emission reduction obligation, it is more realistic that we participate in the groups initiated by the United States.

If all goes well, we can enjoy various economic benefits through market and technology-based cooperation. Moreover, neighbors such as Japan and China are also in the group, so we could move toward a regional effort in addition to the existing tripartite dialogue on climate change. Instead of taking a passive stance, strengthening our negotiation edge through a solid alliance is the best way to win the war on climate change.

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

by Chung Suh-Yong
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