[Letters] Korea’s greater obligation

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[Letters] Korea’s greater obligation

Last year, an article in your newspaper reported that most Koreans are unaware of the simple actions they can take to combat climate change.

But what exactly are Koreans unaware of? What are the actions that Koreans should be obligated to take against climate change?

This month, four students attempted to answer these questions when they debated the idea that developed nations have a greater obligation for combating climate change at the Korea Foundation Cultural Center. Two students argued on each side of the topic, but in the end, all four agreed that Korea needs to take some action about climate change now.

The public debate was attended by several eminent guests, including Yoo Byung-seok, deputy director of the government’s Climate Change Team; Yoon Keum-jin, director of the Korea Foundation Cultural Center, and Soleiman Dias, president of the Brazil Korea Association.

The question of whether or not developed countries have a greater obligation than developing countries to do something about climate change is highly relevant to the whole of Korea, both South and North.

South Korea, recently invited into the G-20 [club of the world’s biggest economies], is a developed country.

If the international community determines that climate change is the responsibility of developed nations, South Korea will find upon its shoulders a much greater burden than it ever had to bear before.

Currently, the United Nations’ stance on this issue often involves the phrase “equal but distinct obligations.” This phrase and the arguments that revolve around it are complex, but simply put, the UN’s position is that developed and developing countries both have obligations on climate change within their own capacities.

For some people, including myself, this means that developed countries have a greater obligation for combating climate change because they have far more resources than developing countries and because they are thus more able to do something about the environment.

Because developing countries, on the other hand, have far fewer available resources, their obligation should be smaller.

Developed countries simply have more green technologies and know-how.

Vaclav Smil, an energy expert at the University of Manitoba, has written: “We have the know-how to consume, in rich countries, only half as much [energy] as we do without lowering our real quality of life.”

Developing countries, on the other hand, have no such technologies, and the few resources they do have are needed to somehow produce enough food, clothing and shelter for entire populations.

Alternative energy is a luxury for developing countries, and developing countries cannot afford luxuries.

Furthermore, developing countries need room to develop without having to reduce emissions.

Just as [today’s] developed nations were allowed to grow without restraint during their industrial development, developing countries should not be inhibited in their growth.

Developing nations suffered in the past under the prodding and bullying of developed nations. Still struggling to survive, developing countries suffer even today from the rapid, uninhibited growth of other countries.

Kevin Watkins, lead author of a United Nations report about climate change, has said that global warming will hit the poorest people of the world hardest.

Currently, 2.6 billion people in the world live on less than $2 a day. They will be the greatest victims of climate change if developed countries don’t take action now.

As citizens of a developed country, we are responsible for the survival of the planet we have almost destroyed.

We must educate ourselves, and then take action. This is the burden inextricably bound with a relatively higher standard of living.

If you have the comforts of food, clothing and shelter, you must be obligated to save the world.

Choi Bo-ryung, high school student.
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