[Viewpoint] Power and influence over climate

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[Viewpoint] Power and influence over climate

There are two passive and weak students in a class. The first one is bullied and beaten up by his classmates all the time, but the other enjoys his school life. No one harasses the second student. They are both shy and weak, but they are treated in completely different ways. The explanation is simple. The second student is friends with two of the strongest students in the class, say experts in bullying.

The second student is at an advantage in the network of muscle in his class. In a society where people and organizations are complexly interconnected, the position is just as crucial as the magnitude of power. A person may not be very powerful himself, but his central location in the network makes him influential.

Those who study networks distinguish influence from power. And they measure the “centrality” numerically based on distance, adjacency and influence.

Let’s look at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Countries are connected by a bond called greenhouse gas reduction. In this network, the powers are the United States, China and the European Union. Then who has high centrality?

“Foreigners are very interested in information about Korea,” says Na Yong-hun, a team chief of the nongovernment Climate Change Center. Hundreds of booths have been installed in Copenhagen’s Bella Center, where the convention halls and press center are located.

He says that the Korean booth is frequented with many visitors who ask about Korea’s position. A member of a Mexican NGO noted, “Greenhouse gas reduction is a sensitive issue, and there is often domestic controversy. It is surprising that Korea voluntarily announced a reduction plan right before the climate conference. Korea seems to be in a different position from other countries.”

Just as he said, Korea is in a unique position in the negotiation for climate change. Korea is standing at the intersection of “three bridges,” where arguments and interests collide.

The first is the bridge between the developed and the developing worlds. Developing countries have a clear position. The greenhouse gases emitted by developed countries in their course of industrialization caused today’s problem, and therefore, they do not want to share the responsibility. The developed countries hope to hush the complaints of the underdeveloped countries and create a frame of joint participation. Korea is standing in the middle of two camps. Developed countries insist on gas reduction obligations for all countries, while underdeveloped nations demand the obligatory gas reduction of the developed world alone. Once a country accepts the reduction obligation, it is controlled by the international regulation. Korea has proposed a “registration” system that incorporates the arguments for both sides. Each country declares its reduction plan in the registration and implements it while verifying the progress of the others.

The second is the bridge between green and growth. The two perspectives clash over the solutions to global warming. The green advocates insist that greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced compulsively. Meanwhile, the champions of growth claim that we need to focus on developing alternative energy and technology rather than reducing the emission. Incidentally, the Korean government announced “green growth” as the national objective at the Liberation Day celebrations last year. Korea is one of the few countries to advocate the combination of the two.

Thirdly, Korea is the bridge connecting the United States and Japan with China. Washington and Tokyo have been working hard to persuade Beijing to join the reduction effort. China considers the demand from the two rivals as an intervention. The U.S. and Japan seem to expect Korea to play an intermediary role to persuade China. They hope that China would lower its guard if Korea, which has submitted the most exemplary reduction goal among the countries with no obligation, makes a proposal.

Being positioned between the developed and the developing countries, green and growth, and between Washington and Beijing does not automatically give influence. Korea could be excluded by both sides. However, the three bridges clearly pose Korea a great opportunity. If we have a strategy and solution to take advantage of the centrality, Korea could become the hub in the era of green growth.

The Copenhagen climate conference is likely to be the hottest environmental event in history. Over 100 heads of states are to attend the conference to save the planet.

The Korean government’s official delegation includes over 100 officials. The size will be even bigger when President Lee Myung-bak attends the event. We should not criticize the government for wasting money by sending such a large party. The point is what they learn and feel.

With the convention, the low-carbon era is getting ready to take off. The government delegation should come home with wisdom and vision to make the most out of the three bridges ahead of us.

*The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Gyu-yeon
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