[Viewpoint] Hosting the environmental Olympics

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[Viewpoint] Hosting the environmental Olympics

We are still a little high in the emotional aftermath of the glorious moments of the London Summer Olympics that ended last week. We stayed up all night with our attention glued to the matches, connected as one in both pride and appreciation of our players and our heightened national identity.

Another multinational event of goodwill and common goals opens in September on our Jeju Island. The World Conservation Convention, also known as the environmental Olympics, is to be held from Sept. 6 to 15. The quadrennial event hosted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature is the largest international forum to address the environmental challenges the global community faces. The convention comes to the Northeast Asian region for the first time and we, as host, should demonstrate our deep interest and passion for environmental issues.

The need to rein in the deterioration, contamination, devastation, and exploitation of land, sea, food and air and to preserve our natural resources as best we can is unquestionably mankind’s utmost imperative. The IUCN first held an assembly in 1948 to encourage individual countries’ conservation efforts and to campaign for a universal platform, and it obtained permanent official observer status at the United Nations General Assembly.

The congress has been held every four years since 1996 to raise awareness and seek solutions to various environmental and climate change issues. Jeju was selected as host for the 2012 event because of its commitment to natural conservation and Korea’s reputation as a successful host of multinational events. The upcoming congress will bring together over 8,000 government officials, non-government experts, activists, journalists, and industrialists from 1,100 organizations and 180 countries.

This year’s congress is pivotal in view of the worsening destruction, pollution and the ominous signs of environmental disaster evident in just about every corner of the planet from climate changes. Scientists and environmentalists have long been warning of serious consequences from disruptions of nature’s order, but their words have more often been ignored by the world audience.

We have lived with the warnings about global warming dangers for the last 20 years and, in a way, it no longer stirs any sense of anxiety or emergency. Now that the global community is swept up in another economic crisis, environmental imperatives are hardly on the minds of policy makers or even ordinary people. But someone needs to continue ringing the alarm and the upcoming World Conservation Congress should play that role.

As frequently witnessed in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or Earth Summits, advanced and developing countries, wealthy and poorer nations, differ greatly in their attitudes about containing greenhouse gas emissions. The environmental Olympics is a goodwill celebration that can help narrow the gaps. It will focus on redefining the role of advanced nations that have been reckless in development, production, exploitation, and consumption and who gobbled up natural resources of poorer countries during the imperialistic era and are now demanding to raise the bar on carbon emissions and the cost of environmental hazards.

Whether their green campaigns can persuade the underdeveloped part of the globe, which is struggling to keep up with progress and to get to the industrialization phase, is the challenge. Having experienced both poverty and success in industrialization, Korea demonstrated that economic development can be accomplished without jeopardizing natural assets. In our role as host, we should ensure that the Jeju convention focuses on discussions of sustainable growth to combat poverty and food shortage through low-carbon industrial growth.

The fact that such an important theme is addressed in the Northeast Asian region underscores the rising role of East Asia as a central stage for what is happening in the world. The world will watch closely how East Asian cultures define and address the relationship between nature and humankind and its commitment to conservation. In a fast-changing era, Asian values and solutions can provide the answer to what the world is seeking: the viability of nature in the center of a community’s sustainable growth and prosperity.

Natural conservation cannot be sustained without a deep consideration for the values and traditions we must preserve. The theme of the congress, recovering nature, should therefore be explored in line with a sense of social responsibility. The discussions in Jeju are expected to help map out the future of the Korean community. That is why we must all be interested and show support for the event.

* The author is former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hong-koo
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