Don’t ignore the future

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Don’t ignore the future

Some may frown on the discussions about the future and say they are a luxury given the hard times the people and companies of this nation are facing due to a prolonged economic slowdown. In the meantime, political circles and the media are too preoccupied with wrangling about what happened in the past, like last year’s presidential election campaign, to find any time or space to discuss the future agenda. The years 2015 and 2030 seem too far off their radar.

In fact, they are just around the corner.

It is a shared fault in both advanced and developing countries to lack the foresight or capacity to prepare for the future due to a preoccupation with issues of the present and the past. The world is feeling the ramifications of a generation of heated galloping toward development and advances in a rapidly globalizing existence. The United States, which was saved from the brink of a credit crisis, is no exception. In the midst of all this, the new leadership in South Korea has failed to find a focus for the direction of its governance, and politics are sharply divided because the president and the politicians that surround her have different perspectives on the state of the world and the dangers facing the nation.

President Park Geun-hye is concentrating her political energy on raising the nation’s status and seeking a new growth engine for the economy by actively participating in global activities that deal with the future. In a series of summit talks and addresses to global conferences - the World Energy Conference, Seoul Conference on Cyberspace and the International Conference on Global Cooperation in the Era of Eurasia - Park consciously emphasized future challenges and kept her distance from the politics of the present and the past.

The opposition Democratic Party has zeroed in on past issues such as the National Intelligence Service’s online smear campaign against the opposition presidential candidate during last year’s election, the whereabouts and truth behind the minutes of a 2007 summit conversation between the leaders of South and North Korea, and the controversial content in high school history textbooks. The ruling and opposition parties have been fighting these contentious issues for several months now. Such political enmity leaves little room for debate on a future agenda for the country.

But the present cannot be wasted. We cannot indulge ourselves in fighting petty battles, resting on our reputation as a role model for industrialization and democratization. To go forward instead of backtracking, the government must, first of all, motivate the people to work toward a new human-oriented national goal to further improve living standards. Bipartisanship is necessary to realize the president’s vision for a new leap forward. A comprehensive debate is needed in order to earn the confidence of the public as we move forward. Secondly, we must be proactive in our global endeavors, keeping in mind that we have come as far as we have by keeping abreast of globalization.

The United Nations is preparing the launch of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a 15-year global initiative to succeed the 2000-adopted Millennium Development Goals that expire in 2015. The MDG helped to reduce global poverty at the fastest pace over the last 13 years. The framework helped improve the lives of at least 500 million people who were living in extreme poverty, earning less than $1.25 a day.

The new initiative for 2015-2030 will be based on a sustainable development framework to broaden the scope of the 15-year focus on economic, social and environmental fields. It proposes to incorporate new information and technological advances to find solutions to various inequities and challenges and help translate global aspirations into practical action by building networks on national, regional and global levels.

Attending a Seoul meeting to launch the Korean outlet of the SDSN two weeks ago, UN special adviser Jeffrey Sachs pointed out that behind the efforts are key advocates of the network, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, both from Korea. He stressed that although South Korea is one of the world’s largest energy importers - with carbon dioxide emissions per capita double that of the world average - the country has the advanced technology to offer solutions to sustainable development. Sachs delivered the international community’s expectations that Korea will be more active in paving the way for sustainable development for its own country and the world in the future.

The Korean race - born with the legacy of surviving a long, hard history through perseverance and imagination - are best qualified to be concerned about and envision life beyond today into 2030, 2050 and the 22nd century. Although we have not fully compromised on issues of the past and are frustrated with today, we nevertheless must dream and plan for a better future. If we don’t contemplate the future we desire, we won’t know which way to proceed.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hong-koo
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