Korea has unique role in combating climate change

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Korea has unique role in combating climate change


Yvo de Boer [PARK SANG-MOON]

In four weeks, world leaders will gather in Paris to negotiate a new agreement on global climate change in the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Tomorrow, a trilateral summit among leaders of Korea, Japan and China will begin for the first time in three and a half years. Korean President Park Geun-hye said on Sept. 4 that the summit’s aim would be “building a new order of trust through the tradition of cooperation.”

In an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily on Thursday, Yvo de Boer, director-general of the Seoul-based Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) and former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Unfccc), suggested that one topic could be a strong platform in that cooperation: green growth.

Environmental threats in this region are more often shared, the chief said, noting that 60 percent of Seoul’s air pollution comes from China’s heavy industries.

The following is an edited excerpt held with de Boer at GGGI’s headquarters in central Seoul.

Q.What impacts from global climate change have you seen here in Korea?

A. Korea is a very vulnerable country both from an environmental point of view and an economic one, because issues like rises in sea level can have very significant impacts on the country, since so many of the urban cities are in coastal areas. Drought is already becoming a very serious issue in Korea and is likely to become more serious in the future.

Air pollution is already a grave concern, partly because of air pollution that comes from China - 60 percent of Seoul’s air pollution is from China. But wherever that comes from, it has a very serious impact on the economy because more people are sick, more people are dying early and public health costs are going up.

How is Korea addressing this?

The biggest barrier I see in Korea is the battle between the old economy and the new economy. Korea became strong as an industry-based manufacturing-oriented economy; steel, cement, ship and automobile production brought Korea to where it is today. In the run-up to the Paris conference, you see a number of Korean industries saying, “Let’s not move too fast. Let’s not be too ambitious. Our competitive position is at risk,” while you see other sectors of the economy that could gain from aggressive policies - battery and solar technology, for example - saying, “Let’s do more on climate change.” What I find promising is that a number of companies like LG and Hyundai, whose roots are in the old economy, are also transitioning to the new economy.

Would Korea’s key role in the global battle against climate change be the transfer of technology?

If the world, in Paris, were to decide to act very aggressively on climate change, there would be six economic winners: Europe, the United States, Japan, China, India and Korea. The reason is that they are the most advanced in developing some of the technologies the world needs to respond to global climate change.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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