We owe it to the earth

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We owe it to the earth

The East Coast of the United States was paralyzed over the weekend by the second-largest-ever blizzard, with snow piling up 26.8 inches in New York City. In Inner Mongolia, the mercury dropped to as low as minus 47.5 degrees Celsius (minus 53.5 degrees Fahrenheit). An unusual cold spell killed at least 85 in Taiwan. Over 80,000 holiday seekers were stranded on Jeju Island in Korea after the island’s biggest blizzard in 32 years closed the airport and seaport.

The cold snap caught many off guard as people around the world had been enjoying an unusually warm winter. Climate disaster around the globe as portrayed in the 2004 American science fiction film “The Day After Tomorrow” was becoming more of a possibility.

China and India are paying a price for their brisk economic expansions with suffocating air pollution. The dusty air in Beijing is notorious, but India’s cities are actually worse. India recorded 159 air pollution-related deaths per 100,000 people in 2012, twice the level in China. The World Health Organization in 2014 named New Delhi the world’s most polluted city. I remember breathing easier only after I got on a plane taking me home from a trip to India recently.

Climate surprises and environmental pollution have become a part of our lives. It is no use arguing about whether or not global warming is the main cause of the climate irregularities. The theory that global warming and cooling are cyclical phenomena from a solar cycle no longer stands.

The landmark Paris climate pact in December, in which 196 governments agreed on a universal framework to work toward bringing down greenhouse gas levels, was mankind’s avowal to live up to its responsibility for ruining the Earth. The common goal is to lower pollution levels and contain the rise in global temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). If the Tokyo agenda raised global awareness of the need for joint action, the Paris agreement drew commitment from both the developed and developing world to work toward fighting global warming.

President Park Geun-hye pledged in her address to the Paris congress to reduce Korea’s carbon emissions by 37 percent from business-as-usual levels. Korea will also promote renewable energy as a new economic engine to meet not only the global commitment but also to create a new market worth 100 trillion won ($83 billion) and new jobs for 500,000 people.

But the target is not easily achievable for an economy with high reliance on the manufacturing sector and companies already advanced in energy efficiency. The energy industry, which is blamed for 35 percent of the country’s carbon emission, must come up with radical measures. Various new technology innovations led by the country’s ICT industry are providing solutions to reduce greenhouse gases.

Thanks to continued research and development, renewable energy has neared grid parity - the cost of producing electricity at the same cost as electricity made from traditional fossil fuel-powered utilities. The Korean industry has also made a lot of headway in chips, batteries and energy storage systems to make electric vehicles and other eco-friendly devices more available.

Power semiconductor devices, which now account for 30 percent of sales of U.S. semiconductor companies like Infineon and Texas Instruments, are expected to account for up to 70 percent of sales soon.

Progress in power chips and the Internet of Things will hasten the day when automated cars can become common. Electric car leader Tesla has installed automatic driving systems on the rentable cars it runs between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. A driver still has to be behind the wheel due to current law prohibiting driverless cars. We, too, have seen developments in new energy fields from smart grids, energy storage systems and batteries for electric vehicles to energy-self-sufficient smart buildings.

Mankind is reshaping its energy paradigm. As Sheik Ahmed, former secretary general of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, told his OPEC colleagues, the days of our reliance on fossil fuels will eventually come to an end just as the Stone Age ended - and not because there was any scarcity of stone. But just as Tesla cars are constrained by regulations from the days of smoke-belching factories, many new technologies cannot be fully utilized yet. To ensure momentum in the new growth industries, this red tape must be lifted quickly. We must come up with appropriate laws for a new age to turn today’s challenge into a window of opportunity for the future.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Sunday, Jan. 31, Page 30

The author is chief executive officer of the Korea Electric Power Corporation.

by Cho Hwan-eik
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