An era of change

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An era of change

Noh Hyeong-ouk
The author is minister of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

The way we live is changing dramatically amid emerging megatrends such as the fourth industrial revolution, the looming climate crisis, and shifting demographics. The Covid-19 pandemic has also played a predominant role in the way Korean society embraces new trends, including a non-face-to-face lifestyle and hyper-personalization. Some of the changes are Black Swan events, like the outbreak of the coronavirus, which are hard to predict and have a major impact on society. Other changes are Gray Swans that are foreseeable but with no clear solutions yet, like moving toward a super-aged society with persistently low birth rates.

I would like to introduce some of the key areas the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport is focusing on. First, we have the future mobility revolution, triggered by Industry 4.0. A 2019 worldwide survey conducted by McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm, showed that the areas of automated driving, electric vehicles, and Intelligent Transport Systems reported the largest numbers of patents, respectively, since 2010. It is notable that all three categories are mobility-related, and these results indicate intense global competition to pioneer new technologies in mobility revolution.

In this regard, our ministry is making every effort to secure a leading position in the field of global future mobility. This year, Korea is set to roll out level 3 self-driving cars, which are capable of automated driving, with human override for emergencies. Urban Air Mobility, which was inconceivable until recently, is being boosted by R&D activities and infrastructure deployment, and is set to be commercially available in 2025. To bring these new mobility technologies into actuality, our ministry is striving to overcome legal and institutional barriers as well as infrastructure limitations.

Next, carbon neutrality as a way of tackling climate change is another urgent task at hand. Korea announced its vision to go carbon neutral by 2050 and pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from the 2018 level, by 2030. The buildings and transport sectors, accounting for a combined 21 percent of the nation’s total carbon emissions, are critical to achieving the 2050 carbon neutrality goal.

Based on the ministerial road map for carbon neutrality established in December 2021, we are taking action to make every living space and mode of transport carbon neutral. For buildings that make up 7.2 percent of carbon emissions, we are stepping up efforts to promote zero-energy building solutions for newly constructed buildings and encouraging widespread implementation of green remodeling projects on existing buildings. We will also establish a system that integrates energy usage and efficiency data from all buildings nationwide.

For transport sector policies, our main focus will be on transitioning from internal combustion engines to more environmentally friendly cars. In 2022, we are planning to prioritize the replacement of business vehicles with more energy efficient models, aiming to reduce emissions. Furthermore, we are actively encouraging the public to utilize our mass transit systems by promoting the mileage-based “Altteul [Affordable] Transport Card” and other incentives.

As history has proven, the invention of cars transformed carriage-based urban infrastructures in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere, further pushing the boundaries of their cities. Likewise, technological advancement has a clear correlation to urban environmental changes. In this sense, we need to consider the emerging megatrends and their potential impact on society in policy formulation for our urban spaces.

The traditional approach to urban planning, based on the premise that cities are more likely to expand than to shrink, tends to designate zones for residential, industrial or commercial uses. This separation of locations, however, makes it less flexible to meet the growing needs of multi-functional spaces. Also, long commutes go against the ongoing decarbonizing efforts. From a mid- to long-term perspective, we need to collect ideas from the public and experts to establish an urban planning system that can support diverse spatial functions as well as a paradigm shift toward a “compact plus network cities” concept, which seems to be more suitable in the era of an aging and shrinking population.

With the outcomes of innovation from domestic industries, our ministry will provide further support, including through policy finance, joint public-private efforts called Team Korea, and official development assistance, to build a stronger presence in the global economic landscape.

The Spanish flu, which occurred a century ago, brought forth major changes to society. One of the examples was the rapid penetration of telephones, which were invented forty years earlier but were still costly to be used widely among the public. At the time, the spread of the flu increased the need of non-face-to-face communication and this eventually facilitated the wide use of telephones. Moreover, the flu promoted the participation of women in the workforce, just like the Plague in the 14th century that decimated the labor force primarily caused the collapse of the feudal system in Medieval Europe.

Out of challenges come substantial new opportunities. The way we respond may determine what we will get in the end. Facing the current challenges, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport stands strong with determination to turn them into opportunities.
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