Revive ‘Green Growth’ movementKoreans dream of a day in the future when they will be leaders - when Koreans will set trends for the world and hobnob with the rich and powerful. But the truth of the matter is that Korea is already a leader for the world, a country frequently benchmarked by the developing world, and increasingly the developed world as well, for its outstanding infrastructure, advanced research facilities and excellent governance.
Korea has gained such popularity as a model for the developing world in part because of the Korean Wave and Korea’s remarkable cultural vitality. But the more important factor is Korea’s unique position as a nation situated between the developed and the developing world.
The infrastructure, city planning or business conventions of Bonn or Chicago are not all that useful in Mongolia or Indonesia because the habits of those cities are so different and their development was long in the past. But the practices of Korea are immediately accessible and infinitely applicable. Because Korea is not that far away from its developmental economic phase, what is practiced in Seoul can be readily transferred to emerging economies. That goes for manufacturing and for urban planning and telecommunications.
But there is one aspect of Korean practice today that is quite worrisome and that needs to be addressed in a serious manner: energy conservation and energy efficiency. Although Korea is a global leader in electronics and consumer culture, there is little or no awareness among Koreans of the need to cut down on the use of electricity and to reduce heating costs in the winter or cooling costs in the summer.
For that matter, we often see electric devices employed in Korea when a manual device would serve the purpose just as well. Information that can be written quite easily with chalk on a blackboard is put on a flat panel display.
Korean buildings have novel designs, but they are poorly designed for energy conservation and rarely have storm windows or insulation. Even when there are storm windows, they are often improperly installed, or surrounded by surfaces that are not insulated, thus diminishing their effectiveness. It is amazing that with all of Korea’s technological know-how, so little effort is made to reduce the cost of heating and cooling buildings.
We also find that although Korea has made tremendous progress in the design and fabrication of solar panels and wind-power generation technology, it is rare indeed to see anyone in Korea actually using them. Solar panels are not readily available at stores for immediate use at home and are not integrated into apartment buildings or office buildings. For that matter, despite Korean breakthroughs in the manufacture of lithium batteries, there are almost no electric cars to be found in Korean cities - although electric buses are making a comeback.
The enthusiasm for thinking about energy generated in the initial days of the “Green Growth” movement in Korea needs to be rekindled. Korea needs to aggressively build on the successes of bringing the Global Green Growth Institute and the Green Climate Fund to Korea and link those global initiatives to an actual energy policy at the local level.
If Korea makes energy efficiency and conservation its highest priority, that decision will affect much more than just Korea. Nations across Asia and the world will follow Korea’s lead and adopt Korean standards and conventions for business, technology and daily living.
Korea will be host this October to the 22nd World Energy Congress - only the second time that this global event has been held in Asia. The World Energy Congress will bring together leaders from around the world for a serious discussion of global energy policy and energy markets that has an extremely wide-ranging impact.
The World Energy Congress will be a rare opportunity for Korea to make it clear to the world that energy conservation and efficiency is central to Korea’s global role, and that it is determined to be a true global leader in this field. We can only hope that Korea can take full advantage of this upcoming event to put forth a new image as a leader in energy conservation and efficiency.
*The author is an associate professor at Kyunghee University and director of The Asia Institute.
By Emanuel Pastreich