Notes from the Field

Korea Leads Way for Asia’s Green Growth

April 24, 2013

The conference in the Asian Approaches to Development Cooperation dialogue series convened in Seoul, South Korea, this month, and brought together development experts and senior government officials to discuss climate change mitigation, green growth, and adapting to and building resilience to natural disasters. This dialogue series, co-organized by The Asia Foundation and the Korea Development Institute (KDI), brings together both “emerging” and “traditional” development actors to discuss international development challenges. This year’s focus on effective cooperation for deterring the impacts of climate change was launched in Seoul, fittingly, as South Korea is playing a leading role in low-carbon development in the Asia-Pacific region.

Korea Green Growth

According to the UN, boosting global investments in renewable energy to $630 billion by 2030 would create at least 20 million additional jobs worldwide. South Korea is playing a leading role in the region’s green growth. Photo/Flickr user Toby Simkin

Green growth is a new policy paradigm for Asia and the Pacific that emphasizes ecologically sustainable economic progress and fosters low-carbon, socially-inclusive development. Its four pillars include sustainable production and consumption, green businesses, sustainable infrastructure, and fiscal incentives and reforms. “Growing green” means implementing more eco-efficient and profitable production, producing less pollution and waste in the process, and prioritizing the environment as essential to long-term social and economic development goals.

In July 2009, South Korea announced its “National Strategy for Green Growth” through 2050, providing a blueprint for how to shift its economic structure away from energy-intensive industries that have driven the majority of the development paths in Asia. The target goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent from a business-as-usual path by 2020, and increase the country’s renewable energy to 11 percent of total energy supplies by 2030.

With initial funding of $83.6 billion (representing 2 percent of GDP), South Korea’s first Five-Year Plan for Green Growth 2009-2013 has successfully turned strategy into concrete and operational policy initiatives toward achieving green growth and resource efficiency. South Korea’s government announced plans to continue making investments in innovative, low-carbon technologies for renewable energy, waste management, public transportation and construction, and to create enough new jobs in these sectors to offset the loss of employment in current carbon-intensive industries, such as mining, petroleum refining, and fossil fuel power generation.

In terms of development cooperation, South Korea has increased its development assistance budget since 2000 by 6.5 times, to approximately $1.3 billion in 2011, and has pledged to boost financing of regional renewable energy, conservation, and development projects to 30 percent of the total aid budget by 2020. Already, the Korean government installed a Communications, Ocean, and Meteorological Satellite system to improve Sri Lanka’s disaster preparedness by allowing officials to better share data, analysis, and forecasting capability. The system is part of the East Asia Climate Partnership, an initiative announced in 2008 and funded by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) to share South Korea’s knowledge and technology resources in green growth, climate change adaptation and improved resource management to developing countries. KOICA has also pledged to build reservoirs, irrigation channels, and treatment facilities that will clean, recycle, and better manage water resources needed to effectively sustain agricultural production in the Philippines, which has decreased dramatically due to recent sustained droughts.

South Korea is also playing a leading role in green-growth policy advising. The Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), founded in 2010 as a Korean NGO and since established as a treaty-based intergovernmental organization, works to advance the practice and theory of green growth by supporting the development, implementation, and diffusion of green growth strategies in developing and emerging countries, including in the least-developed countries in Asia. GGGI involves both state and non-state actors, such as other international organizations, NGOs, private companies, and research institutes.

According to a United Nations report on green growth, boosting global investments in renewable energy to $630 billion by 2030 would create at least 20 million additional jobs worldwide, making it a much larger source of employment than today’s fossil energy industry. One of the most interesting but least reported aspects of the current economic recovery effort is that over two-thirds of global green stimulus has in fact been committed in the Asia-Pacific, led by Australia, China, South Korea, and Japan.

Indeed, South Korea’s green growth strategy was highlighted throughout the AADC dialogue with representatives from other emerging economies in the region, notably China, India, and Malaysia, to share its successes on enacting renewable energy policy, implementing low-carbon transportation, and employing financial incentive for industries to make reforms to achieve green growth goals. Reflected in part by its leadership in this area, South Korea has been chosen as the home of the newly established Green Climate Fund, the multilateral financial mechanism recently created to support the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change adaptation and mitigation efforts.

At the 2010 G20 Seoul Summit, South Korea’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Kim Sung-han, declared that “many issues today require unprecedented international cooperation. Solving today’s complex challenges will require ‘middle powers’ to play a greater, more active role. Through various initiatives, such as its programs in green growth and development cooperation, South Korea has demonstrated the influence middle powers are having on global governance and that they may be best suited to facilitate consensus building and revitalize momentum for cooperation.”

Kourtnii S. Brown is a program officer for The Asia Foundation’s Environment Programs in San Francisco, and attended the AADC conference in Seoul. She can be reached at kbrown@asiafound.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

 

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