The Republic of Green Growth: South Korea Wants to Lead in Building a Sustainable Economy

As the world remains puzzled by the slow progress made on UN climate change negotiations, East Asia turned its eyes to Green Growth – a concept to address climate change as a development opportunity instead of a restriction on economic and social progress.

At the 2nd East Asia Climate Forum (EACF) held in Seoul, Korea, on June 16, high-level government officials, experts, and representatives from international organizations made it clear that it’s time to rethink the conventional approach to climate change mitigation. Key players in the climate arena, including recently resigned UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer and former World Bank Chief Economist Lord Nicholas Stern sent strong signals to the world that all the nations, developed and developing, need to transform their growth paradigm.

As demonstrated by the recent launch of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), South Korea has shown the world its ambition to be the early mover in such a pattern shift. President Lee Myung-bak not only opened the forum himself but personally highlighted Korea’s five-year plan to transform to a green growth economy. The plan includes, for example, massive R&D investment in batteries, electric vehicles, and renewable energy.

The strong political will of South Korea was echoed by panelists from other Asian countries beyond the traditional East Asia circle, including Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Tajikistan, Thailand, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. However, there were also absences, most noticeably China. With its Guidance on a Low-Carbon Economy in draft and soon to be released, China is surely in line with a green-growth vision. The more dubious question is why they stayed away from the meeting.

The forum revealed few details on inter-regional cooperation, and with the absence of key regional players, it remains too early to tell to what extent the EACF and/or South Korea’s GGGI will help shape a sustainable future for Asia. But it’s always good to ignite the hope. And at the very least, the region is starting to take pride in its green-growth plans.

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