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Meeting can be catalyst to environmental solutions

The Korea Meteorological Administration recently announced that the average temperature in May this year set a new record high. The hot weather is continuing into June, as temperatures remain higher than those of last year. Consequently electricity consumption has sharply increased, prompting government agencies to curtail air conditioning hours, shed formal suits for radical business casuals, and also review raising electricity prices. Without a doubt, climate change is taking its toll on our daily lives. 
Minister of Environment Yoo Young-sook
Minister of Environment Yoo Young-sook

Globally, a financial crisis in the European Union is a cause of grave concern. The countries find themselves in a very painful situation, after the collapse of the real estate market and prolonged unemployment.

On the other hand, there are countries like Korea and other trading partners of the EU who worry that their trade will suffer as a direct consequence of the European crisis. The very fact that we are directly affected by the same weather problems and economic challenges solemnly reminds us that we live in a global society.

What is the life that we, as mankind, commonly pursue?

What are the challenges we face together, and what are their solutions?

Perhaps it is a common aspiration for all humanity to lead a happy life. There are many elements determining one’s happiness, but of all things, creating a life of material sufficiency is crucial. Humanity had a relentless pursuit of development and growth to secure material prosperity. As the result of the agricultural and industrial revolutions, we now enjoy the fruits of mass production ― only to realize belatedly that our planet can no longer stand the weight of our greed.

We owe much of the rapid economic growth of this century to fossil fuel. Such development based on excessive energy consumption led to the increase of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. It made our planet hotter and destroyed ecosystems, causing pollution which now poses a threat to the very survival of humanity.

Our belief that material prosperity is the fast track to happiness proved otherwise. Disparities of wealth widened the gap between the rich and poor ― one problem that continues to worsen both within and across borders.

In 1992, leaders across the world gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to come up with an all-round solution to realize humanity’s hopes for a happier future. As a way to balance economic development, environmental preservation and social integration, “Agenda 21” was adopted for sustainable development. Participants pledged to meet every 10 years to assess progress and plan next steps. In 2002, an implementation plan for sustainable development was adopted in the Rio+10 summit in Johannesburg.

These efforts are not without criticism, however, such as that of slow progress. Critics have also pointed out that the latest global financial crisis undermined sustainable development and has dealt a setback.

A Rio+20 meeting will be held back in Rio from June 20 to 22 against this backdrop. This summit will adopt “Green Economy” as an effective means for sustainable development. What this implies is that a green economy will now serve as the new paradigm for the global economy.

Korea has been working tirelessly to achieve sustainable development and a green economy. It successfully achieved economic growth and democratization in a very short period of time, thanks to its systematic economic development plan. In 2008, President Lee Myung-bak declared a new national strategy for “Low-Carbon Green Growth.” Since then, the Korean government has been enthusiastically implementing its green growth policy.

The establishment of the Global Green Growth Institute, enactment of Low-Carbon Green Growth and Emissions Trading Scheme Basic Act, as well as setting a 2020 Greenhouse Gas reduction target of 30 percent from the business-as -usual levels, and the recent decision to invest 2 percent of gross domestic product into green growth reflects the government’s strong commitment towards achieving a green economy. Korea’s low-carbon green growth proves to serve as an efficient model of green economy ― one that creates jobs, boosts income and ensures economic growth without causing environmental degradation.

Therefore, at Rio+20, Korea wishes to share its green growth experience and successes with the rest of the world. Based on our own experience, we will highlight the importance of three major pillars of green growth implementation: strategy, technology and human capital.

We will present a blueprint of “Inclusive Green Growth,” to help developing countries achieve a green economy. Korea will also double its official green development assistance through global green growth partnerships by 2020. There will be a signing ceremony to turn the Global Green Growth Institute into an international institute. Also, the Greenhouse Gas Inventory & Research Center will continue to assist developing countries’ greenhouse gas reduction.

The Ministry of Environment will launch a partnership project, covering the areas of water, waste management and climate change adaptation to support green growth in developing countries.

At the 18th session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, commonly referred to as COP18, to be held in November in Doha, Qatar and its preparatory meeting to be held in Seoul in October, Korea will strive to spread green growth further throughout the international community.

A green economy is not a matter of choice; it is the call of our time. Angel Gurria, Secretary General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, stated that green growth is not “a way” but “the only way” to overcome environmental crisis. We hope that the Rio+20 summit will stimulate momentum for every participant to bear commitment and leadership towards green growth and step forward to achieve the global goal of sustainable development.

My hope is high for Rio+20 to serve as an effective guidepost, which will help all of us to deal with the challenges of today and tomorrow and find a path towards a better, happier future.

By Yoo Young-sook, Minister of Environment
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