Kim Jong-seok (Korea Meteorological Administration)
This summer’s weather -- the record-long jangma (rainy season), a series of more powerful typhoons, frequent heavy rains - seemed to be a strong warning of climate change. Siberia experienced a period of unusually high temperatures that occurred less than once in 80,000 years without anthropogenic global warming, and just recently, the US city of Denver went from a record heat wave of over 30 degrees to below freezing with snowfall overnight.
The world is clearly suffering from abnormal weather phenomena caused by climate change. Amid this unusual climate, is Korea well prepared? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Our country is likely to be hit by climate change helplessly. If we compare the situation to baseball, we are like a batter who swings and misses a great pitcher’s curveballs. How can we hit his pitches?
A batter needs two skills to hit a baseball. First, they need hand-eye coordination, which lets them see the ball and then move their hands to hit it. Second, the batter needs data, such as which types of pitches the pitcher will throw, and their likely location. Will they be curveballs at the knees or chest-high fastballs? Let’s look at the situation in Korea based on this perspective.
First, coordination. Currently several government ministries are simultaneously involved in climate change response. However, despite their common goal, their efforts are not well-coordinated to achieve this goal. Rather, they are just doing their best individually in their own field of work. Though the climate situation we face requires us to closely work together to offer a meaningful response, our current actions give us disappointment, rather than hope for the future.
Second, data utilization. Climate change policies in Korea focus on aspects such as economic growth, industrial environment and international negotiations. However, scientific data -- in which sectors and to what extent climate change would have an impact -- is at the very bottom of the list, even though it is necessary for effective policy implementation and achievement of desired outcomes.
Nevertheless, the solution for climate change offered by the Korea Meteorological Administration is world-class science-based cooperation and collaboration for the preparation and implementation of climate change policies. Specifically, to gain confidence from government ministries, the KMA’s solution is based on the globally accredited reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as well as the creation of a platform where different ministries can get together to discuss and collaborate for climate change response. As a result, government ministries would work collectively, not individually, by utilizing scientific data to prepare for climate change.
As a first step, KMA created a Council for Preparation to the IPCC in April 2020 that has been joined by 14 ministries. In August, the council had its first meeting to discuss climate change policies and how to invigorate the council. We have taken our first step forward, but we still have a long way to go before seeing real outcomes from the council. However, if the council uses KMA’s climate outlook for East Asia and Korea-specific climate outlook -- to be published in 2020 and 2021, respectively, as a catalyst for its activities, I expect the council could see its outcomes a little earlier than expected.
Korea typically has 10 days of heat waves and four days of tropical nights every year. However, if there is no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, by the second half of the 21st century the number of heat wave days is projected to be more than triple to 35, and the number of tropical nights will skyrocket to a whopping 45, more than 10 times the current number. In other words, climate change is projected to get worse; the curveballs thrown at us will be that much harder to hit. We won’t be able to survive by just watching the pitches to go by. Climate change will not only make our lives inconvenient, but worse, it will put our lives at risk. As the legendary New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” We fortunately still have time until the game is over.
By Kim Jong-seok
The contributor is the incumbent chief of Korea‘s state-run weather agency. The views expressed here are his own. -- Ed.