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[Herald Interview] Korea kindles talks for eco-based ‘pan Yellow Sea’ economy

KMI chief highlights Nordic model since 1970s on co-prosperity

Chang Young-tae (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Chang Young-tae (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

South Korea has taken the initiative in pushing forward protecting the maritime ecosystem and biodiversity of the Yellow Sea -- also called the West Sea here -- as part of its efforts to achieve regional sustainable development for oceans via carbon neutrality.

During the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on Dec. 12, 2015, 192 UN members unanimously adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals as common goals for the international community to attain together by 2030.

The Korea Maritime Institute is playing a significant role in building momentum for close coordination with China and Japan on actively introducing the concept of SDGs for the Pan Yellow Sea Economic Bloc.

“Europe preceded us (Korea) by 10 to 20 years (on prioritizing the environment issue). Taking the occasion of the Paris Climate Agreement, our government is gearing up to take the lead (in protecting the Yellow Sea to meet the Paris Agreement),” KMI President Chang Young-tae said.

The Korea Herald met with Chang for an interview, hours before he presided over the 2020 Sustainable Development Forum for the Yellow Sea at Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Seoul, last Thursday.

Asked about the timely significance of the forum despite the novel coronavirus pandemic, he said that in the situation in Yellow Sea areas -- including South and North Korea and China -- the SDGs are truly an uphill battle, given that only a decade remains to 2030.

Chang willingly commented on the case of Nordic countries, which have taken the initiative in global environment issues since the 1970s. “Scandinavian countries -- Sweden, Norway and Denmark -- engaged in wars with each other for a long period historically. At the present stage, nevertheless, they are closely collaborating on pending regional issues,” he said.

“(As far as I’m concerned,) people in the countries, despite their relatively low populations, were very innovative and pioneering. They had continued to prioritize it (the world’s environmental issue) in the global stage,” he said.

Carbon taxation, which was initiated in Nordic countries, had attained support from members of the European Union and finally came into the spotlight among international organizations such as the International Maritime Organization and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, he said.

“Though the starting point was meager, their calls (for an urgent need) ultimately spread out by gathering mounting support (across Europe and the world).”

Chang earned a master’s degree at World Maritime University in Sweden in the late 1980s. “When I visited a Swedish-based Ikea mall to buy some furniture, I was surprised by their eco-oriented business environment, under which they were using paperless office rooms and warehouses.”

Chang said his life of studying in Sweden inspired a large portion of his 40-year social career in terms of what he would do for homeland, Korea, and other economies.

His remarks on the Nordic model suggested that Korea could also eventually be successful in garnering support from its neighbors surrounding the Yellow Sea into joint efforts to preserve resources in the sea for sustainable development.

There has been tripartite cooperation among Korea, China and Japan around the Yellow Sea area for economic development. The Busan-headquartered KMI led by its President Chang stressed in a statement, “Today, the three countries have different missions for cooperation. They need to join hands to tackle global warming, pandemic and environmental disaster.”

As reported by UN Sustainable Development Report 2020, the Yellow Sea encircling countries including South Korea, North Korea and China do not show sufficient performance in attaining the SDG goals, Chang noted.

He predicted that Yellow Sea areas would face a lot of challenges such as demographic change and environmental aggravation, saying that “middle-income people will increase from the current 100 million to 300 million by 2030 in China. In China and North Korea, coal still makes up over 60 percent in energy sources.”

He warned that if it remains untouched, environmental conditions surrounding the Yellow Sea will rapidly deteriorate.

Against such backdrop, the forum in Seoul has been organized in order to promote sustainable marine cooperation among several countries and help them overcome conflicts and enmity to move toward co-prosperity.

Chang also raised possible variables from the regime change in the United States.

“The Biden administration is expected to push many policies contrary to the Trump administration, which had a favorable policy stance to South Korea, such as its pro-engagement policy with North Korea,” he said. “This leads us to carefully predict the North Korean issues and its impact throughout the economy.”

In order to overcome these variabilities, it is time for South Korea to pay attention to the ocean and its immense opportunities for economic growth, he said. “The ocean can become a foundation for various economic and political developments, such as the integration of economic blocs centering on the ocean.”

The KMI invited world-renowned experts as speakers. The keynote speech was conducted by Ban Ki-moon, chairman of the National Council on Climate and Air Quality, which unanimously passed the 17 Sustainable Development Goals at the Paris Conference in 2015 when he served as UN secretary-general.

Among other main speakers were Young Soo-gil, chair of UN Sustainable Development Solution Network Korea; Claire Jolly, head of unit at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation (online participant); Yinfeng Guo, technical adviser of the United Nations Office for Project Services (online participant); and Yoo Sin-jae, principal research scientist at the Korea Institute of Ocean Science & Technology.

The KMI, in order to strengthen the scientific evidence-based policy system, established the Economic Outlook Research Department and reorganized the Economic Trend Analysis Division and Data and Statistics Analysis Division to have an earnest research system to conduct evidence-based policy studies.

The Economic Trend Analysis Division is carrying out a project to develop an independent macro-model and a satellite account for the maritime and fisheries economy, which enables accurate calculation and estimation of maritime and fisheries economic activities.

The Data and Statistics Analysis Division collects accurate and meaningful data and statistics of the marine and fisheries industry and ecosystems.

The institute recently obtained an order for the construction and operation of the Ocean and Fisheries Big Data Platform Center. At each sector in maritime and fisheries, various types of data are produced every day, but they are often lost because of the failure of collection, standardization, convergence and processing.

By building a platform to collect, analyze, process, distribute and forecast various industrial accidents and fragmented data, the KMI plans to contribute to securing the sustainability of the maritime economy in cooperation with data centers in each field including marine, fisheries, shipping and ports.

The institute is also striving to lead the innovation through digital transformation of the marine and fisheries industry.

Simultaneously, it is poised to strengthen monitoring and data collection systems to prohibit overfishing and illegal fishing, establish practical policies to strengthen the safety net such as securing income for the stable life of fishermen.

By Kim Yon-se and Yoon Jung-hee (

[Profile of Chang Young-tae]
Since 2019 President of Korea Maritime Institute
Since 2015 Visiting professor at World Maritime University
Since 2003 Professor at Asia-Pacific school of logistics at Inha University
2010 Chairman of steering committee at Green Growth Ocean Forum
2006 President of Korea Port Economic Association
2004 Founding secretary-general of Global U8 Consortium