The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] GGGI chief says Korea should aim higher, pursue 100 percent renewable energy

By Jo He-rim

Published : Nov. 5, 2018 - 18:09

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Amid the global efforts to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change, President Moon Jae-in has vowed to increase the use of renewable energy to 20 percent of the country’s total power generation by 2030.

Commenting on the goal, Frank Rijsberman, director-general of the Global Green Growth Institute, urged the country to aim higher -- to increase the use of renewable energy to 100 percent.

“South Korea has seen a very rapid growth of its economy and the government developed (coal-fired) power plants and nuclear power plants to give everybody energy. But as a result, Korea has the lowest share of renewable energy and highest air pollution among the OECD nations,” Rijsberman said in an interview with The Korea Herald on Thursday.

Frank Rijsberman, director-general of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) Frank Rijsberman, director-general of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI)

“In Korea, going 20 percent renewable energy is viewed as a very ambitious goal. Fifteen of our 30 member countries have plans to go to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 or earlier.”

The United Kingdom was burning coal for almost 50 percent of its energy consumption in 2008, but its government announced it would stop building coal-fired power plants. Since that time, the UK has gone from 49 to 9 percent coal usage in 10 years. Last year, the UK had the first day when it did not burn any coal, Rijsberman explained.

“UK was the original coal-burning country. So how ambitious is going from 2 to 20 percent in 12 years?” he said.

On the longstanding dispute here over whether South Korea should continue to use nuclear power, Rijsberman said the ultimate solution would be to get rid of both coal and nuclear energy.

GGGI is a Seoul-based international organization promoting sustainable economic growth. It was launched in 2010 with the goal of bridging the gap between rich and poor countries by sharing funding and technological know-how for environmentally friendly energy development. It seeks to introduce comprehensive planning frameworks for each member country.

Rijsberman also addressed the organization’s plans for North Korea and its programs to nurture entrepreneurs for green industries.

As an international organization with a mission to help developing countries implement green policies and technology, it is also working to launch projects with North Korea, having received positive responses concerning collaboration on the North’s energy usage and deforestation problems.

“There are enough renewable energy potentials in both the South and North Koreas to replace the energy source 100 percent to renewable energy, and we want to demonstrate that by a study plan,” he said.

“For North Korea, it is similar to other developing countries where there is very low energy access. They could expand the energy access without building coal or nuclear power plants and have clean energy for everybody, while at the same time, kick-starting its economy.”

GGGI also seeks to help the North with its deforestation issues, drawing on the organization’s experience in forestry projects in countries such as Indonesia and Colombia.

“We have offered to collaborate with the Korea Forest Service of the South and others to support reforestation in North Korea. We have written to the North Korean government to make that offer and we have had the first positive response,” the director-general said, adding that they are waiting for further information.

With the Katowice Climate Change Conference due to take place from Dec. 2 to 14 in Katowice, Poland, Rijsberman expressed excitement, stressing that the conference is the final part of the Paris agreement signed in 2015.

Asked about the United States’ decision to walk out of the Paris agreement, the director-general said it was regrettable. He highlighted how the coal industry is falling behind renewable energy sources such as natural gas, which he said is gaining economic competitiveness.

“We should not forget that the US government played an important role in reaching the Paris agreement, bringing the Chinese government to the table,” Rijsberman said.

“China is staying. They invest in renewables and close (coal-fired) power plants to get blue skies. People in Beijing are fed up with air pollution. They want to breathe and stop having sick kids.

“Another reason (why China remains in the Paris agreement) is because renewable energy is cheaper, and that was not even true when the agreement was signed.”

The next goal for GGGI, he added, is to reduce the information gap to help people realize that the economics have changed -- that renewable energy is not expensive anymore.

By Jo He-rim (