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[Herald Interview] S. Korea, EU embrace 'great opportunities' for advancing climate action: envoy

Ambassador highlights EU's climate initiatives as potential benchmark case for South Korea

By Lee Jung-joo

Published : May 13, 2024 - 17:58

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EU Ambassador Maria Castillo Fernandez (Courtesy of Delegation of European Union in Korea) EU Ambassador Maria Castillo Fernandez (Courtesy of Delegation of European Union in Korea)

South Korea and the European Union share great opportunities for further cooperation in addressing climate change and its impacts not only on a bilateral level but also across the broader Indo-Pacific region and beyond, EU Ambassador to South Korea Maria Castillo Fernandez said.

"For the EU, the Republic of Korea is one of the key like-minded partners in the context of climate and environment, with the shared values and common goals against the climate crisis," Castillo Fernandez said in her recent written interview with The Korea Herald, referring to South Korea by its official name.

"With the ROK, under our respective Indo-Pacific Strategies, we have many similarities that present great opportunities for further cooperation," the ambassador said.

As a notable instance of cooperation, South Korea and the EU cemented their commitment to environmental stewardship by launching a bilateral Green Partnership during the May 2023 summit. The accord was designed to bolster mutual cooperation and facilitate the exchange of exemplary strategies for combating climate change.

Furthermore, both parties reaffirmed their unwavering dedication to sustainable development, redoubling their endeavors to meet individual 2030 emissions reduction objectives and ultimately achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

"Under the comprehensive umbrella of the Green Partnership, we will work together on issues ranging from clean energy transition and renewable energy to biodiversity and circular economy," Castillo Fernandez said.

"The established bilateral mechanism -- the EU-ROK Green Partnership -- will help us to take decisive climate action, step up our cooperation on clean and just energy transition as well as implementing our respective Green Deals at home, and jointly support the green transition in developing countries in the Indo-Pacific and beyond."

The Green Partnership extends to collaborative efforts with developing and emerging economies to advance climate mitigation and adaptation, including support for climate and environment-related initiatives in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations region.

South Korea and the EU also hold regular Development Dialogues, with the last one being held on 20 March in Seoul.

"At this occasion, Korea and the EU drew the common understanding that we must overcome crises of the international community, caused by conflicts and climate change, and keep up the momentum for sustainable development," Castillo Fernandez said.

"This dialogue was an opportunity for instance to identify ASEAN as a promising area for joint cooperation projects."

Castillo Fernandez also highlighted that the EU's initiatives to address climate risks within its borders could serve as a reference point for South Korea.

When asked how the EU has shaped its society and economy to adapt and prepare for climate risks, Castillo Fernandez mentioned the EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change, which is in place to make Europe more climate resilient.

This strategy, adopted in 2021, sets out how the EU can adapt to climate change impacts and become climate resilient by 2050.

In addition, the EU has adopted several initiatives through the European Green Deal framework.

This includes legislative measures like the European Climate Law and the Fit for 55 package -- which demonstrates the EU’s commitment to reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030 -- and the REPowerEU plan, which aims to accelerate Europe’s transition to clean energy by diversifying energy sources and investing into renewable energy.

"The EU’s efforts to mitigate such climate risks within Europe could also provide a benchmark case for the ROK, observing the growing climate-related risks in the country from the recent unprecedented cases of flood and drought," she said.

“The EU is active at the international level in addressing climate risks, and we will continue to share our experience, knowledge and tools on climate risk management internationally and include climate risk management in bilateral and multilateral discussions.”

Through initiatives like the Global Pledge on Renewables and Energy Efficiency, which was adopted at COP28 in 2023, the EU has engaged in climate diplomacy with other countries, including Korea.

According to Castillo Fernandez, the goal is not just trying to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but also to “support the most vulnerable, in particular the least developed countries, in adapting to climate change effects.”

The ambassador also underscored that global cooperation is needed for resolving the escalating climate crisis as climate risks intensify due to global warming.

"All the parties and stakeholders will need to jointly scale up global climate ambition to keep the 1.5 degrees objective within reach, inter alia by collectively pledging to key initiatives on crucial agendas such as renewable energy, energy efficiency and phase-out of coal," she said.

The “1.5 degrees objective” comes from the Paris Agreement, an international treaty on climate change that was adopted in 2015. It calls for limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels by reducing emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050.

The ambassador underscored that the international community sees the "challenges to achieve the targets defined under the Paris Agreement increasing."

"Against this backdrop, stronger and better global cooperation is the only viable solution to climate change, which knows no borders," Castillo Fernandez said. "We all have to work together in the spirit of solidarity."

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Castillo Fernandez has been serving as the ambassador of the European Union to the Republic of Korea since 2020. She will deliver a special address titled, "EU's Clean Energy Transition towards Climate Neutrality and Global Partnership" at the upcoming H.eco forum slated to take place on Sebitseom in Seoul on May 22. The forum, hosted by the Herald Media Group, will discuss insights on overcoming the climate crisis and engage in cooperative discussions for joint responses under the theme of “The Transition: Blue, Clean, and Green.”