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Green economy: The South Korean perspective


The global economy is facing a “triple crunch”. It is a combination of a credit-fuelled financial crisis, accelerating climate change and the looming peak in oil production. These three overlapping events threaten to develop into a perfect storm, the like of which has not been seen since the Great Depression. To address these issues, countries around the world are proposing solutions for both environmental and economic problems. Such efforts have resulted in specific policies that focus on green growth hence the Green New Deal which is a package of policy proposals that aim to address global warming and financial crises.

Report by Kwang-chul Lew

In August 2008, Lee Myung Bak, the President of the Republic of Korea, declared Low Carbon, Green Growth as the new paradigm for national progress and the driving engine for creating jobs based on green technology and clean energy. The Korean government has enacted the Framework Act on Low Carbon, Green Growth, and it has formulated the Green Growth National Strategy and a five-year plan including three strategies and 10 policy directions.

Korea’s green growth addresses the traditional “green”, but also subsumes “low carbon” with emphasis on it. It harnesses green technologies and clean energies as a new growth engine and a new source of jobs.

Green Growth refers to growth that is favourable to the environment as well as growth powered by green “things”. Growth that is “favourable” refers to growth that neither wastes natural resources nor destroys the environmental capital so that it does not cause much pollution. The primary goal of all green growth initiatives is to achieve economic growth that is socially as well as environmentally sustainable so that all citizens enjoy sustained improvement in their quality of life.

First, there is a need to provide the right incentives. People tend to respond to market forces when there is enough demand for green products. The service producers will do all that they can to meet the demand. Encouraging behaviour change is the first step towards the green growth revolution.

Second, there is a need to build up the needed infrastructure. Changes towards green growth are capital intensive. In order to bring the changes, rules, systems, institutions and policies need to be comprehensively overhauled and new green standards need to be established.

Third, there is also a need to focus on Green Research & Development and Green Technology. Countries like Zimbabwe can benefit from technology transfer as it fosters partnerships with developed countries. The ultimate engine for growth is ceaseless technological progress in green ideas and technologies. The economy will grow better if more researchers engage in green R&D so that entrepreneurs can produce new and better green products based on new technology.

Green Growth poses formidable challenges. In order to realise genuine green growth, we need strong, supportive commitments by all members of the international community. But it is not uncommon to see some countries waver before the international instruments. Funds for renewable energy projects are usually available from funding agencies. But funds are inaccessible for many developing countries due to their status and lack of experience. As green growth is capital and technology intensive, this new phenomenon is largely spearheaded by developed countries, thus there is likely an appreciation gap. Misunderstanding and apprehension can occur between the developed and developing countries. It is commonly held that faster agriculture is a precondition for sustained economic growth and poverty reduction. Africa’s huge natural resources present opportunities that attract private investment, create jobs, and could be aligned towards green growth initiatives. The challenge is how we can put the right policies and incentives in place which will make the people development-oriented and green economy conscious.

Korea has set a trend in the green growth revolution. Fortunately, the green growth has a chain effect which is beneficial to all. For example, in Korea, the collection of recycled material such as waste paper, cans, and plastics has increased. In 2010, Korea officially launched an international organisation, Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), to promote strategies for environment-friendly economic growth drivers. The GGGI aims to spread green growth models as alternative development strategies and to support emerging countries’ eco-friendly growth. The GGGI plans to devise “tailor-made” plans for each country and region. In March 2012, Korea opened the Green Technology Centre intent on researching specific green technologies. Additionally, in October 2012, Korea was selected to be the headquarters of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a global organisation aimed at mobilising a massive green fund. Therefore, Korea has completed the “Green Triangle” necessary for leading the world towards green-based sustainable development. Based on this fundamental, Korea’s efforts and initiatives to make the world greener will continue.

  • Kwang-chul Lew is South Korean ambassador to Zimbabwe.

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