Korea's Global Commitment to Green Growth

May 3, 2012


In Incheon and other cities, South Korea today is showcasing green growth in action and is aiming to be a leader in green technology.

Ash Dollesin, Flickr Creative Commons

  • Korea was among the first countries to embrace green growth as a national development strategy.
  • The country is now spreading its green philosophy and knowledge through partnerships, insitutes, and policy advice.

Few countries are as committed to growing in an environmentally sustainable manner as Korea. When President Lee Myung-bak was inaugurated in 2008, he hailed "low-carbon, green growth" as the nation’s new guiding economic development philosophy, stressing that environmental stewardship can be an engine for economic growth.

"If we make up our minds before others and take action, we will be able to lead green growth and take the initiative in creating a new civilization," Lee said in his speech. And his government has followed through.

Korea was among the first countries to enshrine green growth in its national development strategy. During the global financial crisis in 2008, the country dedicated 80% of its fiscal stimulus plan to green growth projects, particularly infrastructure and transportation. In 2009, it announced plans to invest US$85 billion in clean energy technologies and implementing its green growth plan, estimated to create more than one million new jobs and bolster a clean-tech export industry. That emphasis on environmental sustainability is partly credited for Korea’s early recovery from the economic crisis.

As part of its Five-Year Plan, implemented in 2009, Korea committed 2% of its GDP through 2013 to create a knowledge and technological foundation to sustain a green growth economy for generations. The investment fuels some ambitious goals, including:

  • Developing the world’s first nationwide “smart grid” system by 2030.
  • Increasing the country's renewable energy to 11% of energy supplies by 2030.
  • Reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2020.
  • Building 1 million green homes by 2020.

The emphasis on green growth doesn’t stop at the border. For the past decade, Korea also has been out front in helping to forge the path to green growth, and it is further committed to playing a bridging role between advanced and emerging countries in preparing for post-industrial means of producing wealth and reducing poverty.

" As responsible members of the global village, we have an obligation to work together in order to fight climate change, and take action to make sustained prosperity on Earth possible, not only for the current generation, but also for generations to come. "

South Korea's Presidential Committee on Green Growth

Shifting Course

Korea’s economic development during the last century was swift, but it initially overlooked the environment.

Korea moved from an impoverished, war-torn country to an economic powerhouse and the world’s 15th largest economy in less than 50 years. It used an aggressive export policy to become one of the world’s most competitive economies, dominant in automobile manufacturing, ship-building and electronics. It is also became a case study of the need to change historical patterns of production and consumption, and to more efficiently use and manage natural resources. Korea’s meteoric growth lifted living standards, but its greenhouse gas emissions almost doubled between 1990 and 2005, the highest growth rate among OECD countries.

Today, Korea is showcasing green growth in action and is aiming to be a leader in green technology.

In Songdo, for example, Korea is building a digitally-connected city that comprehensively intertwines physical and technological infrastructure on 1,500 acres.

Designed to set the standard for urban centers and become a regional trading hub, Songdo might be one of the first truly “smart” cities in the world. It embodies the need to build up rather than out to reduce costly road construction, reliance on single-person transportation, productivity loss, pollution and wasted energy. Grey water from baths and sinks will be recycled on-site; and a subway system, water taxi fleet, bike and car sharing services, and buses powered by renewable energy fuel cells are designed to limit traffic.

Spreading Green Growth

Korea is also leading by example. It has quadrupled its foreign assistance budget since 2000, to US$800 million in 2009, and it has pledged to boost financing of green energy, conservation and development projects to 30 percent of the total aid budget by 2020.

Some of its outreach efforts include:

Technology: Developing countries suffer disproportionate losses from storms and weather-related natural disasters, due in part to a lack of adequate of forecasting capability. This is especially true in Sri Lanka, which has been ravaged by landslides, flooding and a tsunami. Knowing what the weather is going to be like has a great bearing on human activity patterns, for engineers and public safety officials to devise solutions and sound alerts, deciding when to plant, irrigate and harvest or head out to sea to fish.

The Korean government recently finalized the installation of a COMS (Communications, Ocean and Meteorological Satellite) system to help Sri Lanka by allowing officials to share data, analysis, and forecasting capability.

The system is part of the East Asia Climate Partnership, a US$200 million initiative announced in 2008 to bring Korea’s know how and resources to foster green growth, adaptation and improved resource management to developing countries.

Water: Azerbaijan is plagued by upstream industrial pollution of the Kura-Araks River and insufficient groundwater resources. Only 50 percent of the population has access to piped water. The Korea International Cooperation Agency has pledged to build reservoirs and treatment facilities that will clean, recycle and better manage water resources for more than 300,000 people.

The aid agency is also committed to sharing water management technology and constructing dams and irrigation channels needed to efficiently and effectively sustain agricultural production in the Philippines, where agricultural production has decreased dramatically due to sustained drought.

Policy Advice: The Global Green Growth Institute is an outgrowth of President Lee Myung-bak’s commitment to next generation energy sources and technologies in order create the kind of growth necessary to stamp out poverty without a heavy environmental footprint. The institute’s catalyzes innovation from subnational and sectoral sources, offering a policy laboratory intersection for leaders of industry, finance, academia and government.

Another center, the OECD Korea Policy Center, established in 2007, fuses the expertise of four disciplines to provide tax, economic, governance and health policy advice to enhance the competitiveness of developing nations in the Asia-Pacific region.

"As responsible members of the global village, we have an obligation to work together in order to fight climate change, and take action to make sustained prosperity on Earth possible, not only for the current generation, but also for generations to come," Korea's Presidential Committee on Green Growth states on its website. "The future of our nations today, and of humanity tomorrow, depends on how we respond to climate change now."