Disappointment was palpable among participants of a U.N. environmental meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Friday as the three-day summit ended with no tangible outcomes on how to further global action.
Yet, the grim reality is a reason for Korea to push harder with its green-growth drive and promote it overseas, the country’s environmental minister said.
“Not all countries came to embrace the concept of a green economy, which is a main source of disappointment to me,” Yoo Young-sook told reporters in the Brazilian city, wrapping up her attendance of the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development.
“But the very fact is what makes me think that we, Koreans, have a big role to play.”
Better known as the Rio+20, the conference was a 10-day journey packed with discussions, roundtables and negotiations ― aimed at securing renewed political commitment for sustainable development; assessing progress made to-date since past meetings; and identifying new and emerging challenges.
Its highlight was the Earth Summit, held from June 20-22, which brought together heads of state and governments from nearly 190 countries, including Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
The Korean Pavilion for the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, hosts programs aimed at introducing Korea’s green-growth policies and experiences. (The Ministry of Environment)
World leaders signed a vaguely-worded joint declaration, titled “The Future We Want,” only after dropping almost all of its potentially contentious points. Experts, media and even some participants said it just revealed a still-wide gap between developed and developing countries over environmental issues.
“Korea’s future accomplishment will provide developing countries one reason to look positively at the concept of green economy and it will thus help nations to move together toward a greener future,” the minister said.
Korea, in 2008, adopted “low-carbon, green growth” as a national vision. Since then, it rolled out a package of policies to reduce Asia’s fourth-largest economy’s dependence on fossil fuels, increase the use of alternative energy and nurture green industries into a new growth driver.
“We were once one of the world’s poorest nations and worked our way to become one of the most important. Now we’re pursuing green growth,” Yoo said. “When we speak about green growth, it sounds more convincing to developing countries.”
Yoo stressed the idea of developing environment-friendly industries and technologies into a new driver of economic growth will receive more international attention as times goes by.
The eurozone financial crisis and elections in the U.S. weighed down on political support for the Rio+20, leading to the absence of key leaders. Among those missing at the summit were U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“A slow economy hurts political commitment and investments to environmental campaigns. But because of (such a mood) Korea can get more international attention and can assume a bigger role,” Yoo said.
“In a long term perspective, I am positive that our efforts on green growth will prove valuable,” she said.
During the conference, the Korean government pledged to spend more than $5 billion in official development assistance by 2020 to help developing countries pursue eco-friendly growth.
It aims to raise the proportion of green aid programs to 30 percent of the country’s total spending on ODA by that year, from 14.1 percent in 2010.
“I believe that our pledge has helped create a positive mood for the final document, because we came up and said that we would do this much,” Yoo said.
The Environmental Ministry will seek active cooperation with other governmental bodies such as the foreign affairs, finance and knowledge economy ministries to help the country meet the green ODA target, the minister added.
The Rio+20 also offered a meaningful moment to Korean officials, including Yoo, as it saw the launch of the first international organization established by Korea.
Lee and representatives from 14 other countries signed a treaty on Wednesday to convert the Global Green Growth Institute into an international organization.
Established in June 2010 by the Korean government, the Seoul-based think tank is tasked with mapping out green growth strategies for Korea and spreading its campaign overseas.
“The GGGI seeks to become an action-oriented organization to tackle climate change and shortages of energy, water and food, and other challenges. Let’s make our efforts to join forces in this initiative remain in our history as a big step forward,” Lee said during the signing ceremony.
The GGGI will hold its first general meeting in Seoul in October, on the sidelines of a ministerial-level preparatory meeting for the 18th U.N. Conference of the Parties, or COP 18, to be held in Qatar later this year.
On the sidelines of the Rio conference, Korea organized several events to introduce its green-growth policies and experience so far, which Yoo said garnered a lot of attention.
The Korean Pavilion, set up in the conference venue, saw visitors lining up to participate in programs, ministry officials said.
“Among others, the Green Card is receiving good responses,” she said.
The Green Card, which the government developed in cooperation with private card issuer BC Card, gives holders rewards and benefits to encourage environment-conscious consumption.
The Korean delegation also sought to enlist wider support during the event for Korea’s bid to host the headquarters of the Green Climate Fund.
The fund is aimed at helping developing countries reduce greenhouse gases and adapt to climate change with funds from advanced nations. Beginning next year, the GCF seeks to raise $100 billion annually by 2020.
Incheon has been competing with six foreign cities in Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Mexico and Namibia to host the GCF headquarters. The selection of the winner is to be finalized at the COP 18 meeting in November.