If you were in the vicinity of the Lotte Hotel in downtown Seoul on June 20 to 21 of this year, you might have noticed an increased security presence and an unusually large number of nondescript black cars. That was due to the Global Green Growth Summit, in which 91 foreign dignitaries from 25 different countries gathered to discuss the issues of climate change and the technological response to these unfortunate realities. Notable figures attending from abroad included Lykke Friis, the Danish Minister for Climate and Energy; UNESCAP Executive Secretary Noeleen Heyzer; and Angel Gurria, the Secretary-General of the OECD. Korean President Lee Myung-bak also spoke in the opening ceremony, and in attendance by recorded video was Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations. The date itself was also quite significant, as this year is the 50th anniversary of the OECD, the 15th anniversary of Korea joining it, and the one year anniversary of the Global Green Growth Institute, launched in Korea.
The point of the summit was to try to push a more responsible civilization which would change policies and influence public and private sectors to use more sustainable technologies in order to try to avoid the problems that the industrial revolution has caused the planet. President Lee said at the opening ceremony, “We can make changes if we concentrate all our efforts on harmony between man and the earth. The key to a green economy with low carbon emissions is technology.” The President’s office said that he hoped the forum would become the premier forum in which to discuss global green growth issues.
The two days of the summit had different focuses. The first day was designed to reinforce cooperation between countries in the development of green growth, and for sharing development strategies. The second day focused on new partnerships and leadership in green growth. Because it was also an OECD meeting, some of the topics discussed on the second day veered away from green technology and into discussions about Korea’s economy.
Notable statements during the summit included one from Masayoshi Son, Chairman and CEO of Japan’s Softbank, who said that Japan needed to reduce its nuclear energy dependence. He apologized to Japan’s neighbors by saying, “We feel very sorry to our neighbor countries like Korea, China, Taiwan and so on, and also for polluting the air around the world. This is a big change. And I feel so sorry about that, so we have to make some change to the Japanese environment dependence on the [nuclear] energy.”
There was some good news as well from Suntech’s CEO Zhengrong Shi. Suntech is the world’s biggest maker of solar panels, and its CEO noted that the cost of electricity had gone down in the past year. “Today, I’m very pleased to see that we, Suntech, together with all our global PV [photovoltaics] companies have driven down the cost of solar electricity by more than 70 percent since 2001. It is now as low as 50 US cents per kilowatt hour in many regions even without government subsidies,” he said. The summit was a significant step for Korea as a whole and the Lee administration especially, since Lee Myung-bak has been pushing for the promotion of green growth as one of his major policies for his entire administration. Korea is trying to place itself at the forefront of the global green technology push with its Global Green Growth Institute and the government-led research and development of wind power, solar power, and fuel cells. This summit laid a stronger foundation for a good next step in that direction. In fact, Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, Vice President of the Asian Development Bank, praised Korea on the first day, saying that its road-map for green growth was a role model for other countries. She expressed hopes that countries would cooperate on new environmentally-friendly policies similar to Korea’s.
The Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) was heavily stressed during the summit. The Chairman of the institute, Dr. Han Seung-soo, also gave one of several opening speeches. The GGGI is the natural progression of the activities at the summit, and by cooperating with it, the concerned countries can further coordinate their agreements reached at the gathering. The GGGI, even after just one year of operation, already has an impressive list of accomplishments. The institute has opened two branch offices, one in Copenhagen and the other in Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. The GGGI has also been active in Kazakhstan by attending the EBRD’s 20th annual meeting in Astana and giving a presentation entitled “Building Kazakhstan’s Green Growth Pathway” on May 19 (the EBRD is a major multilateral development bank). The GGGI agreed to help implement Kazakhstan’s National Green Growth Plan in the upcoming months. Its strategic partnership with EBRD will aid in the efforts of both organizations to promote green further around the world.
The GGGI also signed a memorandum of understanding with the World Economic Forum on January 30 of this year, aiming to work together to support green growth through public-private partnerships. More specifically, the two organizations will work together to promote low-carbon green infrastructure and a more intelligent use of water resources. GGGI has received financial support and encouragement from increasing number of partner countries including Denmark, the UAE, Australia and Japan. During 2010, GGGI launched work in its first three countries: Brazil, Ethiopia and Indonesia. Work will continue in these countries during 2011 and begin in Kazakstan, the UAE and Cambodia. Not bad after just one year of work.
The summit emphasized a few key points, and their continual emphasis from many different sources could serve as a measure of the pulse on the current status of climate change opinion. Every official attending the summit believed that something should be done about climate change, which is a welcome contrast to the debate still raging in the popular media of many countries. Members of panels in the first few sessions spent quite a long time politely agreeing with each other on the seriousness of the situation and the dire consequences to happen if nothing was to be done about climate change. This widespread selfagreement among the attending members indicates that one should look to those absent from the summit for dissenting opinions. In that case, notable absentee nations from the summit included Russia, China, and the United States. One wonders what their reluctance is to participate in such an altruistic endeavor.
Also, another theme that was repeated throughout the two days of the meeting was the need for greater international cooperation. The officials in attendance at the summit all agreed that the problem was larger than just one or two countries could solve together, and any solution must be a concerted global effort. The discussions reminded those in attendance of the discussions surrounding the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The solutions recently offered to the problems of global climate change also require international cooperation on the scale of the Kyoto Protocol, or even beyond that. The GGGI seems to be an excellent framework through which to encourage such international cooperation, and with a few more years of work it may be able to engineer a comprehensive policy change throughout most of the world.
The third major point that was emphasized throughout the summit was the need for a technological answer to climate change. This marks a new step beyond the idea of a simple reduction in pollution. If the ideas of the Global Green Growth Summit are implemented, this would result in a comprehensive, worldwide effort to develop and use the technologies needed to comprehensively change the way the world gets and uses energy. Some countries have a head start in developing green technologies, such as the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United States. The Netherlands and Denmark are known for their development in wind power, while the United States has been working on solar power initiatives for quite some time and several of the most successful solar-power-based companies are located there.
Other countries have the unfortunate position of not having made any investment into green growth technologies, and also not being fully powered by conventional fossil fuels either. This leads to some potential for criticism and finger-pointing, as countries which have not fully participated in the industrial evolution feel like they have now perpetually fallen behind the rest of the world, and as industrialized countries move on to the next step of green technologies, those same countries which benefitted from the industrial revolution are now trying to discourage other countries from having their own industrial revolution. However, hopefully with the coordination of the GGGI and like-minded international organizations, such problems can be solved for the betterment of the world as a whole.
All in all, the summit can be said to have been a success. It was encouraging to see so many different countries on the same page and working with the same ideas of technological solutions to climate change. The boost in visibility that sustainable, technological solutions to climate change have received through this summit and the continued work of the GGGI can only help our home in the long run.
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