South Korea's Green Growth National Vision; Is It Really Green?

South Korea's Green Growth National Vision; Is It Really Green?

August 20th, 2009

The Group of South Korean Academics Opposing the Canal and Korea Federation for Environmental Movements (KFEM)/Friends of the Earth Korea

The government of South Korea adopted the so-called Green Growth National Vision last year and proposed quite a few new policies and projects based on the Green Growth Plan.

However, we can find out so many flaws in the plan as described below.

Presidential Committee on Green Growth

The government of S. Korea proudly tells the world that it set up the Presidential Committee on Green Growth. However, most of the members of the committee are government-friendly people who would not raise their voices against any government's policy. Andthere is no enough communication between the committee and civil society organizations in the country. The three largest environmental organizations of the country were not invited to the committee at all and there is only one person representing an environmental organization in the committee of 47 people. It just shows that the committee can hardly reflect suggestions from the civil society of the country.

Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard

The government of Korea will introduce a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) in 2012 to increase the share of new and renewable energy in total energy use. Actually the government of S. Korea had adopted fixed minimum price for renewable energy in 2002 which contributed to increase renewable energy use in the country. However, the new RPS to be introduced in 2012 will not guarantee the minimum price for renewable energy producers, which is expected to shrink confidence of investors in renewable energymarket and to affect the related industry. A UNEP report "Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in Sustainable, Low-Cabon World)" published in September 2008, recommended governments to guarantee producers of renewable energy fixed minimum prices.

Promotion of Nuclear Energy

The 5 Year Green Growth Plan of S. Korea also includes promotion of nuclear power in energy supply from 24% of nuclear power in power generation in 2009 to 32% in 2020, where as a UNEP report "Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in Sustainable, Low-Cabon World)" published September 2008, recommended governments to reduce support for nuclear power as well as fossil fuels.

There is no safe technology to deal with high-level nuclear wastes including spent fuels and it is still controversial in and outside the country whether the nuclear power can be included as green energy or not.

Incineration of Solid Wastes

The government of Korea included promotion of waste-to-energy in the 5 year Green Growth Plan as a measure to cope with climate change. However, the government's plan is just to increase incineration of solid wastes rather than trying to reduce the amount of wastes generated. Burning of wastes will only cause damages to air quality and public health.

Reduction of Taxes

The government of S. Korea reduced taxes including income and corporate tax since the start of the President Lee Myung-bak government, early last year. Though the reduction of taxes may bring the 'business-friendly' environment for corporations and the rich, S. Korea is expected to have a record deficit of more than 400 trillion Korean Won (about USD 335 billion) next year, which is causing a threat to managing balanced finance of the country. The government is going to spend a lot of money in the 4 River Project when they have reduced tax revenue, which can be used for social welfare programs supporting vulnerable and marginalized people of the society.

The sustainable development strategy, which the all countries of the world should adopt and implement, has the three pillars of economic development, environmental conservation and social equity. The Green Growth Initiative of the country is about to threat the balance among them.

4 River Restoration Project as a Key of S. Korea's Green Growth Plan

Though, S. Korean government is proposing the 4 River Project as a measure to climate change impacts including droughts and floods, they failed to provide sound grounds based on scientific research on the climate change impact on the country. The project is based on simple assumption that droughts and floods will be increased.

There is no enough environmental and social impact assessment on the project. And the government can not provide scientific grounds to build so many dams and to dredge rivers so much. Though, the most of damages from droughts and floods happened in the areas of tributaries of the 4 rivers rather than mainstreams of the 4 rivers, the government just want to build dams, strengthen river banks and dredge the mainstreams. The ecosystems of the 4 rivers will be severely impacted from dams constructions and dredging, there is no enough explanation from the government on how to restore rivers.

The amount of the total budget for the 4 Rivers Project just increased from 13.9 trillion Korean Won (about USD 11.6 billion) at the announcement of the interim plan on April 27th, 2009 up to 22.2 trillion Korean Won (about USD 18.6 billion) at the announcement of the final plan on June 8th, 2009. We can not help but doubt about that project is well planned when we saw that the total budget of the project had increased about 8.3 trillion Korean Won (about USD 6.9 billion and 60% of the total budget) increased in a period of just one and a half month. The project will turn out to be a failure when the project is not scrupulously planned. And the people of Korea will have to pay for all the costs from the waste of tremendous amounts of budget, irreversible damage to natural rivers' environment and social discords surrounding the project.

New Dams on the Nakdong River

According to the "National Water Resources Plan(2006-2020)"v, the top level water resources management plan produced every 10 years, which was drawn up in July 2006 by then Ministry of Construction and Transportation in consultation with experts and civil society organizations, there will be 11 million cubic meters of surplus water in the Nakdong River basin in 2011. And, there is no solid ground for the government to provide 1 billion cubic meters of extra water in the river basin by building more than 8 dams on the river's mainstream. The dams will eventually reduce flow rate of the river water and to deteriorate the water quality severely.

Flood Control and Water Quality Improvement

If the government really wants to prevent flooding and to improve water quality, it should invest on managing small tributaries rather than mainstreams of the 4 rivers. More than 97% of the mainstreams of the 4 rivers already have finished river bank strengthening. And, most of the flood damages in the country are happening along small rivers and tributaries so that investing most of the budget in mainstream of the rivers is not proper. And, it is more effective to improve the water quality of tributaries rather than trying to improve in the mainstreams.

4 River Restoration Project and Job Creation

The government of South Korea argues that the Green New Deal policy including the 4 River Restoration Project will be effective in providing jobs. However, it will not provide any decent jobs, but only jobs for simple and manual labors, which will not helpto solve the social problem of increasing jobless young people with higher education who do not want dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs. Many of manual labors in the country are filled with foreign workers and the 4 River Project will create jobs for them.

Bicycle Lanes along the 4 Rivers

The government of S. Korea also argues that it promotes the green transport and the construction of 1,728km long bicycle lanes newly paved along the water front of the 4 rivers will help increase the use of bicycles from 1.5 per cent in 2009 to 5 per cent in 2013, thus contribute to the reduction of carbon dioxide emission. However, if the government really wants to increase the use of bicycles as a green alternative to driving cars, they should promote the use of bicycles in urban areas instead of country-side areas along the 4 rivers. The bicycle lanes along the 4 Rivers will only increase leisure opportunities for people. And, the construction of the bicycle lanes will only result in the destruction of riverine environment and isolation of the rivers from the surrounding environment.

Lack of Democratic Decision Making

There has been no enough communication about the 4 River Project. Government-funded research institutes made up the largest development project of the country worth of 22.2 trillion Korean Won (about USD 18.6 billion) in just 6 months. The government strictly controlled to keep the related information from reaching out to the public. Though there were just few public hearings and meetings with local people, all of them were merely formalities and concerns of local people and civil society organizations were not reflected at all.

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