Moon announces plans to support developing economies in need of green recovery

Posted on : 2021-05-31 17:00 KST Modified on : 2021-05-31 17:00 KST
The South Korean president's announcement came in an opening address for the 2021 P4G Seoul Summit
South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivers an opening address for the two-day 2021 P4G Seoul Summit on Sunday at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul. (Blue House photographers' pool)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivers an opening address for the two-day 2021 P4G Seoul Summit on Sunday at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul. (Blue House photographers' pool)

South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced plans Sunday to substantially increase official development assistance (ODA) related to climate and the environment to help developing countries that need a green recovery.

He also announced plans for a bid for South Korea to host the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP) for the UN Climate Change Framework Convention in 2023 while reaffirming his commitment to additional increases in South Korea's national greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2030.

Moon's announcement came in an opening address for the 2021 P4G Seoul Summit, delivered by videoconference at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul.

He went on to say that South Korea would participate preemptively and proactively in international efforts to overcome the climate crisis. In particular, he stressed that it would fulfill its responsibility and role as a "bridge" between developing and advanced economies, adding that he planned to establish a US$5 million Green New Deal trust fund with the Global Green Growth Institute.

He also announced plans to contribute to the expansion of creative green growth projects through a new fund of US$4 million for sustainable joint efforts by P4G, a platform with a name that stands for "Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030."

Reiterating his position in favor of suspending official financial support for new coal-fired power plants overseas, he stated his commitment to additional increases in the national greenhouse gas reduction targets to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

A particular focus of attention was Moon's official statement of intent to bid for South Korea to host the 2023 COP event. Local governments throughout South Korea have already begun bidding for the COP, a major international event for discussing responses to climate change.

The message was read as signaling South Korea's commitment to preemptive action in responding to climate change.

This year marks the first year of implementation of the Paris Agreement for greenhouse gas reduction. Climate diplomacy has emerged as a major theme for the international community, from the Leaders Summit on Climate in April to the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in the UK this November.

Global interest is particularly high after US President Joe Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement immediately after taking office.

Among the pledges shared by Moon on Sunday, the one about expanded ODA is drawing some attention. The South Korean government plans to substantially increase climate- and environment-related ODA from its current level of 19.6% of total ODA to above the 28.1% average for OECD countries by 2025.

Noting differences in the levels of economic development and reliance on coal-fired electricity in individual countries, Moon said that developing economies require more assistance from advanced economies to achieve a global transition toward low-carbon economies.

In the past, experts have called on South Korea to show its leadership in the international community as a model of climate change response. While they rated Moon's address positively, they also called for consideration and pledges that went a step beyond.

"Assisting developing economies is an obvious obligation that the leading climate change response countries must fulfill," said Lee Jong-o, secretary-general of the Korea Sustainability Investing Forum.

"President Moon talked about 'fulfilling our role and responsibility as a bridge' between developing and advanced economies, but if you look at it solely in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, South Korea should be thinking more about what it needs to do as an advanced economy rather than its role as a mediator," Lee said.

The fact that Moon has yet to state finalized nationally determined contributions (NDC) for greenhouse gases by 2030 is also being pointed to as a limitation.

The US, which hosted the Leaders Summit on Climate in April, announced plans to reduce emissions by 50% from 2005 levels by 2030, with targets for carbon neutrality in the electricity sector by 2035. In the process, it applied pressure on other countries ranked toward the top for greenhouse gas emissions — including the UK, Germany and Japan — to also increase their NDCs.

This led to demands for South Korea to also announce concrete targets. But even in his address, Moon did not mention specific NDC target figures or a pledge to get rid of coal-fired power plants domestically and internationally.

"The reason he put so much emphasis on government development assistance is because the South Korean government didn't have anything to share with the international community this time about reducing emissions," said one climate activist.

"During the South Korea-US summit [earlier this month], South Korea pledged to announce increased NDCs, telling the US it would make efforts to keep the rise in the average global temperature to within 1.5°C. Coming a week after that, the address's reference to 'intermediate 2050 carbon neutrality targets' was something of a letdown," they added.

The 2030 level of emissions established internationally in 2015 through the Paris Agreement to prevent global average temperature from rising more than 1.5°C stood at 45-50% of their 2010 levels. But South Korea's current emissions targets for 2030 amount to 536 million tons, or a reduction of just 18.5% compared with 2010 emissions.

Ahead of his address Sunday, Moon spoke via videoconference with Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark, who hosted the first P4G summit in 2019.

In their summit, they agreed to upgrade the two sides' relationship to that of "comprehensive green strategic partners." They also agreed to increase cooperation in offshore wind power generation, where Denmark is a major player.

The P4G summit opening ceremony was followed by speech sessions, with 34 world leaders and senior officials participating, along with 20 international organization heads. Video messages from heads of state were screened on the three themes of "green recovery," "carbon neutrality," and "public-private sector cooperation."

Meanwhile, the Blue House decided to incorporate state-of-the-art media and augmented reality technology to present images for the summit's opening ceremony and discussion sections that day due to the greater carbon emissions and waste generated if artificial sets were put up and taken down.

By Lee Wan, staff reporter

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