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Green Growth, South Korea's National Policy, Gaining Global Attention

A new economic paradigm is arising out of the ashes of the global financial crisis. Could it take hold?

By Stacy Feldman

Jan 26, 2011

When the global financial crisis rippled through economies around the world in 2008, experts warned that global warming would slide down on the list of the world's priorities. In part, they were right.

Trillions flowed to resuscitate teetering economies, which were based on fossil fuels. Money pledged to address climate change was never mobilized.

But something else happened at the same time: Many nations' fiscal-stimulus packages included billions to finance clean energy projects.

No nation was as bullish on the idea as South Korea. Asia's fourth-largest economy poured 80 percent of its $38 billion stimulus program into what it calls "green growth." Later, it committed 2 percent of its annual GDP over five years to the same national cause.

Now, both rich and poor nations are turning to Seoul for lessons in green-powered development, and the new economic approach that was born out of financial mayhem. 

Could it take hold?

The (OECD) seems to think so.

"It's on the minds of many countries who want to preserve their national capital and limit the risk to economic growth," said Nathalie Girouard, an economist and coordinator of .

The OECD — the economic policy institute of wealthy and aspiring nations — describes green growth as a new paradigm for how to run an economy in a way that limits environmental degradation and ensures prosperity.

In 2009, with the world in the throes of fiscal panic, 34 nations mandated it to pinpoint policy areas on which governments need to focus in order to "green" their growth, as well as to remove policy barriers, like market-distorting fossil fuel subsidies. In May, it will issue its first "Green Growth Strategy Synthesis Report" at the OECD ministerial council meeting.

Other organizations are also doing "big think work." Next month, the (UNEP) will publish its own case for green growth under its .

At the same time, the newly established Seoul-based — headed by former South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo and climate change expert Lord Nicholas Stern — is working on the ground in poor countries. The goal there is getting states to "leapfrog" over the dirty technologies like coal that were ushered in by the first industrial revolution.

Financial Crisis Drives Big 'Green' Ideas

Why now, exactly? Experts agree that the green growth experiment came out of the need to sustainably stimulate national economies back to life.

"There's really an element of prevention that has been ingrained in this work," Girouard told SolveClimate News. "We have to find new ways of producing and consuming things. We need to change the way we use the Earth’s resources. This, I think, is what is driving countries."

"How we grow is at least as important as how much we grow," she continued. "Traditional indicators, like GDP, are not enough of a definition of what the economy should help the society to achieve."

The work appears to mark a turning point in the way countries think about going green, especially in poor and fast-emerging nations. In the past, many lamented that they could not afford to build cleaner energy infrastructure at a respectable pace. 

China, India and other emerging economies "think that greening their economies is not a choice anymore," said Jung Tae-yong, executive director of the Global Green Growth Institute and a former economist at the . They must do it "to survive in these competitive economic conditions."

And that means, for the first time, that the push to decarbonize the future power system is coming from "domestic need," not international pressure, Jung told SolveClimate News.


A Plea From A Former Believer. The planet is not dead.

Continued belief in Catastrophic Climate Change, is dividing environmentalism, if not all of progressivism as well. I can no longer look my kids in the eyes and tell them they won’t have kids of their own if they don’t’ start turning the lights off more often. I’m sick of the guilt I’m forced to administer to my kids to help to SAVE THE PLANET! Issuing CO2 death warrants to our children has made neocons out of all of us and besides, we all know climate change was just an exaggeration that got away on us. If you truly love the planet and your fellow human beings, at least be happy and relieved that the horrific consequences of a CO2 crisis where all judged wrong. That doesn’t mean pollution is right. Separate the two. Remove the CO2 factor from the equation and continue stewardship of the planet anew we former believers say. Has anyone considered that it was the polluting scientists and their chemicals that made modern day environmentalism necessary in the first place? There is a wave of former believer rage folks spreading love, optimism and courage as well as GREEN. Let us pull the spear of fear from our children’s backs. Climate change was our Iraq War.

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