26 September 2009: South Korea’s chance to lead

There has been only modest progress at the UN and G20 meetings this week. At the UN summit, the Chinese government recognised the need to restrain its greenhouse emissions, though it talked only of undefined carbon intensity targets (reducing emissions per unit of GDP), rather than targets for reducing actual emissions. However, China is rapidly expanding renewables, leading on carbon capture and storage and proposing to mass produce affordable electric vehicles. Therefore, the promise to reduce carbon intensity is not just talk.

The G20 final communiqué speaks of phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. It recognises the needs of the poorest and says that international financial institutions must be phased out, not just national ones. However, the G20 leaves countries themselves to decide how and when to phase out their subsidies, so national politics and industry lobbying will inevitably delay this. The G20 also accepts the need to offer climate financing proposals to the Copenhagen Summit, but there are no commitments and no numbers yet.

President Obama has said that Copenhagen will not be the end of the discussion. South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak said the same:

The Copenhagen climate summit meeting is not the end, but it is going to be the start of a new beginning, and having that kind of perception is more realistic.

It would be wonderful if Copenhagen delivered a full agreement, but it won’t. And there must be as much effort and attention on climate issues after it as there has been before.

In 2010, South Korea will chair the G20. South Korea is leading the way in improving its carbon productivity (see E3G: New Winners Emerging in Global Race for Low Carbon Competitiveness). It is spending almost 80% of its multi-billion-dollar stimulus package in energy efficiency on buildings, water and waste management (see edie: Green measures part of global economic recovery).

This week’s meeting did indicate that the G20 would be given greater importance in international financial issues in future, so the South Koreans have an enormous opportunity to lead on the low carbon business plan, and also have a good track record. (For more on South Korea, see South Korea: climate and energy statistics.)


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