The World Through Ki Chul Oh’s Eyes

KiChul Oh Talks Climate Change
The End of the Era of Carbon Dioxide
Ki Chul Oh (Secretary General of Green Asia)

Korean society has no interest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

For several years now, the Federation of Korean Industries and the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry have been making the assertion that “it would be hasty on Korea’s part to make the first move to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when neither China nor the United States is taking any steps.” The influence of the Federation of Korean Industries is quite powerful, as it makes this claim with especial force.

As the U.S. and China are the world’s two biggest industrial nations and discharge the most carbon dioxide, let me begin with a discussion regarding these two countries.

On November 3rdlast year, it was reported that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fined automakers Hyundai and Kia $300 million for exaggerated Miles Per Gallon (MPG) ratings. Of this $300 million, $200 million were carbon dioxide emission charges. In addition, according to the EPA, investing in equipment needed for MPG ratings improvement will cost another $50 million. The origin of this issue is actually quite absurd. It started from backlash from American consumers that Hyundai was exaggerating its MPG ratings that were on the window stickers of the cars in thedealers’ showrooms. They were not even cars that were in operation but were rather simply displayed in a showroom that generated $350 million in fines. What do you think of this?

You may think that the U.S. is being overly harsh.

But this is only the start. You may have heard of this many times before, but this is a real incident: We are at the beginning of an era of change. This is the end of an era in which carbon dioxide has governed our environment.

China and the U.S.’ Strategy Regarding Carbon Dioxide: Trade Policy

According to a November 12th CNN newscast last year from Beijing, around the time that the November 12th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Conference was drawing to a close, the President of the People’s Republic of China and the President of the United States of America presented their agreement at the TRADE Summit on a collaboration effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1/3 in their respective countries for 20 years starting immediately. This news story became known to the world as CNN’s most important story on November 12th. According to this agreement, the U.S. will reduce carbon dioxide emissions until the year 2025 by 26-28% (back to 2005 levels), and China will increase clean energy use by 20% by the year 2030.

What is interesting is that this agreement came out of a trade, not an environmental, summit.

For the past two years, I have been searching for documentation on U.S.-China conferences about carbon dioxide reduction. During that time, there were interesting discussions taking place.

From 2013, President Obama has been focusing his second term agenda on carbon dioxide reduction. So, the U.S. administration, without the need for Congressional approval, decided to reduce emissions by 30% by the year 2030. Moreover, the president has declared that the U.S. will reduce emissions by 80% by the year 2050. China went one step further in saying that the National Development and Reform Commission of the People’s Republic of China (NDRC) will reduce carbon dioxide levels by 50% by the year 2050 (back to 2005 levels). In 2014, the NDRC decided that carbon dioxide discharge and air pollution were the nation’s most important issues. It has already invested $277.7 billion to reduce air pollution in Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei by 25%.

Furthermore, a month after the June 2013 summit between Obama and Xi Jinping on July 10th, the main topic of discussion at the U.S.-China conference was carbon dioxide reduction. Yet there remained the question of how these countries would prove their carbon dioxide reduction. In the end, carbon dioxide emissions may turn into a kind of trade war between the U.S. and China, and trade retaliation may emerge as a global pattern.

South Korea Suffers from U.S.-China Disputes

The U.S. and China’s carbon dioxide reduction policies are consistent and are able to link carbon dioxide reduction with commerce. Multiple-party negotiations involving the U.S. and China through the UN are too time-consuming, and mutual agreement is hard to reach. In addition, because agreement through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on carbon dioxide reduction and trade retaliation is impossible, its legally binding power is weak.

What the U.S. and China want is a two-party policy on carbon dioxide reduction that allows each of them to engage in trade retaliation. So, after they declare how much carbon dioxide they reduce in their respective countries, the U.S. and China will request beef and carbon dioxide traceability for all incoming goods. If they are unable to meet required levels of reduction, they will have to pay tariffs. And of course this applies to Korea as well.

The U.S. and China will continue to lead in technology related to climate change and set climate standards for their own countries and their trade partners, further securing their leadership and channeling this towards their economic development.

What I have said thus far is what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs anticipates as well.

The Federation of Korean Industries and the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that it would be hasty for Korea to try to reduce carbon dioxide emissions when even the U.S. and China were not making such a step.

“What the Federation of Korean Industries has said may be comforting but it is not helpful. Korea must try its best to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and must not delay efforts.”

Perhaps Korea is not even aware that the U.S. is demanding $300 million in fines from Hyundai and Kia for their carbon dioxide emissions.

Whenever seminars that oppose carbon dioxide reduction are held, the end of an era of carbon approaches. As a country that relies on exports for food, Korea must be more careful.

The World ThroughKi ChulOh’sEyes: Climate Change and Poverty – Measures to Combat the Ongoing Crisis

In the first half of 2015, papers on measures to combat climate change and poverty were published. This time, they addressedcurrent concerns about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the international food investment dilemma.

I. At the Crux of the Poverty Issue: From Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to SDGs

The MDGs that the United Nations (UN) has been promoting from 2000 to 2015 will change to the SDGs. The negotiations on these new goals, which beganin 2012, have now come to a conclusion. The Secretary General of the UN published a Synthesis Report in September 2014 and started negotiations in January 2015. Thishas culminated in the selection of the SDGs at the UN General Assembly Commemorative Summit in September of the same year.

The purpose of the conversion is to overcome the impending global crisis by consolidating environmental, economic, and societal issues into an overarching problem that the SDGs can combat. Climate change and poverty are issues that the international community, which includes Korea, must attempt to solve for sustainable development. And the solution to this is the SDGs.

During the 2014 UN Climate Summit, the UN Secretary General said,

“We cannot negotiate with nature. Mother nature does not wait.”

The human race cannot exist without a solution to these environmental problems, and we have reached an age in which poverty is difficult to resolve. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said:

“Because we don’t have a Planet B, we don’t have a Plan B. In the end, we will have to get used to this changing planet.”

II. The World Bank’s Concerns

Anyone can question the relationship between the earth’s environmental crisis and poverty. For anyone who has lived through Korea’s rapid industrialization during the 1970s and 80s—a period of time during which the country achieved economic developmentat the expense of the environment—it is a very reasonable question to pose. Hasn’t China also been exploiting its environment for the sake of rapid economic growth these days? Thus, it is easy to consider the environment as something to sacrifice for economic improvement and the amelioration of poverty.

Yet it is now time to discard policies that treat the environment as a means to achieve economic prosperity. Why? Consider the following:

Must the environment be sacrificed for poor and developing countries to reach prosperity? If it were five years ago, the World Bank, which has been the leader in eliminating global poverty, would have answered in the affirmative.

However, after 2012, the World Bank has started to treat the issue of climate change as tantamount to theEbola virus disease. On the October 10, 2014, at the World Bank annual meeting in Washington D.C., World Bank President Young Kim gave the following speech:

“Ebola and climate change have one thing in common—we must find solutions to both of these problems. Even until recently, there has been no plan to resolve Ebola and climate change, and even if there were, they were not appropriate. Our indifference will kill the human race. On the one hand, this is because this deadly virus spreads very fast, and on another hand, this is because of the accumulation of air and ocean pollution.”

The Word Bank, which has been the leading international organization in global prosperity and advancement, reveals that this global environmental problem is tightly related to the issue of poverty. The organization, which had invested money into the economic development of Korea in the 1970s and 80s, asserts that without solving the problem of climate change, it will be impossible to find a solution to poverty. Now, none of the World Bank’s policies support the idea that the environment must be sacrificed for the achievement of prosperity. The World Bank announced in its “The Turn Downthe Heat” Report (November 2014)that it will be impossible to end poverty without tackling climate change.

According to this World Bank report, if mankind does not try to solve the issue of global warming, global temperatures will rise by 4°Cby the end of the 21st century and by 2°Cin the next 20-30 years. This report says that if global temperatures rise 4°C, the earth will experience unprecedented heat waves that will cause a 70% reduction in food production and starvation that will eventually lead to the death of the human race. In the preface of the report, World Bank President Young Kim warned that the imminent 2°Crise in temperature will serve as a barrier to reaching global prosperity and eliminating poverty. A 2°Crise will lead to a 30% reduction in agriculture and the disappearance of 90% of the glaciers of the Andes mountain range. According to this scenario, even if global carbon dioxide production were to stop at current levels, temperatures will still rise by 1.5°C. As a result, 1.2 billion out of the 7 billion people in the world will fall into extreme poverty from which they will not be able to extricate themselves.

The world is currently at war with climate change. This issue was apparent even at the September 2013 UN Climate Summit. The final decision is to come up with a price of carbon that is inducing such climate change. All this time, carbon dioxide was thought to be inevitable for economic growth, and producing carbon dioxide was free. Nevertheless,the 2014 World Bank proposal at the UN Climate Summit resulted in an agreement among 73 countries and 1,000 large-scale organizations to invest in efforts to reduce climate change. As part of an anti-climate change measure, the heads of governments agreed on a price for carbon. On this day, a very important announcement was made: “Whether rich or poor, there is no country that is immune to disasters resulting from climate change.”

The matter that the World Bank is dealing with at the momentconcerns the UN, 73 nations, and 1,000 organizations only, but will become an even largerissuethereafter. The World Bank states the following:

“Economic growth will run into many obstacles, as it shows no consideration for the environment and climate change. In addition, the poverty issue that stems from the food crisis, the water crisis, drought, and flooding disasters, which are all due to climate change, will become even more difficult to solve.”

III. Obstacles to Resolving Poverty and Environmental Issues


1. The Dilemma of International Food Investment

Abnormal temperatures due to climate change are related to the global food crisis. According to Suk-ho Han, a member of the Korean Rural Economics Institute, international food prices have fluctuated in 7-8- or 10-year intervals in the past, but after 2008, the intervals have been falling to 3.2- or 1-year increments. The most serious cause for this is climate change. In this situation, the land exploitation issue of developing countries arose due to the land lease problem of these nations and capitalists’ efforts to obtain international food bases.

On November 21st and 23rd, 2008, Reuter News Agency and Time Magazine criticized capitalists for exploiting the lands of the poorest countries. Daewoo Logistics reported that it was in the midst of negotiations to lease 13,000 km2 of arable land for 99 years in the Republic of Madagascar. That land is 1.2 times the area of the Southern GyeongsangProvinceand half the area of the whole country of Belgium. Two-thirds of this land was to be used for corn production and one-third for biofuel. At the time, Daewoo Logistics said that it would use uncultivated land for Korean food security, but the international community’s reaction was one of indifference. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, this piece of land is half the size of Madagascar’s arable land. This plan was said to be a way for Korea, a country that lacks arable land but is the third biggest importer of corn, to bring to its nation crops grown in a poor country, such as Madagascar. In addition, at the time, as a result of increasing climate change and desertification, citizens of several nations have not been able to pay the cost of food. Seventy percent of Madagascar’s population of 20 million belong to income groups below the poverty line, so the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) is giving out free lunches to children in the country. Daewoo Logistics has been criticized for taking away what little food that Madagascar has and bringing it to Korea. An English organization called Sun Biofuels, which has produced food and biofuel in Africa; the Swiss organization, Nestle, and other agricultural businesses in Europe, the Middle East, and China have been criticized for exploiting Africa’s land and food resources.

African organizations are protesting development opportunities. For example, millions of African farmers cannot farm effectively and cannot put out their produce in the market due to a lack of money for fertilizers, basic farming tools, fuel, and transportation equipment.

Therefore, the government of this developing country has petitioned for international organizations to help develop Africa and give some financial aid to the farmers.

With the change in the Madagascar presidency in 2009, the contract with Daewoo Logistics is falling apart and stirring up a new controversy.

Is this a Land Grab or a Development Opportunity?

Let us examine the background of this political and ethical controversy.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) report, due to climate change, 120,000 km2—1.2 times that of Korea—of arable and grazing land undergoes desertification and becomes useless every year. In addition, agriculture and nomadism-related losses from desertification exceed $42 billion every year, and 2.1 billion people from 110 countries are directly affected. According to UN statistics, the global population will reach 9 billion by the year 2050 and to support this many people, the present area of arable and grazing land will have to grow by at least 100%.

The problem is not issues that will happen in the coming years, but that these processes are going on currently. In 2008 when Daewoo Logistics invested in corn, wheat, and beans, prices rose by almost 100%. According to the Korea Rural Economic Institute, the prices of wheat, corn, beans, and rice rose by 86%, 125%, 123%, and 232% respectively from June 2006 to April 2008.

Large-scale organizations are reacting to the predicted impending food crisis for the following reasons: agricultural profits due to rapidly rising food prices and the sudden increase in demand for biofuel as a substitute for fossil fuel.

Even if oil prices drop like they have recently, the World Bank is not supporting the development of fossil fuels and is instead investing in clean energy development. Considering the responses of the international community regarding climate change, this action will be profitable in the long-term. Thus, it is natural from a capitalistic point of view that large capital funds try to obtain large quantities of international land to grow crops for biofuel.

Yet the problem arises elsewhere. Land exploitation that the press has emphasized so much may be just one part of a complicated situation. Amid the controversy about organizations’ land exploitation, the FAO has done more in-depth research, the results of which were published in the May 25, 2009 report titled “Land Grab or Development Opportunity?”

Through this report, important information has been disclosed. To summarize:

  • While international organizations were borrowing land from poor countries, the organizations and the relevant governments created a very simple contract regarding the responsibility of those organizations in investment, infrastructure development, and employment.
  • Organizations want profitable and marketable land, but the problem is that although those lands are occupied by citizens, there are large swathes of land that are not registered with the government. As a result, collaboration between international investors and the regions will lead to dispute.
  • The many countries that want to invest in land are not equipped to collaborate with and respect the rights of the citizens in the area by protecting their livelihood and welfare.
  • The report reveals that a transaction between a recipient country and an investing organization contributes to the decline of the recipient government, exclusion of the citizens, and deterioration of the environment.

The reality is that in the end, current large-scale organizations’ food investment is exacerbating, rather than improving, the issues of poverty and the environment.