Copenhagen needs 'me first' gumption

To break the impasse over global warming, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak says each and every country must do what it can, starting now.

Nearing the final moments of the climate talks in Copenhagen, the prevailing sentiment is that we'll fail to reach an agreement. Yet, there remains a glimmer of hope as more than 100 global leaders converge on the talks.

Such a concentration of leaders presents an historic opportunity to finally reach a global consensus on ways to reduce our environmental impact. Indeed, we must take action together. To break the impasse, I believe all of us must begin to embrace a "me first" attitude. I will emphasize this point in my address to the Copenhagen participants on Thursday. 

A willingness to act where others pause is the only way we'll break the long-prevailing approach of "you first." If we continue to wait until others act, the prospects for a global agreement will diminish even more. In Korea, we have decided to take that first step.

Last month, after some 80 meetings with various Korean stakeholders, including government and business leaders, I set an ambitious midterm target for reducing the country's greenhouse-gas emissions. We plan to cut our emissions, voluntarily, by 30 percent from the previous 2020 forecast. 

There are two key characteristics of our emissions-reduction goal.

First, the target is set at the highest level recommended by the international community for a country like ours under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Some have expressed concern that this target is far too high and, possibly, out of reach. We believe it's an achievable, aggressive target that needed to be taken. Our economy has maintained a heavy dependence on manufacturing for decades. As a result, our greenhouse-gas emissions have nearly doubled in the past 15 years. 

Dramatically curbing our emissions growth, indeed, will be a daunting challenge. But the first step to establish a low-carbon growth economic policy is setting a goal. And I believe we must aim high.

Second, our goal is unconditional to the outcome of the Copenhagen talks. In order to find a solution to the global climate challenge, each and every country must do what it can, starting now. To quote an Asian proverb, "Ten spoonfuls of rice make one big bowl." If every country represented in Copenhagen decides to add a "spoonful" of effort and adopts a "me first" attitude, we can overcome this enormous and critical challenge.

To help get us there, I have proposed establishing an international "registry" mechanism to motivate developing countries to take reduction steps that can be internationally recognized. It will promote transparency, while generating potential sources of financial support from developed countries for these programs. The registry would track the progress of these efforts and allow the international community to review what more needs to be done to achieve an agreed-upon 2 degree Celsius trajectory.

In fact, the international effort to create an enhanced framework to address climate change is a valuable process. Each exchange of views and ideas is worthwhile. But the lack of a formal agreement is no excuse for the current inertia. 

To trigger action, there needs to be knowledge. So any discussion on climate change must encompass not only "how much" we'll reduce, but "how" we'll get there. 

Many developing countries, especially in Asia, are beginning to foster their industries and expand their economies. We must ensure that these countries take a different path to development than the roads taken by the developed countries. As we progress in our own development, we can share some of the valuable environmental lessons that we have learned as our economy evolved. 

In the case of Korea, we set "Low-Carbon Green Growth" as our new national vision. We have devised a five-year implementation plan, under which we will invest 2 percent of our GDP annually into research and development on new green technologies and infrastructure, such as energy-efficient transportation and a smart energy grid. In implementing this program, we believe we can go "green," while creating new jobs and industries, and continuing our economic growth.

Many business and government leaders, climate experts, and civil activists are advocating "green growth" as a new economic development paradigm. The "Declaration on Green Growth" adopted by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, is just one illustration. 

Yet no country, obviously, has fully realized this goal. To get us closer, the developing and developed countries must work together more effectively by sharing their experiences and wisdom. At Copenhagen, and following the conclusion of the talks, I will make it our mission to continually share Korea's experience, while learning new ways during our journey on a green growth path.

There really is no other alternative. All of us must act. 

© 2009 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

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