A Green New Deal without clear goals can never respond to the climate crisis

Aug 12, 2020

The Korean government recently released details of its Green New Deal. Here is the translated response from the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements and the Climate Crisis Emergency Action network.

On July 14, the South Korean government announced a detailed plan for its post-Covid New Deal, centered on a Green New Deal and a Digital New Deal. This follows president Moon Jae-in’s initial announcement of the Green New Deal in April. The plan, as now revealed, is very disappointing. The Climate Crisis Emergency Action network (CCEA) believes the newly released plan for the Green New Deal fails to address the fundamental socio-economic shift required to respond to the looming climate crisis.

First of all, there is no ‘goal’ in this Green New Deal plan. CCEA, a network of more than 190 environmental, labour, farmer, women and religious groups, calls for a Green New Deal that deals with the climate crisis and social inequality. In order to do this any plan must include drastic greenhouse gas reduction targets. This government announcement, however, contains only vague reference to directions, but no specific goals.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calls for the limiting of global temperature rises to below 1.5 degrees. This requires a near halving of 2010 greenhouse gas emissions levels by 2030, and carbon neutrality by 2050. Currently, the Korean government’s reduction targets for 2030 fall far short of what is required. In addition, in this announcement, only a vague phrase on a “carbon neutral oriented society” was entered without giving a time limit for zero carbon emissions.

The government announced that the Korean New Deal is South Korea’s “Great Transition Declaration” from a “Carbon Dependent Economy to a Low Carbon Economy,” and that the Green New Deal “is a proactive response to the climate crisis.” However, talking about ‘low carbon’ rather than ‘decarbonisation,’ and omitting a clear timeframe, is to acknowledge that Korea is not leading the response to the climate crisis, but instead has fallen behind the rest of the international community.

The remaining permissible carbon emissions, or carbon budgets, that are compatible with the survival of earth and humanity, continue to decline as long as fossil fuels are used. If we continue at current pace the carbon budget will have dissipated within a decade. Recently, the South Korean Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy was criticized by the National Assembly for being unaware of the ‘carbon budget.’ However, in the face of this most recent announcement, it seems ignorance and indifference to the carbon budget is not limited to this minister alone. The lack of clear goals in this plan for 2030 reduction targets and 2050 carbon neutrality, raises the question of whether this Green New Deal is even worthy of the name.

Reading through the details of this newly announced plan it is difficult to find a strategy for the socio-economic transition required in the climate crisis era. This transition must involve a change to the economic system that lionised fossil-fuel powered economic growth, and caused the climate crisis. The goal must be to move away from fossil fuels to a new socio-economic system that prioritizes the safety of citizens and the global ecosystem. However, the government’s announcement does not mention any reductions in grey industries, such as coal power generation or internal combustion engine production. This Green New Deal does not set out to fundamentally change the system, but aims merely to foster eco-friendly businesses.

Moreover, this plan does not address many issues central to the climate crisis, such as agriculture and food. The government says this new deal is “a new social contract for Korea,” but we ask “a social contract with whom?” We wish to ask whether various citizens, such as workers, farmers, and women, are to be the subject of this contract.

Since there is no clear overarching strategy for a socio-economic transition, it is difficult to see how a ‘just transition’ for workers and local residents can occur. The plan addresses the move from coal to renewable electricity, but fails to present designs for the transition in such industries as the automobile industry. The Green New Deal requires the democratic participation of citizens, but at the government announcement only Korean business leaders were invited to speak. The sight of Hyundai Motor Group using the announcement to promote its new electric vehicle, suggested to citizens that the conference was less about them and more about these companies.

Fundamentally, the government still does not view climate change as a crisis, and the current Green New Deal proves that. Large financial stimulus packages, without a clear goal of responding to the climate crisis, risk reinforcing the very socio-economic system that caused the climate crisis in the first place. The Green New Deal, which has no clear goals or direction, cannot protect people from the coming climate disaster.

A greater crisis than Covid-19 is approaching, and we must be ready to face it. We call on the government to re-establish clear goals and direction for the Green New Deal. As soon as possible, we urge the government to develop a strategy appropriate to the enormity of the climate crisis. We are running out of time.

For more information contact:
Sam Macdonald
Korea Federation for Environmental Movements
Email: mackorea@zoho.com