[2020-06-29] Chairman Ban’s Lecture at the Korean National Assembly on Climate Change and Green New Deal

By 2020년 7월 1일 No Comments

On the June 29th, Chairman Ban Ki-moon was invited to the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea to give a lecture on “Climate Villain to Climate Leading State: Strengthening Climate Crisis Response through Green New Deal”.  This policy gathering was hosted by the members of the national assembly.


“As the member of the OECD, is it a dishonor to be called the Climate Villain,” started Chairman Ban. As the chair of the NCCA(National Council on Climate and Air Quality) he said worked to provide clearer skies for the Korean people. To do so, he had to make sure that fine dust issue is not politicized. “I insisted that the fine dust issue must not be politicized, that it is only an environmental issue; there cannot be political right and left,” he said. It is true that the COVID-19 has affected this year’s clearer sky, but it’s not all thanks to the virus. The short term Seasonal Management Plan has shut down 28 fossil fuel power plants. Korea is a G7 state when it comes to air quality. “We must escape from being called this bad name. It is now on your shoulders. With your will, we can solve this problem,” Chairman Ban urged the attention of National Assembly Members to address this issue.


We need to start taking action first to draw international cooperation of our neighboring states. “We ought not to point fingers at each other,” he stated. Before blaming others, putting efforts to solve the fine dust issue from our side will be the opening gate to international discussions.

© Yonhap News 진성철 기자

While the coronavirus is locking down every state, we mustn’t forget the root cause of the virus. “I want to point out, that the destruction of Earth’s ecosystem is what caused the COVID-19,” affirmed Chairman Ban. A shift in paradigm from economic growth first development to ecological, nature-friendly, sustainable development is crucial. “If this shift is not made; it will be a reoccurring vicious cycle of another pandemic eruption,” he warned. He quoted Greta Thurnberg that the adults are stealing the future of their beloved children. “This shows that the climate crisis lies right in front of us, not in the future. The humanity is not only committing crime on future generations, but also nibbling off our own life,” exclaimed Chairman Ban.


In his lecture, he suggested three ways to stop being called the Climate Villain; we must reduce coal powered generators, stop financially supporting foreign coal power plans constructions, and we need to set a bold target and advance our greenhouse gas reduction plans.

© Newsis 최동준 기자

The Green New Deal can be the key to the global triplet crises – climate crisis, economy crisis and polarization. It is important that the concept and targets of the Green New Deal is clear and with consistency. Chairman Ban pointed out the overlapping government institutions on climate change. Not only is there NCCA, but there are many councils working on the same project. If a new Green New Deal committee or a council appears, the former institutions need to be merged into the new institution for effective implementation.


Lastly, Chairman Ban Ki-moon advised the assembly members that environment education be included in Korea’s youth education curricula. “For climate change and sustainable development, the awareness of individuals and the change in social attitude are crucial,” he said.


South Korea is standing at a turning point. Chairman Ban urged the attention of the 21st National Assembly members towards climate crisis and sustainable development.


Below is the translation of his lecture:

© News1

I welcome, and thank all the people from diverse groups that study climate crisis, national policy making and economy, for attending today’s gathering to discuss the theme “Green New Deal”.


I first want to express my gratitude and congratulations to the members of the 21st National Assembly who were elected this year. I have traveled around the world and met many parliament members, spoke at assemblies, and of course I have spoken at the Korea assembly once before. I always feel that naturally presidents and prime ministers are important stake holders, but it is at the Assembly where everything is concluded. This is true for not only cabinet government systems, but also for states like the US where the president holds power. Without the help of the members of the assembly, the president cannot work. Thus, the destiny of the country, the future of the people lies on your shoulders. I urge everyone here to carry such responsibility.


The 21st National Assembly has piles of assignments to handle like the COVID-19, revitalizing economy and supporting the vulnerable due to COVID, and international tasks as strengthening climate environment cooperation and restoring multilateralism. I am certain that members here will play a huge role to solve these problems during your 4 years of term.


I’m well aware that all forms of policy gathering are most vibrant within the 21st Nation Assembly members. Thank you for showing your passions by showing up here today in this very early time of the day.


When I addressed to President Moon Jae-in that Korea is called the ‘Climate Villain’, he seemed dubious about it. New Zealand, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Korea are called the Climate Villain. As the member of the OECD, is it a dishonor to be called the Climate Villain.


Today’s talk is on “Climate Villain to Climate Leading State: Strengthening Climate Crisis Response through Green New Deal”. Please read the “NCCA(National Council on Climate and Air Quality) 1st year Review” booklet that’s been handed out. ‘


Last April, when I started as the Chair of the NCCA, the Korean people plead that they cannot breathe during to the worst week of fine dust and President Moon established a special council to address this issue. I told the staff then, that we must take bold actions, that I’ll take full responsibility.


We started out by adopting a bottom-up method, not top-down. We organized a group of 501 Korean citizens, regardless of gender and occupation, to discuss fine dust policies. Since they lack professionalism, we also invited professionals, government agents, assembly members to explain our policies to them and debated all night. I have visited the National Assembly several times. I’ve met every party representative. I insisted that the fine dust issue must not be politicized, that it is only an environmental issue; there cannot be political right and left and proposed the “Seasonal Management Plan”.


There are 60 fossil fuel power plants in Korea and we have stopped 28 of them. We also took steps to limit worn out diesel vehicles from entering large cities of more than half a million people. These plans can be hopefully implemented more strictly from this year. As a result, from last winter to this spring, the sky was clearer. Of course the spread of the coronavirus was one of the reasons. I am a bit sad to think that the pandemic is getting all the credits. During the Seasonal Management Plan, fine dust density reduced by 27%. Yes the decline in Korean and Chinese industries and better climate conditions due to COVID-19 has played its role, but do keep in mind that it’s not all thanks to the virus!


The Seasonal Management Plan was an emergency measure. There are 36 countries in the OECD, and when it comes to air quality and fine dust, we are always ranked 35-36th. Korea is placed within the top fifteen states in every aspect, but lowest in air quality. We are one of the G7 states in CO2 emission! We must escape from being called this bad name. It is now on your shoulders. With your will, we can solve this problem.


Coming this October, we (the NCCA) plan to propose a mid-long term solution to fundamentally treat fine dust. The solution includes reduction of fossil fuel generation and improving energy mix; reasonable electricity charges system; conversing diesel locomotives to eco-friendly vehicles; adjustment of automobile fuel prices and more. These are methods that are more effective yet harder to reach a consensus. I urge the attention and support of all the National Assembly members to reach a consensus.


International cooperation is important to solve this matter. Our Prime Minister met with the Chinese Premier Le Keqiang and President Moon met with Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping; Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, Ministry of Environment, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, are all working together. I myself, since I became the Chair of the NCCA, have been discussing closely with China and have been keeping good relationship. I attended the Environment Day event in China, and the Chinese Minister of Environment attended the Air Pollution and Climate Response International Forum hosted by the NCCA. We ought not to point fingers at each other. It’s been scientifically proven that China’s contribution to fine dust is around 30%. Mongolia and North Korea is of course included in the rest, but we also took part in it. Before blaming others, we need to start taking action from our side, that way it will be easier to consult the issue with other states.


President Moon attended the UN Climate Summit last September 23rd and suggested to designate a day for the blue sky. This was selected unanimously and now, every September 7th is UN designated International Day of Clean Air and Blue Skies. I hope to hold an event to celebrate this day with UN ESCAP and UN together.


All these problems can be solved by cleaning our planet Earth, where we live and where our future children will live in.


The coronavirus has triggered a global lockdown. There are more than 10 million patients and around half a million have died. It’s ironical that one-fourth of confirmed cases occurred in the richest and the most resourceful state, the US. Coronavirus has revealed many ironies on this planet and fine dust is one of them. COVID-19 is affecting the global security as well. Last December the Chinese government reported to the WHO that there are cases of unknown pneumonia in Wuhan, and only within 6th months the whole world is closed, locked down. Even during the 2nd World War, only those at war were impacted by the war and others could live freely, continuing their daily lives. I believe this is the first time that the whole planet is suffering.


Fortunately, South Korea is being praised as a role model for COVID response with is 3T+P -Testing, Tracing, Treating and Participation – response plan. Behind this success lie the government’s quick and bold policies, the professional medical workers and well organized health care system, and the voluntary participation of citizens. I have been emphasizing the advantages of Korea’s COVID response through interviews with UN, WHO and other international organizations.


At this point, we must look back on what the fundamental cause of COVID-19 is; why such problems arose and why it happens so frequently. If we do not self-examine the root cause and seek for solutions based on it, we have no bright future ahead of us. I want to point out, that the destruction of Earth’s ecosystem is what caused the COVID-19.


Last April, Pope Francis has said that the COVID-19 pandemic is ‘the nature’s response’ to humans ignoring climate change. When I met with Pope Francis in 2018 at Vatican he said “God always forgives, humane sometimes forgive, the nature never forgives.” We have been overlooking the preciousness of nature for too long. Pope’s saying is a warning that tells us to listen carefully to the nature’s voice. The climate change is progressing faster and faster. It is approaching us faster than we thought. I have always stressed that we can’t help but follow the voices of the nature.


The effect of the coronavirus is immediate but the climate crisis progresses gradually. However the climate crisis is the long-term fundamental issue that threatens humanity more than COVID-19. Unless we prepare for it as if we’re preparing for war, it cannot evade from it.


What we should learn of the pandemic is:

  1. if the destruction of Earth ecosystem continues, it can seriously harm the health of humanity;
  2. development centered Economic growth, what we have always pursued, cannot be useless when facing the nature’s ecologic crisis;
  3. and no crisis can be handled alone; every state, global citizens must come together.


Now we must prepare for change in our growth paradigm from our previous paradigm of ignoring the nature’s warning to sustainable development for our future.


First, we need to shift our growth paradigm to a sustainable paradigm that listens to the natures warning, respect life, and consider ecological crisis.

If this shift is not made; it will be a reoccurring vicious cycle of another pandemic eruption. During my 10 years tenure in UN, the two that I consider most pride of are the SDGs and the Paris Agreement. These two are in the same line. The climate crisis is severe and is a matter that every state has to work on together with obligation. So the Paris Agreement is and international law-binding treaty.  However the climate crisis itself is one of the goals of the SDGs. These cannot be separated. The climate crisis and sustainable development must be pursued together.


The government and the people notices climate crisis, but does not mention sustainable development as much. How many of assembly members here have heard of SDGs? This is our present status. SDGs must be embraced as our driving force in economy for the post-COVID era.


When President Moon took office, I was at Harvard. I briefly visited Korea to meet him. Then I advised him that SDGs is important, that this should be mainstreamed into our policies. Everyone needs to embrace sustainability into their paradigms.


Second, we need a shift on national security.

Now, ecological crisis such as COVID-19 must be dealt as seriously as national security. The pandemic has changed the concept of security. Consider, for example, how the US’s nuclear aircraft carrier ‘Theodor Roosevelt’ stopped conducting operations and anchored due to the virus.


Third, we must strengthen cooperation between states, businesses and civil societies, working together as one community that coexists on Earth with solidarity.

The pandemic has no border and cannot be resolved by a single state. Thus in the post-COVID global order, we must step up, and seek for a higher level of global cooperation and coexistence.


Recently there have been discussions among scientists on ‘Anthropocene’. Scientists say that this stratum should be differentiated from other eras in that we are leaving so many plastic and heavy metal wastes in land. Humanity is not only destroyers of climate, but is also changing the Earth’s history.

This is also the ‘6th mass extinction’ era. Global warming has caused the extinction of more than 400 vertebrate species during the last 100 years, and its progress is speeding up. Many scientists and professionals estimate that about 70% of life species will extinct within 100 years. Which is why it’s the ‘6th mass extinction’.

A young Swedish girl Greta Thrunberg has said that the adults are stealing the future of their beloved children. The title of her biography is “My house is on fire”. This shows that the climate crisis lies right in front of us, not in the future. The humanity is not only committing crime on future generations, but also nibbling off our own life.


This January 24th, I attended the opening ceremony of the Doomsday Clock as the former UN SG, and as the Vice Chair of The Elders. According to the adjusted Doomsday Clock, there is only 100 seconds left till the end of Earth, which is midnight. This warns us that we are closer than ever to the end of Earth since the Doomsday Clock started. Keep this is mind and please do try your best to make environment a more frequently discussed topic. Plus, the IPCC has set the Carbon Budget, which is the amount CO2 emission left till the Earth’s average temperature rises to 1.5 Celsius degree. If we go on like this, we only have 7 years and 6 months left. We don’t have much time to solve this problem.


Unfortunately, Korea has not been called good names throughout the international society. Germany particularly has designated South Korea as one of the four ‘Climate Villains’ in the 2016 CAT report.

In order for us to leap to become a global pioneer state, we must also become a pioneer in the global crisis, climate change. It is urgent that we escape from being called a climate villain. To do this, we need bold and brave response in the following three issues.


First, we need to reduce fossil fuel generation.

Korea’s coal generation has continuously increased from 18.5% in 1990 to 45.1% in 2018; 19.3% higher than the OECD average of 25.8%.

The leading states in climate response is aiming for zero-coal; Germany by 2018, UK · Italy · Austria by 2025 and France by 2022. The only zero-coal plan we have is last month’s plan to reduce coal generation to 28.6% by 2034. This is not enough to not being called the climate villain. This is 10% higher than in 1990 when our coal generation was the lowest. If we can’t do what the developed countries did straight away, we still need bold policies and strong implementation based on our own capability and responsibility.


Second, Korea needs to stop giving public financial support to foreign coal power plant constructions.

The main finance public enterprises are investing immense capital into overseas fossil fuel power plants. Only Korea and Japan among the OECD states are investing public finance to foreign coal-fired power plants and the international society is showing great concerns on this. Coal power plants are stranding assets in the long run and thus supporting them will be a big economic burden. We must realize that this is outdated.


Third, when it comes to greenhouse gas, we need to set a bold target and advance our reduction plan.

Our CO2 emission ranks top 7 globally. Moreover, Europe has been trying to reduce greenhouse gas emission from 1990, US from 2005, while South Korea’s greenhouse gas is increasing. Instead of being narrow eyed, only seeking for short term benefits, we need to have a long term view.

Fortunately we have set the previous BAU(Business as Usual) based reduction target to the absolute year. However the year is based on 2017, so quantity wise, the reduction effect won’t be much effective from the past BAU targets. We should set the standard year more bravely so that we can reduce CO2 emission and follow the 2050 Net Zero plan declared by many climate leading states.

When I suggested the Net Zero plan to professionals, they said that it is impossible considering Korea’s current status. But then, why are other countries declaring that they will do this? Watching the people suffer from the unprecedented COVID-19 challenges, the Korean government has implemented astonishing policies as disaster relief funds and industrial accident treatments. You have the power. As the member of the National Assembly, you hold the final say.


There is a key to the top triplet crises – climate crisis, economy crisis and polarization – that we are facing today: the Green New Deal.

EU’s Green Deal, US’s Green New Deal; they all come from the same concerns. As IPCC has said, in order to limit Earth temperature rise to 1.5 Celsius and to reduce greenhouse gas emission to 45% of 2010 within the next 10 years, we need to come up with a splendid method at a global scale.

The Korean government’s action to set the Green New Deal as the next government operation, satisfying the expectations of the global society and the citizens, is a historical changeover in climate crisis response and will be the stepping stone towards becoming a global leading state.

I hear that the government plans to establish a pan-government general plan around July. The details of the Green New Deal will be discussed then, but we must take into consideration the following three:


First, the concept and the target of the Green New Deal must be set clearly.

The Green New Deal goes beyond economy recovery and should be a comprehensive plan to deal with climate change. While doing so, we need to reach a social consensus that can embrace the isolated vulnerable people and commoners. This is the Green New Deal.


Second, policies must be consistent.

Even at this moment when the Green New Deal is chosen to be the government’s operation direction, there are financial investments given to developing states’ coal industries.  We need to decisively abolish previous policies and projects that go against the Green New Deal. Like in Chicago, where the city has succeeded in dealing with climate change and creating jobs by supporting businesses such as zero carbon building and insulations, we need to discover new industries.


Third, we need to arrange a manual so that the Green New Deal can take place as the long term national strategy to overcome COVID-19.

We make up new catchphrases and a new presidential council for new presidents every time. When one’s presidency ends, a council disappears and a new one appears. There is the Special Response Council on Fine Dust (미세먼지 특별대책위원회) where the former Prime minister Lee Nak-yeon is, but there is also the NCCA under the President. The co-chair of the Special Council Moon Gil-ju, is also a member of the NCCA. I advise that this should return to the council under the Prime Minister, as Lee Nak-Yeon and Moon Gil-ju as the co-chairs. The current system is strange, without any priorities. Furthermore the Green Growth Committee and Committee on Sustainable Development have practically stopped operating. Soon there will be a presidential council on the Green New Deal. Assembly members hold the legislation authority; please merge all these institutions reasonably.

It can be said that the faster the NCCA is gone, the better. While the discussions on the Green New Deal Act continue, we must keep in mind that what is more important is the spirit of the law than the content. Korean society has been building new councils whenever there is a new social issue, and the NCCA is one of them. This could be our chance to arrange a sustainable system to carry on climate change response.


In Korean education curricula, there is hardly any program on environment education. I deeply feel the need to provide young children environment and ecology education through out their school years.

For climate change and sustainable development, the awareness of individuals and the change in social attitude are crucial. Only when we internalize climate change and sustainable development, and when it becomes a part of our culture, can we protect our Earth.

Hence, climate and environment education that can help youth internalize individual thoughts and behavior is important. In Italy for instance, it is mandatory that 33 hours of climate change and sustainable development is included into primary to high school curricula per year. This is the first case globally. I believe this will be an effective tool to make children ponder on the earth’s environment and to lead children’s spontaneous involvement.

Lucky for us, I have heard some good news from the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education last week. They announced a “Mid-long Term Transition Ecological Education Plan’ and is going to organize a new ‘Ecology Environment Energy Education Team’. I hope this sort of policies can be followed by other local governments and the members of the assembly take part in legalizing environment education.


Dear National Assembly Members,

South Korea is facing a momentous turning point. It’s either we choose to take the path not taken called the Green New Deal, or we go back to our past development strategy of ignoring climate crisis. And now, we have just started to take off.

Soon the 21st National Assembly will be in operation. I ask for your enthusiastic attention towards finding solutions for climate change at the assembly level and your active participation in the governments’ Green New Deal. Please organize the scattered councils and provide systematic education for the children.

I wish all the assembly members here smooth parliamentary activities and thank you. Health is most important. As the COVID-19 continues and with the summer heat and rain season coming, do take good care of your health. Thank you.