H.E Mr Taeho Lee

What are the main factors that have led to the adoption of the new path of green growth?

There are a variety of reasons why the country has opted for a green growth model. Like in Morocco, South Korea records up to 97% of energy dependency, which exposes the country to oil price fluctuations in the international markets. Moreover, energy constitutes 26% of total annual imports. This situation makes our economy vulnerable. There is also a need to deviate from our traditional model manufacturing- and export-based growth while developing new sources of development.

Besides, after decades of preoccupation with growth, there has been a growing national awareness for the need to protect our environment. This has led to the adoption of a new paradigm shift that considers not only growth, but the environment as well. I should note that our model of development called “low carbon, green growth” is distinct from the models of other developed and emerging nations, which continue to be preoccupied with growth under the conventional framework.  This double-axis model represents a unique image of my country at the international level.

Knowing that the Republic of Korea’s green house gas (GHG) emissions doubled between 1990 and 2005, why did the Republic wait until 2008 to announce its new engagement with green growth considering that calls to reduce GHG emissions date back to the Earth Summit in 1992 and before?

In my country, we believe that our new model of green growth arrived just at the right time. After years of preoccupation with growth, the ripe moment to do something about the environment has been gradually internalized by the national leadership and South Koreans.

The UNFCCC has established the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” which means that countries which have been developing for over 150 years bear more responsibility than other countries like mine which has not started growing until the second half of the 20th century. This means that my country has released less GHG emissions than many other countries, which also means that we hold a much different level of responsibility to mitigate climate change.

The Republic of Korea is party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol (UNFCCC), but as a fully-fledged developed nation, the Republic has refused calls from the international community to join Annex I Parties of the Kyoto Protocol. Annex I parties are considered Developed Parties and hence required to impose green house gas emissions reduction on their industries since 1990s. Why has South Korean refused such calls to join Annex I parties of the Kyoto Protocol?

As I said earlier, I would like to reiterate our belief in Seoul that my country shares common but differentiated responsibility as compared with many other developed nations. Legally, we are not considered a “developed party” in the context of the UNFCCC. We belong to the block of “developing parties” and that is what serves best our interests while still doing something about the mitigation of climate change. We have pledged a 30% reduction vis-à-vis the BAU (business as usual) level of GHG emissions by 2030, which is the highest recommended level by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. So in accordance with IPCC’s recommendation and in accordance with the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility,” my country is living up to its international commitments as an “advanced developing country.”

And let me tell you that joining Annex I parties would be more of a hurdle than incentive for the development and implementation of our green model. My country has called for a “registry system” as a voluntary system for nations to set their reduction targets of GHG emissions. This is what we are doing. The flexibility that the “registry system” offers makes it more implementable and applicable. This has allowed our government to gain collaboration of industries, whose CEOs are not quite ready for this new model due to its shot-term costs. If the government were to join Annex I parties of the Kyoto Protocol, we would face strong resilience from industries and without their collaboration, nothing can be achieved on the ground.  Only through collaboration among the various stakeholders can the model of green growth and mitigation of climate change be carried out. The government has been succeeding in its collaboration efforts with other stakeholders

Some environmental organizations criticize the Rivers Restoration projects to which the vast majority of funds from the Green New Deal were allocated? These organizations share the view that the conducted environmental impact assessments lacked reliability as they were done by one researcher covering an area of 19,000 m² and that the restoration of the rivers are not ecologically sustainable projects?

Those are mere political claims that lack credibility. The restoration of rivers involves three different aspects: (a) preserving the quality of water by regulating direct and indirect discharges to the rivers; (b) restoration of rivers ecosystems, hence conserving biological diversity of the areas around the rivers, and (c) greening the everyday life of our citizens by making clean recreational spaces and activities available to them. South Korea plans to share its expertise with Morocco in its restoration efforts of Sabou River.

How did the government deal with the strong opposition from industries to the national emissions trading scheme?

In accordance with the collaborative approach of the government, the concerns of the industries have been taken into consideration. After undertaking consultation on the proposed emissions reduction plan, the government has allowed for flexibility in the allocation of carbon quotas and has made carbon credits free of charge for small enterprises that meet specific criteria.

What is it that the South Korean government has been doing to bring the objectives, measures, and practices of its green growth vision closer to the everydayness of the society? Is an average citizen of South Korea in constant awareness of the vision and its implications on her or his life?

Well, there is a general awareness about the need to protect the environment and keep it clean. If we take for instance the sector of waste management, we have established an efficient system of separate waste collection, lack of which here in Rabat has been something hard to adjust to. However, with regard to the popularity of our model of green growth, more work will need to be done in order to convince the public and business decision-makers to move from the stage of believing in need to protect the environment to implementation and adjustment of behavior. This will take some time, but it will come gradually in time.

What is the general perception of progress made in the path of green growth and is the political will to continue in that path as strong as it was in 2008?

We are quite satisfied with the progress we have made and we are very determined to pursue this path of green growth. It is a national choice and although the next government may change (because our president has only one term mandate in office), this course cannot be reversed.


Is there something you would like to add with regard to the implementation processes Low Carbon, Green Growth vision?

Yes, my government has created the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) in order to make our model of green growth available for worldwide use. Several nations have already joined and the ultimate objective is to transform the institute into an international organization that deals with green growth issues at the international level.

Well, now that we have clarified certain elements about the Republic of Korea’s green growth model, I would like shift the focus of our conversation and ask you about Morocco-South Korean relations. And let me begin by asking you about the activities of your Embassy here in Morocco.

As you may know, 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Rabat and Seoul. Diplomatic relations were established in 1962 and they remained very good since then. As far as I am concerned, I have been here in Rabat for a few months. My plan is to deviate from the traditional diplomacy and engage more on cultural diplomacy and outreach activities towards grassroot people. Besides culture and people, I am interested in the promotion of economic ties between our nations. It is true that geography is a hindrance, but Morocco’s strategic location is a plus.

What are your thoughts on Morocco’s efforts to embark on sustainable development via the promotion of renewable energy?

I believe that the country is on the right path. The fact that Morocco is also engaged in this course creates a common platform for cooperation between my country and Morocco

Speaking of Morocco-Korean cooperation, how do you see the evolution of relations between the two countries for the past 10 years and what forms of cooperation there are?

For the past 10 years, trade exchanges between Morocco and my country have been increasing although they still remain below 1% of either country. Many Korean companies such as Samsung, KIA, and Daewoo have been making their presence in Morocco. Increased marketing exchanges will eventually lead to investment. At this point, Morocco is not exporting much to South Korea when the country can orient its agricultural products to my country. Exportation of Argan oil will be a good start.

As for Morocco-Korean cooperation, the two countries are exchanging high level visits with regard to the matter of renewable energies and rivers restoration. A Korean agency for development has been working over the past few years in Morocco and we are supporting a variety of programs including the restoration of Sabou River, IT training & e-government, and the construction of training centers in mechanical and automobile industries.