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Moving Beyond the Stalemate 
on Global Climate Change

Moving Beyond the Stalemate on Global Climate Change

KANG Hee-Chan

Feb. 23, 2012

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on Global Climate Change
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Originally released in December 2011

The 2011 UN Climate Conference in Durban delivered two results: a continuation of the earlier Kyoto Protocol to 2020 (the current phase expires at the end of 2012), and an agreement that all parties would be legally bound to a new climate regime under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), with the details to be determined upon further discussion. Such results, however, fell well short of expectations in light of the gravity of the situation. Deferring international action on climate change for another eight years may mean forgoing one of the few remaining opportunities to prevent coming climate catastrophes. Estimates indicate that stabilization of global GHG concentrations at 450 ppm will be the likely threshold needed to avert anthropogenic climate disasters. This will require a 3.5% annual reduction in GHG emissions until 2020. If current emissions continue to increase unchecked however, damaging climate change may become a fait accompli. Despite t he forecasts, tensions over who will have to bear the burden of climate change commitments has caused some countries (including Canada, Japan, and Russia) to either reduce their commitments or to exit the Kyoto Protocol altogether.

One of the primary divides that has emerged between the parties was the gap between developed countries, many of whom are willing to accept more burdens, and developing countries, who are reluctant to allow environmental concerns to compromise their economic growth. As the outcome of the Durban Conference demonstrated, global climate change response regimes are unlikely to be implemented if they require developing countries to sacrifice growth to cut GHG emissions. Moving beyond the post-Kyoto impasse will thus require new approaches that can offer more than appeals to morality and sacrifice by delivering concrete benefits for both developed and developing countries.

Despite the disappointing outcome of the Durban talks, the current impasse can still furnish opportunities for countries like Korea to promote real progress in climate change mitigation. Even as other major countries grow increasingly skeptical about prospects for successful cooperation, Korea can emerge as a leader in shaping future global climate change response by offering its own strategy as an alternative. Unlike the current regime which constrains economic growth in developing countries, Korea can offer a viable alternative in “low carbon green growth” that reduces GHG emissions while creating new growth engines based on green technology. Green growth also offers benefits to advanced countries by transforming the structure of existing industries into a carbon-efficient one, while providing economic opportunities and job creation through new industries.

Korea is thus presented with the question of how to share its green growth strategy with other countries. Domestically, this can be achieved by ensuring that green growth is a viable model for developing countries through analysis of the results of its policies. Internationally, Korea can cultivate new green markets by providing support to developing economies, and working to develop a climate change regime that is satisfactory to both developing and developed nations.

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