Korea won the bid to host the Green Climate Fund (GCF) last week, an accomplishment it rightfully considers a big win in international diplomacy and the global effort to reduce carbon. With US $30 billion pledged in Fast Start Finance and a goal of reaching $100 billion annually by 2020, the GCF will play a critical role in the global effort to combat climate change. In fact, COP17 (the last round of United Nations climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa last year), which established a transitional process for the Fund’s operationalization, would have been a failure without an agreement on the GCF. It also brings prominence to Asia. While various UN System Organizations have offices across the continent, this will be the most significant one to be headquartered there.
The tens, and ultimately hundreds, of billions of dollars that will flow through the GCF will be the main instrument to help the world’s most vulnerable populations, so it makes sense that Korea would want to host it. However, Korea’s decision to bid was not merely a strategic action aimed at securing an important leadership role. The bid and successful result were connected to Korea’s longer term Green Growth objective. As such, it’s important to note a couple points here: 1) that Korea wasn’t blindly bidding for institutions that didn’t match its values; President Lee Myung-bak truly sees the merit in Green Growth. In fact, Korea has made a continuous effort to communicate its agenda over the last several years and 2) Korea has made these efforts because it knows that Green Growth is good policy, and it has already seen positive results because of its investments in cleantech.
Let’s start by focusing on the second point. Green Growth (often used interchangeably with Green Economy, as i t was during Rio+20) is the term Korea has used to describe President Lee’s national strategy. On its broadest level, it is a policy that emphasizes environmentally sustainable economic progress to foster low-carbon, socially inclusive development. Key to Green Growth policies is investment in cleantech. For its part, in 2009, Korea announced plans to invest US $85 billion in clean energy technologies via implementation of its green growth plan, estimated to create more than 1 million new jobs and bolster its cleantech export industry. That emphasis on environmental sustainability is partly credited for Korea’s early recovery from the economic crisis. In late 2011, the Korean government decided to hedge its bets, announcing plans for a further US $30.7 billion in stimulus toward new and renewable energy projects and emission reduction projects by 2020. These plans have all been aimed at building an economy of the future and adding jobs.