The idea of a Green New Deal was developed in Britain in response to the 2007-08 financial crisis. It didn’t happen then, beyond some badly organised schemes for home efficiency. But the idea was a good one and it was reborn in the United States a decade later.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise movement put the Green New Deal back on the map in the US. The EU then picked it up, Britain’s Labour party endorsed it, and finally we have an example of a country actually implementing it.
Where it has been a promise or a theoretical idea elsewhere, in South Korea it is now a political reality. At the recent election, the South Korean democratic party added a Green New Deal to their manifesto as part of the coronavirus recovery strategy. The idea resonated with voters and they won the election with an increased majority.
In some ways this is Korea playing climate catch-up, as the country’s response to climate change so far has been classified as ‘highly insufficient’ by Climate Tracker. Renewable energy investment has been low, accounting for just 3% of electricity in 2017. The country relies heavily on imported coal, and previous climate targets still expected a third of electricity to come from coal in 2030. There is no sign of falling greenhouse gas emissions in Korea, and that will hopefully begin to change.
The detail of Korea’s plans is yet to be seen. But the manifesto suggests the country will now set a net zero 2050 target, withdraw financing from coal power and switch support to renewable energy and hydrogen instead. There will be a carbon tax, and support for retraining workers in the fossil fuel industries.
As the full policies emerge, the world will find out how serious the Green New Deal is, and how substantial the change of direction will really be. But the important thing is that Korea voted for a Green New Deal – something that has been seen as radical in some quarters. The idea is being put into practice. We can all learn from their experience. One country taking this step may empower others. It is an example of post-COVID leadership, and I look forward to reading more about South Korea’s progress in the years to come.