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Inclusive Green Growth Is Smart Growth, as South Korea Is Proving

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ImageOne of Asia’s fastest growing economies in the last 40 years, South Korea, has emerged as a manufacturing powerhouse that has virtually eliminated poverty.  Its resilient economy survived the 2008–2009 financial crises better than almost any other country, but it is far from complacent.  Korea spends a bigger percentage of GDP on research and development than Germany, the UK and the US.

Today, Korea is a global champion of green growth with a long-term plan for transitioning to green growth and a focus on exporting green tech, and it is moving away from energy imports and energy-intensive industries.  Korea’s journey is not complete, but its progress stands as an inspiration to developing countries wherever they are in theirs.

At the second Global Green Growth Summit, in Seoul on Thursday, President Lee Myung-bak reinforced Korea’s commitment to playing a leadership role on the global stage, restating Korea’s commitment to increasing official development assistance through to 2020 and announcing that 30 percent of that ODA will be green.

Launching our report in Seoul was an excellent opportunity to further strengthen our partnership with Korea and expand our inclusive green growth knowledge base.

Speaking at the Summit, I highlighted what we know about the power of economic growth to lift people out of poverty. We know that over the last 20 years, economic growth has lifted more than 660 million people out of poverty and raised the income levels of millions more. We have seen significant progress on literacy and life expectancy, malnutrition, and infant child and maternal mortality.
But growth has too often come at the expense of the environment. We are reaching the limits of resource depletion, and moving towards rapid, dramatic, unpredictable impacts—irreversibility.  The development gains we have made are at risk from depletion of natural capital. Damage to the Earth’s atmosphere, soils, clean water sources, forests and oceans is increasingly compounded by climate change.

We recognize that growth is a necessary condition for poverty reduction—but it is not a sufficient condition. We need smart green growth that is efficient, that creates opportunities, that recognizes the value of our environment and works for all of us—inclusiveness cannot be delayed.

Our report highlights the need for tailoring strategies to the country’s needs and argues that every country has opportunities to grow green without slowing growth.  We highlight the importance of focusing on the long term to avoid irreversible damage and finding win-win opportunities in development decisions. For example, planning cities with an eye to compact design and public transport will not only avoid urban sprawl and congestion, it will also deliver efficiency and health benefits.

We also believe that effective measurement is key to green growth and that GDP is not a sufficient measure of the wealth of nations. Adding natural capital accounting to national accounts can measure natural wealth and encourage better use of natural resources. Botswana, Madagascar and Costa Rica are in the lead on natural capital accounting and have much to teach the rest of us.

Too often, the struggle for sustainable development is boiled down to false choices of poverty alleviation or environmental protection. Everything that we see and our clients tell us underlies the falseness of this dichotomy.  Protecting, maintaining and investing in the natural resource base is essential for sustained economic success. That means ushering in smart growth policies that are resource efficient, work for everyone, and do not lock countries into irreversible investment decisions.

There is no time like the present.


Rachel Kyte
Vice President for Sustainable Development
Twitter: @rkyte365


Rachel Kyte

Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change

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