‘Address the voice of the 99%’: Rio+20 interview with Jaehyun Jang, Programme Specialist, Reshaping Development Institute, Republic of Korea

Jaehyun Jang is a Programme Specialist and Researcher at the Reshaping Development Institute (ReDI) in the Republic of Korea. ReDI is an independent think tank in the field of international development cooperation that aims to promote global development, study and research, and policy for the advancement of global knowledge cooperation. Here he tells us about his pessimism about the official Rio+20 process versus his hope in the People’s Summit, and the dangers in the current promotion of green growth and the green economy.

What are your hopes and aspirations for Rio+20?

I don’t have much expectation and hope for the forthcoming Rio+20. This is due to the fact that the main agenda of Rio+20 looks ‘zero ambitious’ compared to the original Rio summit, considering the seriousness and urgency of the multiple crises we and the earth face at the moment. By looking at the recent Rio+20 negotiations on the zero draft, it also seems that the recent failures in the UN climate change negotiations, caused by a growing tension between developed and major emerging developing economies, will lead the Rio+20 into another failure.

However, I have expectation that not the official Rio+20 summit, but the People’s Summit for Social and Environmental Justice will alert the global community again that we’d better stop expecting the government-oriented Rio+20 processes to work, and come up with an alternative international framework which substantially and effectively addresses the voice of the 99%.m

Especially, through Rio+20, I hope people of the world will realise that the new growth paradigm, the green economy, cannot provide any answers to the questions raised by the Club of Rome in its report, Limits to Growth, 40 years ago.

The Korean government and civil society have been quite active in the global developmental agenda. How are they engaging with Rio+20?

Because the Korean government has been promoting ‘Low Carbon, Green Growth’ as a new national development vision since 2008, they are trying to play an active and leading role in the discussion on the green economy at Rio+20 and to promote Korea’s green growth experience. In this regard, they have suggested a Green Economy Roadmap and proposed to establish a Global Green Growth Partnership (GGGP), a new global partnership for developed countries, developing countries, the private sector and civil society to work together in following the Green Economy Roadmap.

However, there is a strong caution among many Korean CSOs against the promotion of green growth or the green economy by the Korean government. After experiencing so-called green growth, it turned out to be not green at all. The opinions of people and CSOs were not heard during the process of establishing the green growth vision, designing green growth policies and implementing them. Also, given that the symbolic green growth project implemented by the Korean government was in fact a massive environmentally-destructive project, the Four Major Rivers Project, and that the symbolic energy policy for green growth is an aggressive nuclear power policy, green growth is interpreted as mere greenwash.

Therefore, in order to share the many untold stories behind the rosy words of green growth, the Korean Civil Society Network for Rio+20, comprising 19 different CSOs, has been organising a number of meetings and open workshops to discuss various issues for Rio+20 and to decide its strategic position to be advanced at Rio+20 and the People’s Summit. Approximately 20 representatives from the member organisations of the Korean Civil Society Network for Rio+20 will participate in the People’s Summit, Rio+20 and other related events in Rio. The Network will also organise a workshop on 18 June, from 19.30 to 21.00 at Riocentro, mainly focusing on two topics, untold stories of Korea’s green growth and Seoul Metropolitan Government’s anti-atomic power drive through reducing energy consumption by the equivalent of one nuclear power plant.

What do feel are the key elements of a green economy?

Sustainable consumption and production based on the precautionary principle and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities needs to be the core of a green economy. It is generally agreed that humanity’s current ecological footprint already exceeds the biocapacity of the Earth, and regardless of whatever ambitious agreement we make at Rio+20, the ecological footprint of developing countries, including major emerging economies, will continuously increase in order to meet their basic development needs. Therefore, in order to prevent ecologically disastrous consequences at the global level, developed countries should take a more responsible approach to reduce their excessive level of production and consumption and to increase their financial and technological support to developing countries, to pay their historical and current ecological debt to the limited global ecosystem and to the people in underdeveloped countries.

What are the major impediments to a green economy?

In my opinion, one of the critical impediments to a green economy is that the concept of a green economy itself is still too vague to differentiate it from the concept of sustainable development, and is not commonly understood among different stakeholders. It seems that it will be another international buzzword at best. In addition, it does not seem to provide concrete solutions to overcome the limits to growth. Even if we purchase environmentally friendly goods, use more renewable energy, eat local, organic food, live in passive houses, pay ecological or carbon taxes, remove fossil fuel subsidies, and so on under the name of a green economy, if we don’t tackle the consumption-oriented lifestyle of contemporary capitalism, at best the green economy discourse will just slow down our pace but won’t be able to avoid going beyond the tipping point of ecological collapse.

Reshaping Development Institute