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[Op-Ed] CO2 Emissions and GDP

Posted October. 14, 2009 05:52,   


Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels announced Oct. 2 that 1,000 U.S. mayors signed an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with Kyoto Protocol standards. The mayors urged the U.S. federal and state governments to cut greenhouse gas emissions seven percent from 1990 levels by 2012. In 2005, Seattle cut CO2 levels eight percent and Los Angeles seven percent from 1990 levels. The U.S. has been criticized for its lukewarm effort to cut such emissions, but the amount of greenhouse gases reduced due to voluntary efforts by state governments is equivalent to that of the European Union and Japan.

In the growth rate of CO2 emissions since 1990, Korea ranked first among member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. According to the International Energy Agency, Korea’s CO2 emissions in 2007 jumped a whopping 113 percent from 1990, the highest growth in the OECD. The country also remained the world’s ninth-largest greenhouse gas emitter between 2006 and 2007, following China, the U.S., Russia, India, Japan, Germany, Canada and Britain.

It makes sense that CO₂ emissions increase when GDP grows because of economic growth. Economic growth explains why China, dubbed “the world’s factory,” has become the world’s largest CO2 emitter and why other emerging economies such as Russia and India rank high on the list. Korea is different, however. Nominal GDP ranked 11th in the world in 2003 but fell behind those of India, Brazil, Russia and Australia to drop four notches to 15th in 2007. Nevertheless, Korea’s CO2 emissions remain unchanged since its economy is heavily dependent on manufacturing, which uses coal and produces a large amount of carbon emissions.

At this year’s U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, global leaders will discuss reduction of greenhouse gas emissions after 2013. Korea is highly likely to be subject to mandatory caps on emissions. At a U.N. climate conference last month, leaders of major economies such as the U.S., China and India promised to cut emissions. The European Union announced a cut of 20 percent and Japan 25 percent from 1990 levels and the U.S. 17 percent from 2005 levels. Korea has suggested three scenarios: increasing greenhouse gas emissions no more than eight percent; a stop to a further rise of emissions; or a cut of four percent from 2005 levels. Yet just a few years are left before 2013. Korea must urgently pursue a green growth strategy contributing to reducing CO2 emissions.

Editorial Writer Park Yeong-kyun (parkyk@donga.com)