I find it incredibly meaningful to commemorate the first United Nations-designated International Day of Clean Air for blue skies today. It is the first UN international day initiated by the Republic of Korea, and subsequently adopted by consensus at the UN General Assembly last year.
In the face of infectious diseases and natural disasters, the world is contemplating the climate and environment more deeply than ever before. In order to save our planet, we are starting from small things and expanding international cooperation.
Today, New York, Bangkok, Nairobi and many parts of the globe are coming together to commemorate the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies. It is part of our efforts to jointly seek collective action of humanity that we chose to begin today's event at 6:30 pm - the time the Sun sets in Korea and rises on the other side of the world. Starting with today's inaugural ceremony, I hope the world will further strengthen cooperation for the restoration of the climate and the environment.
Living in the year 2020 where the world is in the midst of unprecedented difficulties caused by COVID-19 and natural disasters such as heat waves and floods, I hope that collective efforts of humanity will go beyond tackling fine dust and extend to addressing more fundamental issues of the climate crisis.
This summer, following a record-long rainy season, three typhoons have swept over the Korean Peninsula one after another a few days apart. Their high winds and heavy rains have left immense damage along their paths. Yet another typhoon has necessitated replacing the event planned for today with this video message. I find it unfortunate not being able to celebrate today with many people at a meaningful venue, but my wish for blue skies remains with you all. I would like to extend my sympathy to those who have been afflicted by natural disasters and give my word that we will do everything possible to help with damage recovery and that we will employ more proactive measures to respond to the climate crisis by taking today as yet another lesson.
It is extreme weather conditions that are making autumn typhoons more frequent and stronger. The entire world is suffering from abnormal weather conditions, including heat waves in the Arctic and Siberia. In Korea, too, such extreme weather events have persisted for several months from heat waves in June to typhoons up to today.
Infectious diseases that invade every facet of humanity’s daily lives, such as COVID-19, are not unrelated to ecological disturbances that have been triggered by climate change and environmental degradation. Moreover, air pollution is increasingly becoming a cause of many illnesses. Climate change and air pollution are linked like two sides of a coin. Climate change is making atmospheric flow over the Korean Peninsula stagnate more frequently, which in turn results in high concentrations of fine dust.
In safeguarding sustainable development and the health and safety of all peoples, climate and environmental issues have become the most vital task of our time. We can no longer afford to kick the can down the road. The COVID-19 pandemic has paradoxically reminded us of how closely interconnected the world is. What is obvious is that climate and environmental issues are not limited to any single country and that only international cooperation can bring about fundamental changes.
My government has so far worked together with the people to overcome climate and environmental problems, and there have been multiple achievements.
Korea’s greenhouse gas emissions that had been on a steady rise since the 1990s took a downturn from 2019 after reaching a peak in 2018. With ultrafine dust having decreased, annual average density dropped, letting us enjoy blue skies more often. All of this is attributable to the whole-of-government efforts, including bold reduction of coal-fired power generation, expansion of renewable energy, abatement of pollution caused by old diesel-powered vehicles, promotion of eco-friendly cars, passage of the world's first Special Act on Fine Dust and injection of a tremendous amount of supplementary budget.
Above all else, the credit must go to the people who proposed new policy ideas such as the fine dust seasonal management system through the National Council on Climate Change and Air Quality and pulled together even at inconvenience.
However, it is true that our country’s fine dust density is still higher than that of major developed countries. In addition, a more audacious greenhouse gas reduction policy is required to measure up to international efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels. The Korean government, with the people, will strive to bring back blue skies through more effective climate and environmental policies.
First, we will strengthen policy measures to reduce greenhouse gases and fine dust simultaneously. To this end, we will accelerate transition to clean and safe energy. To date, the Korean government has completely banned the construction of new coal-fired power plants. We will have shut down ten aged coal power plants before the end of my term, including the four that we have already closed, plus 20 more by 2034. We will more than triple the number of solar and wind power facilities by 2025 compared to last year. We will introduce a power supply system that counts in climate and environmental costs and convert our fossil fuel-based power generation system into one based on renewable energy in the long term.
In addition, through the second seasonal management system scheduled for this coming December, we will supplement and upgrade sector-specific measures, including by decreasing coal-fired power generation and reducing voluntary emissions from businesses and ships. On top of this, by 2025, the supply of electric and hydrogen-fueled vehicles will be increased from the current 110,000 to 1.13 million and from the current 8,000 to 200,000, respectively.
Furthermore, we will distribute intelligent electricity meters to 5 million apartment units to build smart power platforms and expand a green-living infrastructure that improves energy efficiency through green smart schools and smart green cities.
Meanwhile, we will also help enhance each sector’s adaptability to climate change in pursuit of mitigating costs of climate crisis.
In order to strengthen our ability to cope with more frequent typhoons and flooding from torrential rains, we will establish a big data-based, artificial intelligence flood forecasting system, pursue smart dam safety management and enhance capacities to control flooding by dams and river streams. Moreover, we will make sure to mainstream climate crisis responses into business activities and investment decision-making process through green finance policy.
Second, we will turn the climate and environmental crisis into an opportunity for economic growth. The Green New Deal, a key pillar of the Korean New Deal, is a strategy to overcome COVID-19, a policy to respond to climate crisis and a growth model to create jobs and enhance inclusiveness in our society.
The global environmental market is a blue ocean that is growing by 3.6 percent each year on average, and our related exports reach 8.2 trillion won a year. In particular, as the clean air industry is expected to expand by around 7 percent annually, the Korean government will allocate more R&D investments in environmental technologies and provide strategic support to businesses that have a competitive edge in eco-friendly cars and fine dust-related technologies to help them take the lead in the global market.
The OECD reported that the Green New Deal will contribute to solidifying our economic recovery. Through our Green New Deal, a total of 73 trillion won will be invested by 2025 and 660,000 new jobs will be added. I would like to ask the people to come together to ensure the success of the Green New Deal.
Third, we will spearhead international cooperation in response to climate and environmental crises while fulfilling our role as a responsible middle power. As reaffirmed through Korea’s response to COVID-19, our people have chosen the path toward mutual prosperity that aims to strengthen inclusiveness for humanity in accordance with the principle of openness. Korea’s response to COVID-19 has set a model for the world.
Our Green New Deal has also been praised as an exemplary case that tackles COVID-19 and climate and environmental crises at the same time. We will promote green recovery policy exemplified by the Korean Green New Deal as a new global growth strategy and play a leading role in ushering in a sustainable post-COVID-19 era.
In addition, to achieve the Green New Deal’s goal of transitioning to a carbon-neutral society, we will devise a 2050 long-term national strategy for low-carbon development by the end of this year and submit our renewed greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for 2030 to the UN.
We will strengthen regional cooperation to reduce fine dust as well. Last November, Korea, China and Japan published a joint study on the effects of fine dust and officially confirmed the transboundary influences of fine dust in the region. Based on the Northeast Asia Clean Air Partnership initiated in 2018, we will cooperate and seek mutual growth with neighboring countries not only policy-wise, by coordinating the seasonal management of fine dust, but also technology- and industry-wise, by exchanging atmospheric environment technologies and nurturing related industries.
Our country launched the world’s first environmental satellite into a geostationary orbit. We will utilize it to share related data and application techniques with other Asian countries within its observation scope.
Finally, we will seek substantive cooperation with key countries on the occasion of next year’s P4G Seoul Summit. As a country that first proposed the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, Korea will continue to do everything we can to enhance international cooperation geared toward those goals.
Recently, a kindergartener tested positive for COVID-19, but the other 200 children and staff in the same kindergarten were not infected. This was because young kids kept their masks on and washed their hands thoroughly. Although it must have been harder for children to breathe through masks, their sincere effort to abide by a social compact of safety guidelines pulled off a miracle in this kindergarten.
I am truly proud of the children, and at the same time, feel a greater sense of responsibility. We should quickly create the requisite environment for children to take their masks off and run freely. While faithfully keeping small promises like these children did, we have to make changes and continue to take more action through solidarity and cooperation.
If we start with ourselves and act today, it will open up the door, even today and anytime in the future, to a green earth and a world free of COVID-19.
I hope that each and every one’s wish for blue skies will unite to create a new world today just as this International Day of Clean Air for blue skies bloomed from the seed of the Republic of Korea’s wish.