Greetings. It is truly a pleasure to be here. I am Park Won Soon, the mayor of Seoul.
Before I begin, I would like to convey my deepest gratitude and respect to Mayor Erdene Bat-Uul of Ulaanbaatar and President David D. Arnold of the Asia Foundation. I would also like to extend my sincerest thanks to all the mayors of Northeast Asian cities in attendance here today for making time in your busy schedule.
Last night, I touched down at the Ulaanbaatar Airport under a blanket of stars and was filled with excitement. This trip marks my very first visit to Mongolia, and I am truly honored to be here. People say that Mongolia is a place where all the stars gather—it is a land of vast plains, a land of wind and stars, and a land of sunlight and lakes. It is a land of green plains that stretch out endlessly toward the brilliant blue sky that meets the horizon and a place where humans and nature have lived together peacefully throughout history. It is a land in which the beauty of nature has remained protected and well-preserved for thousands of years.
Yet, in recent years, this ancient land of mystical beauty has been faced with the very real threat of desertification. As a result of desertification, the Great White Lake in Chakanor in Inner Mongolia is now on the brink of extinction. Over the past 67 years, a total of 1,166 lakes and 887 rivers have disappeared in Mongolia due to desertification. The rate of desertification within the nation has increased alarmingly over the past hundred years and is now four thousand times faster than it was thousands of years ago.
And it’s not only desertification. What about yellow dust resulting from desertification?
What about climate change, and the melting of the polar icecaps?
And what about the lives and ecosystems of the polar bears affected by the melting icecaps?
Serious environmental issues can be seen all around us. Even decades after the accident at Chernobyl, the area still remains a barren wasteland, and the environmental effects of the Fukushima disaster are still being seen.
Deserts are a part of nature, and natural deserts must be preserved. However, desertification of fertile land that was once full of trees and plants due to development and digging must be prevented.
The desertification of Mongolia is not a problem that only affects Mongolia—it is a problem that affects the whole global community. Global warming resulting from climate change and desertification, and yellow dust and nuclear power plant accidents are problems that have arisen due to the actions of humans, not nature.
The problems of climate change and global warming have reached such an extent that they are no longer the problems of a single nation, city, or village. As a member of the global community, the city of Seoul is also to blame for issues such as the desertification of Mongolia, the yellow dust of China, and the melting of the polar icecaps that threaten the survival of the world’s polar bear population. Since Seoul is also to blame, it must also answer the call to action.
Given the current environmental issues found worldwide and the interconnectivity of the global community, the theme of “Green Growth for East Asian Cities” for today’s Northeast Asian Mayors’ Forum extends far beyond East Asian cities. Green Growth is a challenge that must be met by all the global citizens of the world in the face of environmental problems that affect each and every one of us. I firmly believe that the sharing of wisdom and experiences is an effective way to begin to address climate change, and that the achievements of green growth shared today at the Northeast Asian Mayors’ Forum today will attract the interest and attention of all members of the global community.
Along with this, ladies and Gentlemen, I believe that a new plan for “urbanization” is absolutely crucial in tackling climate change.
In Northeast Asia, there are many cities with long histories and many cities that are already on the path of stabilization; however, there are also a number of cities that are only now experiencing rapid urban development and expansion—cities that are in the beginning stages of urbanization.
Despite these differences in stages, I believe that now is the time for us to break away from uniform plans for urbanization that are based on destruction and construction and the building of concrete roads and structures and pursue a plan for “new urbanization”. As we seek improvement and modernization as cities, we must also continue to dream of and purse “new urbanization” through the restructuring and renewal of cities, even those that have already been built.
“New urbanization” means cities that tackle climate change.
“New urbanization” means cities that pursue energy self-reliance.
“New urbanization” means cities where humans and nature can peacefully coexist.
The city Seoul is not an exempt from this need for renewal and is now on the path to “new urbanization.” Through urban restructuring and renewal, the citizens and governing bodies of Seoul dream of evolving into a city of sustainability in which humans and nature coexist, a city that effectively addresses climate change, and a city that is energy self-reliant.
As part of the hope that this type of “new urbanization” will be universally adopted, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has been sharing the values and visions of the ecological cycle, climate change, and saving energy with the ten million citizens of Seoul, leading the way to a “new Seoul.”
You may be curious what changes and innovations are taking place in Seoul as we travel along this path.
As you well know, the Republic of Korea experienced great tragedy throughout the course of the Korean War.
However, the Republic of Korea has since overcome the pain and destruction of the war and has rapidly grown up from the poorest nation in the world into one of the world’s top twenty economies. Today, Korea’s GDP is over 300 times what it was in the 1950s. The world called this developmental boom the “Miracle on the Hangang River”, and Seoul stood at the very center of it all.
Today Seoul is a global megacity of ten million people that is loved and visited by people from all over the world. Over 12 million tourists come to visit Seoul every year.
However, despite the successes of the city, the effects of the rapid and compressed growth of Seoul began to take their toll after the war, and problems involving the environment, energy, and reckless urban development began to surface.
Please take a look at the following pictures.
In the 1980s, 1990s, and even until the early 2000s, the skyline above Seoul was shrouded by dust and smog. Streams in the city were becoming polluted, and forests were dying.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government, seriously concerned by the worsening city environment, t began to search for solutions to these problems. The Seoul Metropolitan Government dreamed of a new path for Seoul that could be achieved through eco-friendly urban renewal and by effectively addressing climate change and energy issues. More importantly, these dreams were backed by strategic action.
Changes included switching fuel for mass transportation to compressed natural gas (CNG), installing exhaust reduction devices to old diesel vehicles, and pursuing projects to reduce pollution, such as engine modification for low emissions. Governing bodies also gradually increased the supply of green cars, such as electric cars and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and developed a vehicle charging infrastructure.
To reduce the number of vehicles on the road, which was the number one cause of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in Seoul, the Seoul Metropolitan Government also reconstructed roads used by vehicles into pedestrian-only streets and other spaces benefitting Seoul citizens.
These and other efforts by the Seoul Metropolitan Government resulted in the measurable achievement of reducing the concentration of fine particles (PM10) from 71 ㎍/㎥ in 2001 to 46㎍/㎥ in 2014. Despite this accomplishment, the city of Seoul still has a higher concentration of fine particles than other major cities around the world, and the Seoul Metropolitan Government continues to address this issue.
Despite ongoing efforts by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, there is a limit to what one city can accomplish by itself, so it is necessary for Northeast Asian cities to collaborate and establish an implementation system for a cleaner, healthier world.
As far as the Seoul Metropolitan Government is concerned, one of the most effective ways to tackle climate change is to reduce the use of energy. With the occurrence of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, the importance of energy reduction was confirmed and Seoul’s “One Less Nuclear Power Plant” policy was born. Through the plan, Seoul citizens pledged to reduce their amount of energy consumption (equivalent to the amount generated by one nuclear power plant) and support new and renewable energy such as solar. This policy has been instrumental in helping Seoul achieve its energy goals.
After the policy was passed, Seoul citizens began enthusiastically installing solar panels at their home and schools and participated in building solar power plants. About 1.7 million people, more than a sixth of Seoul’s population, have already joined the eco-mileage system, which gives incentives for energy reduction. Through this incentive program, energy saving practices at home, school, and work have become a way of life for Seoul citizens.
The city of Seoul has also focused on harnessing waste energy. Through the use of heating systems powered by sewage water from water treatment facilities, chimney waste heat, and small hydraulic power waste energy continue to be turned into usable energy. In addition, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has also focused on increasing the energy efficiency of buildings, which accounted for 56 percent of energy consumption in the past.
As a result of these and other measures, the Seoul Metropolitan Government was able to reach its goal of reducing 2 million TOE in June 2014, six months faster than planned. This was thanks not only to the imposition of strategic policies by lawmakers, but also the enthusiastic participation of Seoul citizens. Since the adoption of the aforementioned strategies, Seoul’s energy self-reliance rate has increased from a mere 2.5 percent to 4.5 percent. On top of energy reduction, saving energy also had the effect of stimulating job creation, providing jobs for about 20,000 people.
There’s more. Currently, Seoul is making efforts to create 1,000 forests and 1,000 gardens in the city and its surrounding area. Operating under the symbolic slogan “a thousand gardens are better than a thousand hospitals” the Seoul Metropolitan Government is working hard, to draw out continued participation from Seoul citizens.
In conjunction with the creation of more green spaces, the Seoul Metropolitan government has also designated Seoul as an “agricultural city” where farming is possible in small plots of land on top of buildings in Seoul, and is fostering urban farmers through a variety of urban farming training programs and fairs.
Urban renewal under the “new urbanization” plan is heading in the direction of saving cities and villages in eco-friendly ways. Take a look at this old overpass at Seoul Station, at the center of Seoul. Built in 1970, this overpass symbolizes the industrialization and urbanization of the Republic of Korea.
For 45 years, the overpass has stood as a silent witness to the triumphant glories and shameful defeats unfolding within the city of Seoul. When the overpass became too old and damaged to be of use, officials began to debate whether to demolish and remove the overpass or to restore it. In the end, the decision was made to restore the overpass. Through this decision, the overpass will be completely transformed from a bleak concrete pathway no longer used by vehicles into a path for people, where nature and humans can live side by side.
When this pathway for people is completed, Seoul will be one step further along the path of “new urbanization,” for a more natural and humanistic city, where nature and humans coexist in harmony. As these and other changes continue to take place around the city, Seoul will be reborn as an eco-friendly city, a healthy pedestrian city doing its part to combat climate changes, and an energy-efficient city with reduced energy consumption.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is how Seoul is changing today.
We as a city are traveling down an evolutionary path set to transform Seoul into a sustainable city of the future that combats climate change and takes care of the environment. Even as we continue down this path, the idea of “new urbanization” with the vision of creating a green city continues to grow and expand.
Of course, the recent accomplishments seen throughout Seoul could not have been made possible without the support and efforts of the city’s ten million residents; these achievements were the result of citizen governance. Whenever people from other cities visit Seoul and ask me the secret of Seoul’s transformation, I answer, “Citizens are the answer. Citizens are the force behind these changes.”
Just as a small pebble thrown into a lake can create huge ripples, seemingly “small” actions made by Seoul citizens have created a huge ripple of change in Seoul.
Energized and encouraged by the changes in Seoul, the Seoul Metropolitan Government now has even bigger dreams—dreams of effecting change in Northeast Asia and the entire world. Reaching beyond citizen governance, the Seoul Metropolitan Government is now dreaming of urban governance, and is working with cities around the world to make this dream a reality.
In April of this year, I was elected as the president of Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) at the ICLEI World Congress held in Seoul. ICLEI is the largest global network of local governments dedicated to sustainability and is currently comprised of over a thousand participating cities from 86 nations. Over 2,000 delegates from 240 cities from 86 nations worldwide participated in this year’s ICLEI World Congress in Seoul, and met to discuss the role and the responsibility of cities in tackling climate change.
At the ICLEI World Congress, ten million Seoul citizens each pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by one ton, resulting in a projected reduction of ten million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. This plan, “Seoul’s Pledge to Tackle Climate Change” was presented in front of delegates from all participating cities from around the world.
Last September, thirteen Northeast Asian cities met in Seoul to set goals for the reduction of urban air pollution and jointly pledged to share the implementation process. Participating cities reached an agreement on issues common to the Northeast Asian region, and decided to take specific and practical steps to tackle these issues.
In November of this year, the Northeast Asia Air Quality Improvement Forum will take place in Beijing. In order to make the most of this opportunity, we must expand our cooperative efforts for air quality improvement, the prevention of desertification, and other important issues.
At the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Summit, held in September of this year, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), created to replace the pre-existing Millennium Development Goals, were finalized. SDGs will act as a compass to direct human growth in the post-2015 era and will bring about a qualitative paradigm shift to the discourse of development shared by the international community.
I implore the Northeast Asian cities gathered here today to take an active part in the movement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build sustainable cities. It is my sincere hope that we as leaders of Northeast Asian cities can show the world how invested were are in the future of our global community, particularly at the Conference of the Parties that will be held in Paris this December.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let us—the leaders of the Northeast Asian cities—dream a new dream together. Let us begin a new era of communication and cooperation, and start down the path of new urbanization to create sustainable cities of the future. Let us lay aside our differences, break down any barriers that stand in our way, and let citizens and citizens, cities and cities join hands together for a common good.
Standing upon common ground as we seek to tackle environmental issues and climate change, let us put our heads together and search for the way in which to promote the peace, coexistence, and economy of communities in East Asia.
This year is particularly significant to the Republic of Korea and other Northeast Asian nations.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Republic of Korea’s liberation from under Japanese rule, as well as the 70th anniversary of the division of the Korean peninsula. In this significant year, let us—the Northeast Asian cities—join our hands and prepare for the future, leaving behind the mistakes, regrets, and brokenness of the past.
Solidarity and cooperation that transcends nations, societies, and economic markets is now being heralded worldwide. The creativity and imagination of individuals and other parties are resulting in real change—now is the time to act!
Ladies and Gentlemen, take a look at Europe. European nations have fought and killed in wars against each other for centuries, much longer than Northeast Asian nations. The history of Europe is marked by death and destruction—people killing people and hatred passed down from one generation to the next.
But what about today? Through sincere introspection reconciliation, and by taking responsibility for their actions, European nations have bridged the divides of history and national borders to form a transnational government union called the European Union. Through this union, Europe as a whole is headed toward a future of mutual prosperity. This spirit of cooperation isn’t only spreading throughout Europe. Regional communities of nations such as NAFTA and ASEAN, continue to be established and expanded.
So what is preventing us from doing the same?
We are all located in the same general geographical area within a two or three hours’ flight of each other. We have similar histories, cultures, and bloodlines that intermingle and intertwine throughout history; we even look somewhat similar and have similar language systems.
It is time to use these commonalties as a way to bind us together instead of looking for differences to tear us apart. It is time to open our hearts to one another as brothers and sisters—and as neighbors in a larger global community that is more important than ourselves.
–There is a Mongolian proverb that says, “He who builds a tower perishes; he who paves a path lives on” (Tonyukuk Monument). Let us open our hearts, leave behind our towers, and step out onto a common path.
Let us dream together for the day when the Northeast Asian Mayors’ Forum will be jointly held in Seoul and Pyongyang, as well as in Beijing and Tokyo. I am certain that the small actions we undertake today will bring about huge changes in the future and create a new history for Northeast Asia. When we walk together, we can pave a path. When we dream together, we can realize our dreams. Let us join forces for a better future!