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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Seoul Power Play: One Less Nuclear Plant, One More Coal Plant

I almost choked the other day at the ICLEI World Congress. Not because of air quality (around Seoul's New Normal, in the mid 40s PPM), but because of the answer I received from an official about the convenient untruth I mentioned in my previous post. ICYMI (see "Cough Potato"): not only do Korea and Seoul lie when they say that most of the pollution in the capital is generated overseas, but hiding beyond China's growing fumes, they also shamelessly give in to coal and diesel lobbies.

ICLEI World Congress at the Seoul DDP - on time for the cherry blossom

The official came from the same institute as the suspect quoted in that post (NB: again, this controversial institute holds views that are not shared by all Seoul officials). His presentation, which also included a focus on the February 23 peak, was all about the city's efforts to curb pollution, and the importance of particles coming from Gyeonggi, Incheon, China, and Mongolia.

To my question how can Korea and Seoul fight against high PPM levels and at the same time open the doors to diesel cars and new coal power plants, he answered that Seoul was indeed building an new coal power plant, but with limited emissions, and outside of its city limits! So beyond the now usual 'clean coal' imposture, we were told the trick that helps Seoul magically record improvements: our city lets Gyeonggi-do carry its dirtiest footprints, and the blame that comes with them. At this rate, Seoul's objective of reducing its CO2 emissions by 40% by 2030 from the 2005 level will be a breeze.

Imagine my reaction minutes later, as I returned to the DDP's main hall, precisely when the giant screens were displaying Seoul's successful campaign for 'One Less Nuclear Plant'! What's the point of cutting energy consumption by 2 million TOE (Tons of Oil Equivalent) if you build One More Coal Plant?

If this carbon offset made me carbon upset enough to call it a day, I can't say that I'm really surprised. After all, countries too try to export their sources of pollution and get away with it as good environmentalists... and this city already proved that it could at the same time remove ugly elevated roads and build new ones. Once more, feel good politics wins over good politics.

A lot of politicians were on stage at the ICLEI, because that's an alliance of over 1,000 Local Governments for Sustainability. They elected PARK Won-soon as their new president until the next world congress in 2018, even if he's not as fluent in English as his brilliant predecessor David CADMAN; maybe a C40-suite mayor is more likely than a former Vancouver councilor to give more weight to the Seoul Declaration adopted ahead of COP21 in Paris.

The Paris conference is expected to set new targets for the UN members in the fight against climate change, and in their non-binding Seoul Declaration, local governments pledged to do their share: cities account for over 50% of the world population (a proportion expected to reach 90% by the end of the century), and 70% of today's pollution.

Of course, as the co-author of 'The Limits of Growth' in 1972, Professor Jorgen Sanders, put it on stage, much more needs to be done than this 'toothless' declaration. In his 2012 predictions for 2052, he expects the climate crisis to hit really hard, even if politicians manage to do the minimum, which would be reallocating 2% of the GDP from 'dirty' to 'clean' activities.

I had a quick chat with Jorgen Sanders after his lecture - and this interview. In his radical views, visionary authoritarian regimes have a better chance to succeed than corrupt democracies in forcing change. Well you could mention Park Chung-hee's tree planting program as a great success, but environment was not on top of his agenda as far as industries were concerned...

Nevertheless, this ICLEI World Congress will probably be remembered as a success. And lively workshops made for an endless opening ceremony featuring too many empty congratulatory speeches, only interrupted by surreal apparitions of 'Little Angels'. It took five minutes - too late in the afternoon, alas - for a couple of ICLEI execs to break the ice by inviting each member of the audience to stand up and introduce themselves to two unknown people.

Yodeling on stage, the "Little Angels" added a surreal Pyongyang touch to the show

Reaching out is the answer. Preferably not just to export your waste.

How to make a difference with micro-projects under USD 3,000 and 'big projects' under USD 40,000? Kirtee Shah proved it was even scalable across 19 countries at the CITINET workshop on affordable housing in urban environments (

Seoul Village 2015
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