University of Toronto

G7 Information Centre
G20 Information Centre

Munk School of Global Affairs

The G20 and green growth

By Han Seung-soo, former prime minister of Korea, chair, Global Green Growth Institute

Representing two-thirds of the global population, the G20 offers an ideal forum for enabling economic growth in a new era of green growth

To download a low-resolution pdf, click here. (Be patient! It's 50 MB.)

The G20 was born out of crisis. It was established in 1999 in the wake of the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. It was elevated to the leaders’ level in the aftermath of the financial crisis triggered by the sub-prime mortgage meltdown in the United States in 2007 and the ensuing collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. The world is still grappling with the effects of the so-called ‘once-in-a-century credit tsunami’. These unprecedented crises have called for unparalleled international responses and cooperation.

In the absence of these financial crises, the G20 would not have emerged as the premier forum for global economic governance. Therefore, the sustainability of the G20 can be said to be inversely related to the prevailing global economic conditions.

When the global financial crisis erupted in the autumn of 2008, the world was on the doorstep of the most severe global economic stagnation since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Consequently, the beggar-thy-neighbour policies of the 1930s loomed very large. However, internationally coordinated policy responses bailed out the global economy from repeating the great errors of the past. At the centre of this international coordination was the G20. As the work of the G20 is closely connected to the world’s economic conditions, which have been improving since September 2008, the urgency for such close international cooperation seems to be declining proportionately. When Korea hosts the fifth G20 summit in Seoul on 11-12 November 2010, it will be at a time of an improving economic outlook, following the summits held in Washington DC, London, Pittsburgh and Toronto. The momentum for the G20 to work closely for the benefit of all is beginning to diminish.

If the role of G20 is activated only after a crisis and the G20’s united stand relies on worsening global economic conditions, paradoxically the world may need yet another crisis to activate the G20.

However, there is no need for such an extreme event. There are already two major global crises facing the world: the financial crisis and climate change. These challenges are mutually reinforcing and share a cataclysmic relationship. The cost of failure is incalculable. The wellbeing of billions of lives is at stake, as is an enormous detrimental impact on future generations.

Unfortunately, in addition to the ongoing financial crisis, the crisis stemming from climate change threatens the very foundation of human survival. The frequency of various natural disasters in recent years such as floods, cyclones, tsunamis, tropical storms, landslides and droughts has meant that the economic crisis has only compounded the climate change problem. The chain of causality of human influence on climate change is both direct and undisputed.

Personally, I have been heavily involved in global climate change issues for some time. As Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General on Climate Change, I travelled extensively, meeting with world leaders to urge them to address climate change issues. In doing so, I emphasised the symbiotic relationship between economic growth and environmental sustainability.

At home and abroad, I witnessed a growing consensus to abandon the conventional economic approach of ‘grow first, clean up later’. A new and fresh policy framework, a new paradigm of growth, was needed in its place — one that would enable economic growth, prevent environmental degradation and enhance the quality of life together.

It is against this backdrop that, on 15 August 2009, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Korea, President Lee Myung-bak proclaimed “low carbon, green growth” as Korea’s new national vision. This vision aims to shift the current paradigm from quantity-oriented and fossil fuel-dependent growth to quality-oriented and renewable energy-dependent growth — in effect, green growth.

By continuously adapting, transforming and modernising its economic and environmental policies to the changing realities, Korea is working tirelessly to move forward beyond the crisis. Furthermore, Korea is constantly seeking creative, integrated and forward-looking solutions to these complex issues.

Low carbon, green growth can be a paradigm for the international community as a whole. In order to achieve synergy among energy security, climate change mitigation and sustainable development, the world needs to strengthen mechanisms for greater collaboration and cooperation. This is the very reason why green growth should be an important agenda item for G20 leaders.

Prolonged economic and climate crises will likely worsen the global imbalances between countries and regions. This situation will be exacerbated in the developing world, where growth engines have been exhausted.

President of the Republic of Korea lee Myung-bak at the Business for the environment Global summit, seoul, 2010. lee has proclaimed “low carbon, green growth” as Korea’s national vision

Today’s global challenges transcend boundaries and affect each individual in the world. Whether through the interconnectedness of the financial system or the environmental life cycle, every one of us has become global stakeholders. I would like to underscore once again the importance of reaffirming our commitment to confronting the economic crisis and climate change through a singular and unified policy framework.

It is in this respect that the G20 should play a leading role in addressing the challenge of climate change on which the future of humanity so critically depends. Although the G20 is itself a product of financial crises, it should be transformed into a premier global forum for tackling climate change by revamping the past paradigm of growth into a new paradigm of growth — green growth.

The world has increasingly come to accept the G20 as the leading global forum even during relatively stable economic conditions, despite its origins in financial crises. In contrast to the G7 or the G8, the G20 — which accounts for two-thirds of world population and well over four-fifths of global output, and has a wider participation with emerging and developing countries as members — is more representative of the world today.

There is much hope that the G20’s Seoul Summit will be the occasion to seal the fate of the G20 as the premier global economic forum for all times, particularly for advancing the world economy into a new era of green growth.

[back to top]

[an error occurred while processing this directive]