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ICCP In-Country Work Report for Korea
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ICCP In-Country Work Report for Korea

Submitted to TUC, LO Norway, UNISON For International Climate Change Project

Young-Bae CHANG, International Secretary, Korean Federation of Public Services and Transportation Workers’ Unions (KPTU), Seoul, Korea
Jae-Kak HAN, Deputy Director, Energy and Climate Policy Institute, Seoul, Korea
Jung-Pil LEE, Policy Analyst, Energy and Climate Policy Institute, Seoul, Korea


1. Impacts of Climate Change in Korea

According to the Korean Meteorological Administration (KMA), average temperature in the Korean Peninsular has increased by 1.5℃ over the last 90 years from 1904 to 2000, and the rate of increase in the 1990s was higher than ever. While winter has shortened by about one month in the 1990s compared with the 1920s, summer and spring have lengthened and rainfall over the last 100 years has gradually but consistently increased despite a few fluctuations. According to KMA’s prediction, temperature in the Korean Peninsular will rise by 4℃ and rainfall will increase 17% at the end of this century compared with the last 30 years (from 1971 to 2000). And extremely low temperatures, KMA predicted, will occur less frequently while extremely high temperatures more frequently and heavy rainfall (over 50mm per day) will become more frequent.

The impacts of climate change in the Korean peninsula can be detected in all areas of society, but we could recently find most discernible climate impacts in agriculture and urban infrastructure, among others. Especially this fall, a shortage of vegetable supplies led to the sudden soaring of vegetable prices in Korea.

According to price data on major agricultural product markets in Seoul late September 2010, lettuce prices have rocketed by about 390% and cucumber prices by over 302% compared with last year. Moreover, the price of oriental cabbage, a key ingredient of Kimchi, most Koreans’ favorite dish, has risen by over 354% compared with last year. Vegetable shortage this year, many people believe, has resulted from extreme weather events, including heavy snow and cold waves in the beginning of this year, combined with the environment-destroying 'Four River Project' Initiatives (FRPI) of the current government leading also to the destruction of available vegetable cultivating land along the rivers, although the Korean government still insists, only to little avail, that FRPI are part and parcel of green growth strategy. Another crucial reason for these disturbances in vegetable prices is that government interventions have become less and less influential in the market just because of various free-market measures introduced by the government into agriculture policies. In response, the Korean government took some emergency measures to cope with soaring vegetable prices, but the farmers' organizations was very critical that the focus of emergency measures was just to enlarge supplies by increasing the import of vegetables abroad, mainly from China, a country not well known, at least to Korean consumers, for the quality of its fresh vegetables.

Extremely heavy rainfall in Seoul and its neighboring region on ‘Chooseok’ day (late September this year), a Korean Thanksgiving day and one of the biggest and most important national holidays, caused huge damage to the Seoul metropolitan area. With the rainfall of 75mm per hour, heaviest ever recorded in the recent meteorological history in Korea, roads and areas in downtown Seoul, dense with governmental offices and major corporate and commercial buildings, were flooded in a very short time. Moreover, numerous housings of low-income families located in low-lying areas in Seoul were immersed, which means that low income people and families became major victims. The primary cause of this massive rainfall and flood could presumably be related to extreme weather events associated with climate change, but it is also to be stressed that the lack of adaptation efforts for climate change was crucially responsible for these disastrous outcomes. Drainage facilities in major metropolitan cities in Korea including Seoul were not sufficient enough to cope with heavy rainfall.

<Picture 1> Downtown streets in Seoul, Korea, flooded by heavy rainfall, 22 September 2010

2. Unions’ Research and Survey on Climate Change Issues in Korea

Trade unions in Korea are latecomers in dealing with climate change as a union issue and there thus has not been much union research or survey on union issues related to climate change such as climate change and jobs. Only recently, since 2007 a couple of preliminary reports have taken climate change as a union agenda and begun to discuss on how unions should respond to climate change, largely due to the efforts and instigation of a small progressive group of unionists and environmental activists

After returning from the COP13, Bali, Indonesia in 2007, the Korean Power Plant Industry Union (KPPIU) commissioned the progressive parties and environmental activists to do a research and publish a report on trade unions and climate change, leading to the publication, in January 2008, of the report, Climate Change and Challenges for Trade Unions: towards Just Transition. It was the first report of its kind in Korea, introducing the concept of ‘just transition’ and covering the case of trade unions abroad who have actively engaged with climate change issues. Partly encouraged by the publication of the report, the Korean trade unionists and environmental activists began to participate together in the subsequent COP meetings. At the COP 14 in Poznan, Poland, they had an opportunity to meet and learn from European trade unionists about the latter’s experiences in dealing with climate change from a union perspective.

Commissioned by the Korean Transport Workers’ Union (KTWU), Center for Energy Politics, an environmental NGO in Korea, published in March 2009 a report, Climate Change and Challenges for Trade Union Movement in the Transportation Sector. The report dealt with the linkages between climate change and the transportation sector and, based on the activities and experiences of trade unions abroad, looked at the impacts of climate change on transportation workers and unions’ strategies and activities to cope with these impacts. Recognizing the need to search for and develop unions’ perspectives and strategies for the COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), one of the two national union centers, and Korean Federation of Public Services and Transportation Workers’ Unions (KPTU), an affiliate of KCTU, each commissioned a survey for the above purpose. KPTU asked Public Policy Institute for People (PPIP) and Energy and Climate Policy Institute (ECPI) each to do a survey research on climate change agenda from a union perspective. As a result, in November 2009 ECPI published a report, Workplace Strategies to Cope with Climate Change and in December 2009 PPIP another report, Workers’ Alternatives to Cope with Climate Change and Energy Crisis. KCTU also cooperated with ECPI to publish in November 2009 a report, Unions’ Responses to Cope with Climate Change and Environmental Crisis (See Picture 2 below).

<Picture 2> KCTU/ECPI report, Unions’ Responses to Cope with Climate Change and Environmental Crisis

In May 2008, Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU), another national union center in Korea, together with Korea International Labor Foundation (KOILAF), organized a seminar on ‘environment-friendly jobs’ inviting ITUC and ILO experts and in 2010 gave a presentation on ‘green jobs and just transition’ at the Employment and Labor Market Forum.
There was also a survey of union members on climate change. From late August to late September 2009, ECPI and PPIP jointly carried out questionnaire surveys for 1,225 members of KCTU on the level of awareness of climate change issues including the recognition and understanding of climate change itself, union responses to climate change, and key climate change issues for unions. This was the first questionnaire survey of its kind in Korea, some major findings of which are shown below.

It was found that 95% of the respondents were aware of climate change, which is quite similar to the results of the questionnaire survey for ordinary people done in 2008 by  the Department of Environment (DOE), which showed that 97.2% of the respondents were aware of climate change. And 85.3% of ECPI/PPIP respondents agreed that there will be catastrophic events without the reduction of fossil fuel use in our economy and society, which means they basically acknowledged the threat of climate change suggested by IPCC. 90% of ECPI/PPIP respondents agreed that Korea should be included in the Annex 1 countries, while 83.7% of DOE respondents did so. As many as 65.3% of ECPI/PPIP respondents agreed to the opinion that economic growth can partially be halted or abandoned to cope with climate change. This shows that it is simply wrong to believe workers do not have any interest in or knowledge of environmental issues such as climate change. On the contrary, they do have strong will and readiness to respond to climate change.

Unlike in the more normative questions on climate change in the questionnaire, we could find some apparently contradictory answers in the questions dealing more directly with employment and cost burdens associated with climate change. For example, 90.8% of ECPI/PPIP respondents agreed to the statement that the fundamental cause of climate change lies in 'capitalist development and growth' model and 82.9% of ECPI/PPIP respondents agreed that businesses and firms should bear lion’s share of the responsibilities for climate change. 76.4% of ECPI/PPIP respondents also agreed that 'individual workers’ efforts and sacrifice' might be needed to cope with climate change (11.3% strongly agreed in this regard). While 85.2% of ECPI/PPIP respondents agreed to the statement that there will be industrial restructuring associated with climate change which will lead to changes in the size and structure of employment in various industrial sectors, however, 73.2% of ECPI/PPIP respondents were opposed to the idea that workers should bear the burden of employment change related with climate change (18.5% strongly opposed in this regard). While conceding workers efforts might be needed, these respondents believed businesses and firms, not workers, should take the primary responsibility for climate change-related employment change and should not pass on the responsibility on the shoulders of workers. Perhaps this mindset might be typical of workers’ attitude towards employment change associated with climate change, but this also makes us clearly realize the need for ‘just transition’ in the conversion towards more sustainable economy and society. Probably reflecting this, about 80% of ECPI/PPIP respondents agreed to the idea of just transition, despite the idea was rather unfamiliar to them.

3. Unions’ Involvement in Lobbying the Government on Climate Change

As widely known, the current government in Korea headed by President LEE Myung-Bak is notorious for its unparalleled hostility towards trade unions and is the most repressive administration in this regard in the last two decades, as is amply documented in the latest ‘G20 Briefing Note on Korea’ published by international trade union movement ( There have been numerous conflicts between the government and trade unions even on basic labor rights. It is thus highly difficult and frequently impossible for trade unions in Korea to build a communication framework for social dialogue on climate change issues. The government simply would not listen to the voices of trade unions and civil society organizations on a range of crucial social, economic, and environmental issues in Korea including climate change. We are very concerned about this.

The current GHG emissions reduction targets set by the Korean government is to reduce emissions by 30% on a BAU (business as usual) basis by 2020. The government is expected to allocate, from the last half of 2010 to the first half of 2011, emissions reduction targets to different sectors in Korea. Sectoral emissions reduction targets will surely have more or less impacts on employment in different sectors, but there is no proper study or research, planned or currently carried out, on these impacts. Not surprisingly, and true to its inborn hostility to trade unions, there are no efforts on the side of the government to initiate social dialogue with trade unions on these crucial issues. Trade unions were not invited to the social dialogue table to discuss this issue. At the Korea Tripartite Commission (now, Economic and Social Development Commission under the President), there was a temporary research team to examine climate change responses and employment change, but there is little change in the conservative attitude in this regard of the Korean government.

However, Korean trade unions managed, with difficulty, to organize meetings with the government on climate change and the COP16. Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU), two national union centers in Korea, met the government to deliver ITUC demand that the Korean government should support ‘just transition’ and ‘decent work’ in the COP16 negotiations in Cancun and to call for social dialogue to discuss crucial climate change issues such as employment and GHG emissions reduction targets. For this purpose, on 24th November, FKTU met officials from the Presidential Committee on Green Growth, while next day KCTU and Korean Federation of Public Services and Transportation Workers’ Unions (KPTU), an affiliate of KCTU, visited and met officials from the Ministry of Environment.

In the run-up to the COP16 in Cancun, Mexico, KCTU, FKTU and KPTU organized, on 23rd November, a joint workshop on climate change and green jobs as a preparation for the COP16. They also decided to take common positions on climate change and issued at the workshop a joint statement, Korean Trade Unions Demand a Fair, Ambitious, and Binding Agreement at the UNFCCC COP16, Cancun, Mexico, 29 November – 10 December 2010 (see Appendix below). 

4. Cooperation Partners with Unions on Climate Change

Korean trade unions have rather been on good terms with environmental organizations. Some tensions have also existed between them, however, on environmental issues such as nuclear power and large-scale reclamation projects. It is time for Korean trade unions to renew relationships with environmental organizations and to find new cooperation partners to deal with climate change as a key union agenda.
As an aftermath of the strike in 2002 of the Korean Power Plant Industry Union (KPPIU) 'Energy Network for Labor Society’ (ENLS) ( was built in August, 2004, as an alliance of environmental organizations and trade unions in energy industry in pursuit of public and sustainable energy. ENLS was actively involved in a range of activities such as holding an international symposium and organizing programs for environmental activists to visit important sites and workplaces in energy industry. Korea Federation for Environmental Movements (KFEM), one of the most well-known environmental organizations in Korea, and Energy Justice Action, an environmental NGO, are also members of ENLS. Some trade union activists in the network attended the COP 15 in Copenhagen last year.

Center for Energy Politics (CEP), established in 2008, and Energy and Climate Policy Institute (ECPI), an affiliate of CEP, founded in 2009, tried to become cooperative partners of trade unions in responding to climate change. Former environmental activists in progressive parties and environmental NGOs were among the key founding members of CEP and ECPI. CEP and ECPI declared, from the very beginning, that it is one of their critical goals to search for the ways for unions to tackle climate change and to help unions in this regard. They have also been instrumental in introducing the concept and strategy of 'just transition' and 'green jobs’ in Korea and organized and run, together with KPTU, an 'Environmental Academy for Workers' for the last two years, which is composed of a series of lectures and site visits to raise workers’ awareness of environment and climate change issues.

ECPI has also tried to help and support international solidarity of trade unions in addressing climate change. It supported the participation of Korean trade unionists in the successive COP meetings in Bali, Poznan and Copenhagen and trade unions were able to publish joint statements on climate change with ECPI and other environmental NGOs. In the run-up to the COP15 in Copenhagen last year, ECPI organized a study delegation comprised of trade unions from KCTU and FKTU to visit and learn from UK trade unions and environmental NGO think tanks on how to address and tackle climate change from a union perspective, which was made possible by financial support from the UK Embassy in Seoul, Korea. At the ‘WoW’ pavilion of the COP15 in Copenhagen last year Korean trade unions and ECPI organized a session on Korea, revealing dire reality behind the fa&ccedil;ade of green growth in Korea (see Picture 3 below).

<Picture 3> A session on Korea at the ‘WoW’ pavilion of the COP15, Copenhagen, Denmark, December 2009

Anabella Rosemberg, Occupational Health & Environment Policy Officer of ITUC, was invited to ECPI's inaugural symposium in August 2009. At the symposium she introduced ITUC positions on climate change and the idea of 'just transition' to Korean trade unions. In March 2010 Hyun-Woo KIM, an ECPI researcher, was invited to a workshop in Brussels, Belgium, on 'Climate Change, Impacts on Employment and the Labour Market - Responses to the Challenges' hosted by ITUC and had a rare chance to learn the latest research trends and issues in this area. Recent ECPI research has included studies on green jobs and conversion of shipbuilding industry to renewable energy such as wind power.

5. Korean Government’s Position vs. ITUC Position on Climate Change

On the first day of the G20 summit in Seoul this year, representatives of international trade union movement heavily criticized and strongly urged the Korean government to guarantee basic labor rights for workers and to stop the repression of trade unions (For the details of their criticism and demands, see ‘G20 Briefing Note on Korea’ mentioned above). This was quite symbolic in showing the nature of the Korean government’s relationship with trade unions.

Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that the Korean government would not support ITUC demands for ‘just transition’ and ‘decent work’ in the COP negotiations. The current Korean government has always turned a deaf ear to the demands and voices of trade unions. Out of nowhere, President Lee Myung Bak declared a vision for low-carbon green growth on 15th August 2008 when trade unions’ interest in climate change issues lay dormant or hidden. In January 2009, the Korean government announced ‘green new deal plans’ aimed at creating 960,000 jobs through the massive investment of 50 trillion Korean Won (KRW) (about 40 billion US dollars) (including central and local government budget and private funds) into green deal project from 2009 to 2012.

Green growth in Korea is, however, widely criticized. First, projects with little ecological or green relevance are included in the green new deal plans and are being unilaterally implemented. Two key components of green growth projects are the expansion of nuclear energy and 'Four River Project' Initiatives (FRPI), both of which are faced with widespread social opposition from within Korea, among others, from trade unions, environmental organizations and a vast majority of ordinary people. Renewable energy and energy efficiency, however, are neglected and given low priority as policy agenda though they have much greater potential for tackling climate change and creating green jobs. Less attention is paid to climate adaptation policies despite their importance in the climate policy mix. As a result, most of newly created jobs are civil engineering and construction jobs and are short-term and precarious, thus revealing the gloomy reality behind the rosy vision of creating 960,000 jobs. There is no public data available on how much green employment has been created and there is thus a lack of public trust in such data reporting system.

Meanwhile, in November 2009 government ministries in Korea including the Department of Labor, announced "plans for creating green jobs and training workforce.” These plans might be regarded as a little step forward as a means for generating green jobs as they tried to consider the effects of green growth strategy on employment. These plans also paid attention to job losses as well as job creation as a result of green growth and became in this sense more flexible and broader in considering impacts of green growth on employment. Policy discussions and debates accumulated since the 1990s domestically and abroad seemed to have contributed to these subtle changes in policy discourse on green jobs in Korea. However, government plans did not go further than simply proclaiming we need decent green jobs and did not either make it mandatory to do an employment impact assessment of major policy measures for green growth. 

Government plans did contain provisions for the socially weak and unemployed, aimed at job creation and income increase for these groups through creating green jobs and providing and enlarging related training. It is a good thing to consider the socially weak and poor in designing public policies including climate policies. However, when it comes to job creation for the poor, newly created jobs are mainly confined to temporary, precarious and low-income jobs such as taking care of city forests and green fields alongside the rivers and streams. On the other hand, ‘green talent training programs’ are narrowly focused on professional and highly qualified jobs. It thus seems unavoidable to have a renewed polarization of jobs in a new green economy, as planned by the Korean government. 

Although having not yet developed concrete policy proposals, Korean trade unions have broadly agreed to ITUC positions on climate change and accepted 'just transition' and 'decent green job' as vital elements of their policy framework for climate change. However, as mentioned above, there is still huge gulf between the Korean government, on the one hand, and ITUC and Korean trade unions on the other in terms of climate policy positions. The Korean government does not recognize trade unions as proper partners for social dialogue on climate change as well as other critical social agendas.

6. Impacts of Attending COP Meetings on Unions’ Work on Climate Change

Korean trade unions became more interested in climate change after participating in the COP13 in Bali in 2007. Two successive COP meetings in Poznan and Copenhagen helped them to realize the critical importance of climate change as a union agenda. They began to recognize climate change is not an agenda of importance only to environmentalists and understood more clearly the need for actively tackling climate change. At the moment, interest in climate change on the part of trade unions still remains confined to a few individual unionists and activists and is in many cases not yet accepted as an issue for the whole union organizations and members. However, we expect trade unions’ interest in just transition and green jobs will grow rapidly and consistently in the coming years.

<Picture 4> Korean trade unionists demanding ‘climate justice now’ in Copenhagen, Denmark, December 2009

In 2008 and 2009, KPTU and ECPI organized an "Environmental Academy for Workers" to raise awareness of climate change among unionists, introduce key concepts and issues in global climate change debates and negotiations, and learn from trade unions’ efforts abroad to tackle climate change. In the coming years, they are planning to search for just transition strategies from a union perspective and reflecting specific social and economic circumstances in Korea.

On 23rd November, just after the KCTU/FKTU/KPTU joint workshop, there was a small informal gathering of Korean unionists who have attended, at least once, the previous COP meetings to discuss what attending the COP meetings has meant to trade unions in Korea and to explore the challenges ahead for unions in tackling climate change. They all agreed that participating in the COP meetings made them acutely aware of the vital importance of tackling climate change, but the struggle with the government and employers notorious for the repression of trade unions made them unable to put climate change higher up on the union agenda and consistently pursue climate-related union activities. There was also an opinion that trade unions should ask themselves how long they could continue to organize and carry out union activities on the assumption of limitless or unbounded economic growth. Faced with enormous economic and social difficulties, it would be extremely tricky for trade unions in developing countries to search for compatibility between development needs and challenges associated with climate change.

It was also indicated that solidarity between regular and irregular workers need to be strengthened for trade unions to explore the ways for just transition to low carbon society and neoliberal regime and political control over workplaces in the public sector has contributed to making workers less interested in crucial public issues such as climate change and more interested in narrow personal concerns. The participants in the gathering all agreed to the need for trade unions to establish a committee to deal with climate change as a key union agenda and to reinforce efforts to follow up international climate debates and policies including the work and activities of ITUC and international trade union movement.

<Table 1> List of Korean union participants in the previous COP meetings
Kim, Hyun-Dong, Korean Power Plant Industry Union, COP13, Bali
Kwon, Jae-Wook et al., Korea Environment Corporation Union, COP14, Potznan and COP!5, Copenhagen
Lee, Seung-Hoon, Korea Gas Corporation Union, 2008, Potznan)
Lee, Jeong-Ho, KCTU, COP15, Copenhagen
Bae, GanWook, KCTU, COP15, Copenhagen
Jeong, Moon-Ju,  FKTU, COP15, Copenhagen
Yu, Gi-Su, Construction Industry Union, COP15, Copenhagen
Chang, Young-Bae, KPTU, COP15, Copenhagen
Suckk, Chi-Soon, International Center for Labor Solidarity, COP15, Copenhagen
Lee, Ho-Dong et al., Energy Network for Labor Society, COP15, Copenhagen

Against this background, International Climate Change Project (ICCP) is a rare opportunity for Korean trade unions, especially KPTU, to learn from fellow trade unions abroad on how to respond to climate change from a union perspective and share their knowledge and experiences. Encouraged by ICCP, KPTU is planning to develop its first environment program for union officials and members in 2011

7. Other Union Activities on Climate Change

The struggles of Korean trade unions have not been confined to traditional union issues such as wages and working conditions. They have also been involved, in solidarity with civil society organizations and environmental movement, in the fight for quality public services and the environment in Korea. For example, Seoul Subway Labor Union (SSLU), an affiliate of KPTU, has since 2000 successfully worked on the issue of asbestos in subway in Korea, in solidarity with environmental movement. In August 2008, KPTU, together with ECPI, the New Progressive Party, and Citizens' Movement for Environmental Justice, organized an "Activists Meeting for Solidarity between Labor and Environmental Movements" to explore the need for ‘red-green’ alliance focused on energy, food, welfare, and climate change. In 2008 Korean trade unions were, together with a number of civil society organizations and citizens, actively involved in massive candlelight rallies against the import of American beef threatening mad cow disease. Especially Korean Transport Workers’ Union (KTWU), an affiliate of KPTU, refused to transport imported American beef, which attracted huge public attention and support. Since September 2009 Korean trade unions have also actively organized and been involved in the struggles against the 'Four River Project' Initiatives (FRPI) mentioned above.


8. Utilities’ Investment Strategies for Climate Change and Unions’ Involvement

Key components of the so-called ‘green growth’ strategy of the current Lee Myung-Bak administration in Korea are 'Four River Project' Initiatives (FRPI), the expansion and export of nuclear energy, and diplomacy for securing natural resources abroad centering on oil and gas. They are widely criticized as anything but fair, green and sustainable. Energy policy in Korea is thus supply-oriented, heavily skewed towards nuclear energy (more than 36% of total electricity production), characterized by extremely low share of renewable energies (less than 1%), and overwhelmingly dependent on energy resources from abroad (more than 97%).

In the electricity production sector in Korea, attention should be paid to the mix of different energy sources. There are currently 28 nuclear power plants in Korea and the government plans to build ten more nuclear power plants by 2030, thus increasing the share of nuclear energy in total electricity production to 59%. The Korean government thus put too much emphasis on nuclear energy as a means to cope with climate change, despite its environmental, health and social risks. However, trade unions in nuclear power generation are narrowly focused on employment issue, largely disregarding these risks associated with nuclear energy.

In the oil and gas sector, there are public and private enterprises. Public enterprises are, on the pretext of competitiveness, seeking to become much bigger entities and actively involved in the exploration of oil and gas abroad and the aggressive merger and acquisition of foreign firms. For more than ten years, the Korean government has tried but failed so far to privatize the electric power industry, largely due to the struggles of unions against privatization and the wider social and economic repercussions of privatization. However, the government does not give up its privatization plan. Private firms in the oil and gas sector are, together with public enterprises and stimulated by the government’s diplomacy for natural resources abroad, actively engaged in fossil fuel development projects abroad. Special attention should be paid to the 'Shwe Gas Project' in Burma. For this project, two big Korean energy firms, Daewoo International Corporation and Korea Gas Corporation, have cooperated with the military dictatorship in Burma notorious for its repression of Burmese people and contributed to the destruction of ecosystem there.

Trade unions in these big energy firms are a leading force in the fight against the Korean government’s privatization policies and involved in the uphill struggle against the repression of unions by the government and employers, while not showing an active interest in climate change issues.

The Korean government also plans to increase by 2030 the share of renewable energies (including hydrogen energy) to 11%, but this target is too low, considering both the heavy dependence of Korea on fossil fuel energy and its technological capabilities and financial resources available. The Korean government was also widely criticized for having announced plans to abolish the feed-in tariff system which is regarded as an effective policy tool to stimulate the expansion of renewable energies in society.

There are two key elements in the Korean government’s water policies. One major element is the 'Four River Project' Initiatives (FRPI) mentioned above. FRPI are just a ‘greenwashing’ and, in fact, environmentally destructive and socially unsustainable massive civil engineering and construction projects on a national scale under the disguise of ‘green growth’ strategy, but the Korean government advocates FRPI as a means to tackle climate change and is unilaterally, despite strong and mounting society-wide opposition, implementing FRPI. Strangely enough, FRPI do not include those rivers and regions which suffer from frequent floods and droughts. To build bicycle lanes and roads along the rivers, FRPI have also destroyed huge riverside cultivating land for organic farming. The other key element of the government’s water policies is its plans and efforts to privatize water in Korea. To avoid strong public opposition to water privatization, the government has taken a gradual approach to water privatization such as introducing private water operators and regionalization. The Korean government’s water policies thus have a very strong commercial orientation stressing water as another profit-making opportunity for firms. The idea of water as a universal human right and key public services and the concept of water policy as a policy tool to tackle climate change for more sustainable future are hardly visible in the government’ water policies. To remedy this, KPTU and Korean Government Employees Union (KGEU) have opposed water privatization and made efforts to make the general public more aware of the problems of water privatization. 

9. Public Services Activities on Climate Change

The Korean government’s climate change adaptation measures includes policies for health problems associated with climate change, but do not take into account the fact that the socially weak and poor such as low income workers and street vendors do not have sufficient capacity to deal with climate change and suffer more than others from health damage resulting from climate change. There should be more social protection for the poor and powerless in the government policies which also need to be more specific and concrete to have intended effects. The biggest problem is that the government does not seem to recognize or understand the magnitude of public health issues associated with climate change.

Local governments in Korea do have plans to tackle climate change, but they simply repeat the problems of ‘green growth’ strategy of the central government. Based on and imitating the ‘green growth’ strategy of the central government, green growth strategies of local governments are, in many cases, not adapted to specific local conditions. There is a quite low awareness of climate change among local government officials and people. Many local governments still go about their business without any clear plans and prior preparations for systematic policy development such as establishing GHG emissions inventories. We can also point out a lack of expertise on climate change issues among local government officials and a lack of participation of local people in policy making processes, leading to the generally low level of climate policies and activities of local governments in Korea. This is exacerbated by a deficiency of coordination by the central government on national climate policies and there is also an overlap and competition between climate policies and programs of the different ministries, causing the confusion of local governments.

The biggest problem is that the government’s green growth strategy includes a number of programs and projects that have little or no relation with green growth, resulting in a bizarre mix of ‘green’ and ‘ungreen’ elements. Especially, environmentally destructive large-scale civil engineering and construction projects have been ‘greenwashed’ and included in green growth strategy. Recently how to finance green growth strategy has emerged as an issue of concern. Local governments plan to request and receive from the central government more than 70% of funding for local green growth strategy but this may not be realized because of a lack of the central government’s expenditures. If this happens, local governments will have to bear the burden of funding local green growth strategy from local expenditures, exacerbating the already increasing financial difficulties of local governments.

Finally, local governments need to shift their policy paradigm from excessive growth-orientation to climate change mitigation and adaptation. For example, they have to develop appropriate adaptation policies which take into account the frequency and intensity of natural disasters associated climate change, but under the current policy paradigm the need for appropriate adaptation policies is not properly recognized. Conscious of this situation, KGEU has monitored green growth policies of local governments in Korea and have been looking for policies for just transition at the local level to cope with climate change.

References (all in Korean)

Center for Energy Politics (2009), Climate Change and Challenges for Trade Union Movement in the Transportation Sector, KTWU
ECPI (2009a), Workplace Strategies to Cope with Climate Change, KPTU
ECPI (2009b), Unions’ Responses to Cope with Climate Change and Environmental Crisis, KCTU
ECPI (2009c), Coping with Employment Crisis and Climate Change: Strategies for Transition to Green Jobs, Work Together Foundation
ECPI (2010a), A Critical Review of ‘Green Growth’ Policies of Lee Myung-Bak Administration: Search for Green Welfare Policy Frame, Alliance for Progressive Law Reform, National Assembly
ECPI (2010b), Assessing Green Growth and Green New Deal Policies of Lee Myung-Bak Administration in Korea: Focusing on Green Jobs, Offices of three MPs, (Migyung Lee, Chanyul Lee, Youngpyo Hong), National Assembly
Jang, Juyoung et al. (2008), Climate Change and Challenges for Trade Unions: towards Just Transition, Korean Power Plant Industry Union (KPPIU)
Kim, Hyunwoo (2010), “Climate Change and Labor Market: Trends and Issues,” Enerzine Focus, Vol. 12, ECPI.
Lee, Jungpil (2010), Analyzing Policies and Budgets for Green Growth of Local Governments in Korea, Interim report, Korean Government Employees Union (KGEU)
PPIP (2009), Workers’ Alternatives to Cope with Climate Change and Energy Crisis, KPTU and Korean Public Services Union (KPSU)
Song, Yuna (2009), A Critique of Water Privatization: Proposals for Public Water System, PPIP


Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU)
Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU)

Statement of Korean Trade Unions on the UNFCCC COP16, Cancun, Mexico
23 November 2010

Korean trade unions demand
A fair, ambitious, and binding agreement
At the UNFCCC COP16, Cancun, Mexico
29 November – 10 December 2010.

Korean trade unions are deeply aware that climate change has become an urgent and alarming global issue. In order to prevent irreversible damages of climate change, we should not continue the way we produce and consume today. Korean trade unions strongly demand and hope that a fair, ambitious and binding agreement should be reached on the post-2012 mechanism with sufficient emissions reduction targets at the COP16 in Cancun, Mexico from 29th November to 10th December 2010. We urge all the governments to take responsible and positive actions at the COP16. Korean trade unions will also do their best to take an active role in tackling climate change at the COP16 in solidarity with international trade union movement and global civil society organizations..

'Climate debt' should be taken as top-priority agenda to be solved at the COP16
Korean trade unions claim that developed countries should, on the basis of the  principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities', pledge more ambitious emission reduction targets and provide developing countries with finance and technology for climate mitigation and  adaptation. Especially it is unacceptable and unfair that developed countries do not commit themselves to more ambitious emission reduction targets on the pretext of a few big emitters among developing countries. Developed countries should take a first bold step and pledge ambitious targets reflecting their historical responsibilities for climate crisis. We think this is the way climate justice could begin to be realized on a global scale. Korean trade unions respect and support the spirit and agreement of 'the World People´s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth', Cochabamba, Bolivia, 22 April 2010.

Climate negotiations at the COP16 should accept 'just transition' and ‘decent work’ proposed by ITCU
Korean trade unions agree to and fully support ITCU positions that union representatives should be able to participate both in international climate negotiations and national social dialogue tables where crucial social agendas such as impacts of climate change and climate policies on employment and poverty are discussed. While emissions reduction policies ate expected to create green jobs, it could also lead to substantial changes in labor market and even job losses. We are fully in favor of 'just transition' and ‘decent work’ proposed and supported by ITCU and international trade union movement. We thus argue that workers, especially the socially and economically weak, should be protected in employment change associated with climate adaptation and mitigation policies. This principle of social protection should be applied at all levels from global arena such as the COP negotiations to national and local policy-making processes.

Watch out 'wrong' solutions based on free-market ideology and narrowly focused on technology!
We are concerned that international climate negotiations at the COP16 might concentrate too much attention on the solutions we think are unacceptable. We oppose the expansion of market-based approaches to emissions reduction such as carbon trading. The effectiveness of market-based approaches is uncertain and open to wide controversy. Moreover, these approaches may be reduced to only providing a new space for profit-seeking speculative capital. We are also mindful of the pitfalls and risks of technology-focused solutions such as nuclear power and carbon capture and storage (CCS). These technological solutions are fraught with uncertainties and risks and have not proved their effectiveness in reducing emissions. They may even turn out to be a barrier to developing a new and more comprehensive approach to the ‘system transition’ of the whole society to a truly sustainable green one.

Korean government should pledge ambitious emissions reduction targets reflecting its share of responsibilities for climate crisis
As an industrialized country, Korea is the 10th largest energy consumer in the world and the 15th largest economy in terms of GDP. Although being the 22nd biggest emitter in terms of total historical GHG emissions, Korea is not included in the Annex 1 countries. In terms of energy consumption and GHG emissions, Korea is no longer a developing country. We think it is unacceptable for the Korean government to demand a developing country status at the COP negotiations and to insist on a minimalist pledge of 30% emissions reduction by 2020 on a BAU (business as usual) basis. At the COP16 the Korean government should, as a member of international community, commit itself to emissions reduction targets duly reflecting its share of historical responsibilities for climate crisis. Trade unions in Korea, together with civil society organizations, demand the Korean government should pledge to achieve by 2020 more than 25% emissions reduction from 2005 levels. 

Korean government should support ITCU positions on climate change
As mentioned above, trade unions in Korea fully support ITCU positions on climate change and thus call for the Korean government to support ITCU positions at the COP16 in Cancun (For ITUC positions on climate change,

Workers and unions should be able to participate in climate policy-making processes in Korea
As a global issue, climate change will have an effect on every corner of society and nobody can possibly avoid it. At workplaces and homes workers are routinely exposed to the impacts of climate change and will encounter and experience impacts of climate policies on employment and skills, among others. Workers are thus one of the key stakeholders in climate mitigation and adaptation policies and should be included as proper and competent partners in social dialogue and discussion on climate policies. However, true to its unparalleled hostility towards trade unions, the Korean government simply would not listen to the voices of trade unions on climate change and does not even provide relevant information about key aspects of national climate policies to trade unions and the wider public. We are very concerned about this. Even for successful and effective climate policies, workers’ participation and knowledge and social dialogue with trade unions are essential.
President Lee Myung-Bak! Don’t even think about hosting the COP18 in 2012 before you immediately stop 'Four River Project' Initiatives
At the COP15 in Copenhagen last year, the Korean President Lee Myung-Bak suggested that Korea would like to host the COP18 in 2012. The COP16 in Cancun this year will make a decision on who is going to host the COP18 in 2010. We strongly suspect that, if it is hosted by the Korean government in 2012, the COP18 might be used not as a respectable international arena to reach a fair, ambitious and binding agreement for the planet and humankind, but as a political expediency for the authoritarian President Lee Myung-Bak to win the presidential election in late 2012 for his conservative party. As widely known, the current Korean government headed by President Lee Myung-Bak is notorious for its unparalleled hostility towards trade unions and is the most repressive administration in this regard in the last two decades, as is amply documented in the latest ‘G20 Briefing Note on Korea’ published by international trade union movement ( Moreover, the current Korean government has, since 2008, been unilaterally promoting and implementing the 'Four River Project' Initiatives which are, in fact, environmentally destructive and socially unsustainable massive civil engineering and construction projects on a national scale under the disguise of ‘green growth’ strategy. If it truly wishes to contribute to solving climate crisis as a respectable member of international community and to host the COP18 in 2012, the Korean government should stop the repression of workers and trade unions and honor its commitment to respect international labor standards and guarantee basic labor rights, and, most importantly, immediately stop the 'Four River Project' Initiatives and begin a fundamental revision of so-called ‘green growth’ strategy, which is anything but fair, green and sustainable


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