Interview with Professor Kwi-Gon Kim about 2011 UEA Gwangju Summit of the environmental accords.

“The ultimate goal of the Gwangju Summit, is to create a low carbon green city, based on two important tools; one is the Urban Environmental Evaluation Index and the other is urban Carbon Development Mechanism (CDM).” Professor Kim

I spoke with Professor Kwi-Gon Kim, Emeritus Professor at Seoul National University and Chief Commissioner of the 2011 Gwangju Summit of the Urban Environmental Accords (UEA) about the UEA summit at the Kimdaejung Convention Center, rather fittingly, as this will be the venue for the event in October.

As Professor Kim greeted me, he explained how Fryeburg, San Paulo, Almere and Toronto will have delegates at the summit, along with 51 other cities. He smiled and laughed while gesturing for me to join him at the table. It had obviously been a good day.

“I have visited 4 countries and 15 organizations in Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany to promote the summit to cities’ delegations. As a result of this visit, four cities, including Mexico City, have expressed their hope to participate. This morning we received good news from Curitiba Mayor Luciano Ducci, who will be present for the summit. The exhibition [at the summit] will contain a pavilion for Curitiba. The city is renowned for their work with the environment.”

Author of several books on environmental planning, I began by asking why he was interested in being part of the UEA. “I was the master planner of Gangwon a low-carbon green city launched by President Lee Myung Bak. When that was completed I was asked by the former President of Seoul National University to join the UEA team.” With Lee Myung Bak speaking at the opening session, Professor Kim spoke of the other impressive speakers, “keynote speakers include the director of United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Mr. Achim Stiener, the director of UN habitat Mr. Joan Close and Lester Brown who is the director of the World Watch Institute. So far, three of them have confirmed.”

He continued by explaining the essence and agenda of the summit; “It combines many aspects of urban planning and environmental management, green technology policy and urban governance as well. The ultimate goal of the Gwangju Summit, is to create a low carbon green city, based on two important tools; one is the urban environmental evaluation index and the other is urban Carbon Development Mechanism (CDM).”

Consultants will prepare papers to be presented at the discussions, providing information about the opportunities and challenges faced by each city. These will form the background for the thematic session discussions, in which cities will create the urban environmental evaluation index. “For each session you’ll have one presenter who will introduce the paper, the moderator and four presenters; two from a city and two from non-governmental organizations, to make the discussions lively and exciting. The parallel thematic sessions [of open discussion between cities mayors] include five topics relevant to the urban environmental evaluation index; water and sanitation, transport, waste management, energy and urban nature which includes animal and plant habitat.”

The other important low-carbon city tool is the urban CDM, a new kind of carbon finance system. “You have to first define the urban boundary. Then there are calculations to be made on the inventory meaning how much energy is being consumed by the housing sector, the commercial sector, industry sector and so on.

The next step will be how to calculate the emission of carbon dioxide which can be deduced by each activity. This is very important. It has to be quantified to be credited to get carbon emission credit; to get Carbon Emission Rights [CER] which can be traded. The carbon financing system will be developed with the help of the United National Environmental Programme and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in terms of cash, retiring [retiring from the market], banking and trading. These are the four types of carbon credits that will be explored, discussed and adopted at the Gwangju summit. This is the basics of what we are going to develop.

A programme of activities [to reduce Green House Gas (GHG) emissions] may include replacing fossil fuel use with solar panels; best land use, compact development and use of renewable energy. There are many activities which can be taken by local governments, NGO or householders.”

Professor Kim then explained why urban CDM was an important instrument to combating climate change. “Whenever I explain what we are doing to other cities they get very excited. Even in developed countries there has been some kind of financial burden, due to environmental protection and climate change measures so those measures have to be compensated in economic terms. If we succeed in developing the methodology and being endorsed by UNFCC, then it will be a great achievement which will help cities in developing countries and cities in developed countries as well. There are two different categories of the cities under the Kyoto Protocol.

Cities in developed countries are under Annex 1 and cities in developing countries fall under Annex 2. Annex 1 countries have a ‘cap’ [maximum limit of GHG] which are equal to their GHG levels for 1990. Whereas Annex 2 countries’ GHG reductions are voluntary.

Korea is Annex 2 but beyond 2013 [when the Kyoto Protocol lapses] it will be Annex 1, so we have to prepare to change, to alleviate the financial burden and continue economic growth without causing environment problems. [CDM] mechanism is good for green growth, for green jobs and will generate income.

With this scheme carbon emission rights can be traded with other cities or exchanged for cash or banking, so there are two different systems which can be in operation. Annex 2 countries can sell carbon rights to get cash on the carbon climate market.”

Which bodes the question; Aren’t the negative environmental effects being sold from developed countries to developing countries? “There’s an argument. The environmentalist approach to combat climate change is a little bit different from the economic approach. Carbon trading is an economic solution. I’m in the middle, between an economic approach and an environmental approach. This is an idea to deal with climate change without slowing down development. For example the steel industry is happy. However, if you make the target deduction stricter then companies will not be happy. Companies normally prefer the economic approach to the environmental approach. It is more flexible for doing business.”

During the summit the Kimdaejung Convention Center will house some impressive exhibitions. “There will be an exhibition of green technology, and best practice cities. Toronto is one of the leading cities in urban environmental management.

In Toronto, I found several best practices which have been used to make Toronto greener and to make it a climate smart city, like cooling buildings by the use of water from Lake Ontario. You can collect low temperature water from the bottom of the lake and use it to cool buildings. They use green transportation and roof top gardens. In one hotel the rooftop vegetable gardens serve the restaurant. It’s what we call self-sustained, a self-contained supply system.

Lastly a no-waste footprint. Everything is recycled. The interesting thing is that left-over food is composted and then goes into the herb garden on the rooftop. In Gwangju, there are some good examples, you can see solar collection, river improvement projects and habituate reconstruction.”

“Recently”, Professor Kim concludes, “we have made our best efforts to encourage international organizations, including UITP [International Association of Public Transport], UIC [International Railways Union] and UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], to participate in the Summit. Prospects are very positive.”

Beyond the lively debates in the thematic sessions, the development of the environmental evaluation index and the urban CDM, the future of the UEA summit looks optimistic as plans are made for its continuation. There will be an award given to a low-carbon city, the ‘UEA Gwangju low-carbon green city award’. The expectation is that the award will be given every four years, but the conference will be held every two.

 

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2 Responses to Interview with Professor Kwi-Gon Kim about 2011 UEA Gwangju Summit of the environmental accords.

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