Stepping stone for a green transition
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The author is the minister of environment in Korea. Korea, China, and Japan — three geographically close neighbors — occupy an important position in the global economy. As of 2021, the three countries accounted for almost 20 percent of the global population and 25 percent of the global GDP. The three have achieved remarkable economic growth since World War II and are still running dynamic economies. But in the process of their economic growth, they faced serious environmental problems such as air pollution and climate change, not to mention such pollutions affecting one another.
After Korea proposed to Japan and China in 1998 to initiate a high-level dialogue for environmental cooperation among the three countries, the first Tripartite Environment Ministers Meeting (TEMM1) took place in Seoul in January the following year. At the meeting, the three environment ministers agreed to work to jointly cope with regional environmental issues by sharing the recognition that Korea, China and Japan belong to one environmental community. Their consensus on the urgent need for regional cooperation to solve environmental problems led to the creation of the tripartite environmental partnership.
Over the past two decades, despite the dynamic changes in the three countries’ domestic situation and in the global politics, the trilateral meeting was held continuously. The 23rd session of TEMM is scheduled to be held in December.
As the trust built up, the scope of cooperation has expanded accordingly. From its early stage, TEMM promoted a joint research and policy exchange in the areas of common environmental concerns such as marine pollution, biodiversity, and prevention of desertification, with a particular focus on air pollution, including yellow dust and acid rain. In recent years, the three sides have been strengthening exchange and collaboration to reduce ultra-fine dust (PM2.5) and respond to the common challenge of climate change under the TEMM framework.
With the growing scope of cooperation, TEMM’s collaboration mechanism has evolved to be more systematic. Starting from 2010, the three countries have developed a joint action plan every five years, which set out priority areas of cooperation and individual activities such as policy dialogue and joint research. The third joint action plan adopted last year contained 25 projects in the eight priority areas, including air quality improvement and climate change response. In the meantime, TEMM has started to invite broader stakeholders — not merely policy makers and research experts but also the three countries’ environmental industries and future generations. Alongside the ministerial meeting, the Tripartite Roundtable on Environmental Businesses and the Youth Forum are held as side events.
On Dec. 1, the 23rd Tripartite Environment Ministers Meeting will be held as a three-way videoconference connecting Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo. The three ministers will exchange their national policies on environmental issues and discuss a joint response to global environmental challenges such as carbon neutrality, climate change adaptation, and biodiversity conservation.
The meeting will also review the implementation of the joint action plan and seek ways for the improvement. Building on the successful trust-based partnership, Korea, together with China and Japan, is willing to reinforce the environmental cooperation under TEMM, so it will serve as a solid stepping stone to overcome the deepening climate and environmental crisis in Northeast Asia and the rest of the world.
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