By Minju Kim, for GEYK (Green Environment Youth Korea)

South Korea’s 21st legislative election took place on April 21st amid the COVID-19 crisis. A logistical nightmare ensued despite the relatively low number of new cases leading up to the election day.

All voters were required to wear a face mask and disposable gloves in order to prevent the spread of the disease. They were made to wait in line 6-feet apart and to sanitize their hands before entering the building. Despite the increased safety measures, South Korea saw a voter turnout of 66.2%, the highest since the early 1990s.

The result was a sweeping victory for the ruling Democratic Party. The Democratic Party claimed 183 out of 300 seats, taking a comfortable majority for the next 4 years. This victory is a significant win not just for the party, but for many environmental activists as well.

The Democratic Party is the only large South Korean political party to release a Green New Deal manifesto. In fact, the United Future Party, the leading conservative party in South Korea, has not released any concrete policy targeting climate change. The arrival of a Green New Deal manifesto in South Korean politics provides voters and environmental activists with a stronger basis for demanding more robust climate policies going forward.

The goals of the Democratic Party’s Green New Deal manifesto include: net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, improved air quality by 2040, the introduction of a carbon tax, and more. However, many of these goals are aspirational and lack concrete actionable steps and policy changes.

Furthermore, the proposed plans fail to emphasize the importance of environmental and economic justice. The government has not outlined how it will protect the most vulnerable workers who might lose their livelihood in the process of decarbonizing the economy. Nor has it promised the necessary education and resources that workers need to navigate the changing world. A successful Green New Deal must make sure that no one gets left behind in the great transition to a sustainable economy.

The Democratic Party now has the power to pass progressive environmental policies that can positively impact the future of South Korea. However, this does not mean that South Koreans can sit back and relax. The Dem. Party released the climate plan at the very end of the campaign season, clearly showing that the Green New Deal is still on the bottom of their priority list. Voters will need to hold their elected officials accountable and keep pushing for stronger climate policies.

We at GEYK demand that the National Assembly:

  1. Treat the climate crisis like it is. Declare a nationwide climate emergency.
  2. Release detailed policy plans that align with the 2050 Net-zero goal.
  3. Enforce fossil fuel divestment for all public corporations and increase investment for the renewable energy sector.
  4. Release a plan to protect and educate existing workers in the carbon-intensive industry during the transition into a net-zero economy.
  5. Include climate change and environmental studies as part of mandatory curriculum for all pre-college education.

South Korea has become the first country in East Asia whose ruling party endorsed a Green New Deal. The victory of a party that supports the Green New Deal is worth celebrating. But our collective fight against the rapidly warming climate has just begun.