The idea of a Green New Deal surfaced in Britain as a response to the financial crisis. We didn’t get it at the time. The nearest we got was the coalition government’s ‘green deal’, a project so spectacularly mishandled that it managed to kill government support for energy efficiency rather than stimulate it. But the idea is a sound one, and it didn’t go away.
The Green New Deal debate sprang back into life with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise movement in the United States. The EU then picked it up, Britain’s Labour party ran with it, and it’s been a live project again. After years as a good but largely theoretical idea, we now have the first example of someone actually implementing it. South Korea’s democratic party added a Green New Deal to their manifesto as part of the coronavirus recovery strategy. They won that election with an increased majority last week.
This is good news for climate action in Korea, which has been classified as ‘highly insufficient’ so far by Climate Tracker. There has been little investment in renewable energy, accounting for just 3% of electricity in 2017. The country is heavily reliant on coal imports, and the latest climate plan still allowed for a third of electricity to come from coal in 2030. Unsurprisingly, carbon emissions aren’t falling yet in Korea. This should now begin to change.
As part of the new manifesto, South Korea is due to declare a target to reach net zero carbon by 2050. Financing will be withdrawn from coal power, and there will be major new support for renewable energy and hydrogen. A carbon tax will be introduced, and there will be support to help current fossil fuel employees to retrain.
There’s no big plan for this yet. That will come in the next few months, along with revised climate targets. It’s only at that point that we’ll really be able to tell if it’s serious, or if adopting the language of the Green New Deal was just an election season convenience. But it’s still no small thing to have a government winning an election on a Green New Deal platform. It’s also an important story because Korea will be the first country in Asia to take this on, breaking the idea out of its Western origins and bringing net zero targets into the continent where they will be most critical.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how the basic income is an idea that has been ‘lying around’ ahead of the crisis, ready to be picked up and applied when it is needed. This is another one. Obviously the original New Deal was a crisis response, so ultimately a Green New Deal would be too. Now it has its crisis and its moment. The EU may well use it as a basis for their recovery plans. And as more governments consider how best to restart and stimulate their economies, it will be interesting to see where it turns up next.