There was a time when Korea’s best and brightest drafted meticulous five-year plans for the development of technologies as part of a 30-year vision for Korea’s future needs. Starting in 1962 and continuing until 1981, these plans set out goals and mobilized resources to build expertise, construct infrastructure, obtain technology and assure a broad understanding among the population of the challenges that Korea faced.
Such five-year plans continued until 1996, although they lost their focus on infrastructure and technology. However, long-term government support for science and technology remains in place, such as the “basic plan for developing biotechnology” through 2026.
Such research and development, however, focused too much on creating products for global markets, rather than technology aimed at addressing directly the threats that Korea faces.
The time has come for the re-establishment of five-year plans for Korea, but with the adaptation to climate change, and the mitigation of energy consumption, as the primary goal.
But development should consist of forecasting the future and planning for it based on three points.
First, what will be the state of the environment in Korea in 10, 20 or 30 years? What will be the sea level and the frequency of droughts, super-storms and flash floods? What will be the state of the soil, of forests, of agricultural land and of fish populations?
Second, what technologies will be available by that future date granted the current rate of technological evolution? How can those technologies be implemented quickly to assure that Korea is carbon-free and can respond to threats?
Third, how long will it take to design and implement the new infrastructure based on that technology so as to respond in time to future climate threats?
We should start with a five-year plan that requires all buildings to employ solar panels and be properly insulated by 2021. The plan would involve industry, academia and government and cover technology, commercialization, citizens’ education and urban planning with a focus on empowering local groups to participate. Solar film to place on windows and cutting-edge insulation materials should be quickly adopted. Other plans should be implemented for the response to super-storms, to rising sea levels, and to protect forests and oceans and farmland.
These five-year plans should not be aimed only at producing products for export, but rather at meeting the challenges of protecting Korea against the threats of climate change. Preparations for responding to rising seas and a warmer climate must be carried out as a national security agenda without a fixation on markets.
Finance for these projects must be generated increasingly within Korea, and finance must be increasingly directed toward the concrete demands of the response to climate change at the national level, and not toward speculation or short-term investments unrelated to the national interest.
Ultimately, this crisis may force us to go back to the drawing board and ask whether industries like shipbuilding, automobile manufacturing, steel and petrochemicals will lead Korea’s future in light of the overwhelming threat of climate change. The government must show bravery, true leadership, by mapping out the equivalent of a war-time economy to integrate emerging technologies with infrastructure demands to respond over the long term to this profound threat. There can be no sacred cows.
The government must put in place a series of five-year plans for industrial development with a set of concrete goals for reducing dependence on imported fossil fuels, increasing insulation, efficiency, awareness and the broad adoption of new technologies, and more importantly, systems of technology, habits, policy and culture that will allow Korea to reach its goals very rapidly. Moreover, the manner in which Korea innovates to achieve these goals more rapidly than other industrialized nations will become in itself a valuable product that Korea can share with the world.
Two sets of five-year plans should be put in place. One for adaptation to climate change and one for mitigation of climate change. Both are equally important, and both must be closely linked to be successful. Moreover, the plans require a change in the culture, the habits, the assumptions of Koreans, and also massive reforms in finance, trade and investment policy that will set Korea free of oil money and petroleum imports and make it a global model.