Environment Is Business
Governor Stresses Pragmatic Use of Wetlands
By Bae Ji-sook
``The environment is everyone's business, and that's why the Ramsar Convention for the wise use of wetland is important,'' Kim Tae-ho, governor of South Gyeongsang Province, said Monday.
In an interview with The Korea Times, the local administration chief stressed pragmatism. He said that by preserving wetland, encouraging green growth could be a short cut to enhancing people's livelihood.
``Let's take Japan as an example. After Toyooka city set its hand to environmental matters and sought a habitat for cranes, the number of tourists spiked and the city became a symbol of environmental friendliness ― that's the branding effect of a region,'' he said.
``The town now has all kinds of products with their crane brand,'' he said.
``If we manage to give people the impression that Korean products, especially from south Gyeongsang, are clean and green, I am sure a large number of people will be willing to buy them at any cost ― we could raise prices by 20-30 percent and still sell,'' he said, stressing the environment is not just an ethical issue but also a pragmatic one.
Kim also showed a desire to project his province as an ``environmental capital.'' Just as Sejong city is planned to be an administrative capital and Gwangju claims to be that of culture, South Gyeongsang, and particularly its capital, Changwon, will be the heart of the environment, he said. The Ramsar Convention will be a basic step to carry out environmentally friendly policies, he said.
He stressed that the Convention's success should continue and that the post-Ramsar era is even more important for the big picture. The province, alongside the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, has decided to restore about 2,314,060 square meters of agricultural land next to Upo wetland. He plans to establish an East Asia wetland research center and a Korean wetland research center there.
``These two institutions will show the world that the province is set to carry on with the Ramsar spirit. It will also encourage children to stay aware of environmental issues,'' he said. ``That's a wise use of wetland,'' he added.
He also disclosed his vision of the region ― establishing environmentally friendly facilities, foresting, encouraging public transportation and establishing networks with civic society.
Still, Kim stands surrounded in controversy given Lee Myung-bak's now defunct cross-country waterway project as he was well-known to be a devout fan of it_ he has openly requested that the central government proceed with the maligned plan and then urged that his province be allowed to carry it out should the plan fail to achieve public consensus. It was worried that the project would ruin the ecosystem.
However, Kim hinted at his loyalty. ``I think the problem with the canal plan was the administration's inability to communicate with people. With proper procedure and talks I hope to get some satisfactory answers,'' he said.
He still keeps his mind on the ``purification of Nakdong River and Yeongsan River'' project, which is claimed to share the basic concept of the canal project. ``These areas are severely polluted and without some human effort, will never recover,'' he said.
Kim suggested that local administration take the role of negotiator and mediator with local residents and start campaigns. ``It will set a new model,'' he said.
The governor also showed his desire to establish his province at an international level. Rows of international conventions are planned at Changwon Exhibition Convention Center after Ramsar. The 2008 Gyeongnam World Conference on Women's Human Rights, an international Olympiad for middle school students and the World Choir Championship are scheduled for no later than July next year.
``For a very long time the province was famous for being an industrial site given its manufacturing and heavy industries. But now I am framing the environment and culture as our top priorities. I hope hosting such events help us build this image,'' he said.