Korea won the bid to host the Green Climate Fund (GCF) last week, an accomplishment it rightfully considers a big win in international diplomacy and the global effort to reduce carbon. With US $30 billion pledged in Fast Start Finance and a goal of reaching $100 billion annually by 2020, the GCF will play a critical role in the global effort to combat climate change. In fact, COP17 (the last round of United Nations climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa last year), which established a transitional process for the Fund’s operationalization, would have been a failure without an agreement on the GCF. It also brings prominence to Asia. While various UN System Organizations have offices across the continent, this will be the most significant one to be headquartered there.



The tens, and ultimately hundreds, of billions of dollars that will flow through the GCF will be the main instrument to help the world’s most vulnerable populations, so it makes sense that Korea would want to host it. However, Korea’s decision to bid was not merely a strategic action aimed at securing an important leadership role. The bid and successful result were connected to Korea’s longer term Green Growth objective. As such, it’s important to note a couple points here: 1) that Korea wasn’t blindly bidding for institutions that didn’t match its values; President Lee Myung-bak truly sees the merit in Green Growth. In fact, Korea has made a continuous effort to communicate its agenda over the last several years and 2) Korea has made these efforts because it knows that Green Growth is good policy, and it has already seen positive results because of its investments in cleantech.




 Let’s start by focusing on the second point. Green Growth (often used interchangeably with Green Economy, as it was during Rio+20) is the term Korea has used to describe President Lee’s national strategy. On its broadest level, it is a policy that emphasizes environmentally sustainable economic progress to foster low-carbon, socially inclusive development. Key to Green Growth policies is investment in cleantech. For its part, in 2009, Korea announced plans to invest US $85 billion in clean energy technologies via implementation of its green growth plan, estimated to create more than 1 million new jobs and bolster its cleantech export industry. That emphasis on environmental sustainability is partly credited for Korea’s early recovery from the economic crisis. In late 2011, the Korean government decided to hedge its bets, announcing plans for a further US $30.7 billion in stimulus toward new and renewable energy projects and emission reduction projects by 2020. These plans have all been aimed at building an economy of the future and adding jobs.




Returning to the first point –  that Korea’s bid was focused on an objective aligned with its values – whatever the situation, whoever the subject or wherever it is, there is no substitute for sincerity. Korea’s Green Growth agenda was not an overnight campaign. While other countries that bid to host the GCF also made efforts to promote their commitment to sustainability, from 2009 when I served as Special Advisor to the Korean Ambassador to the United Nations, President Lee put Green Growth at the top of the agenda and charged us with communicating his message. When I was writing his speech to the UN General Assembly, the biggest stage for sharing a country’s foreign policy, the Blue House made it clear that Green Growth should be a focus. Internally, President Lee made staff changes that reflected its commitment to laying out a serious agenda, bringing back from the UN Chung Rae-kwon, a so-called godfather of Green Growth who pushed the first high-level regional declaration on Green Growth in 2005, and appointing him Climate Change Ambassador. Later on, when I was negotiating the resolution that established Rio+20, we had clear instructions from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to push Green Growth as a main theme – we incidentally ended up with Green Economy, still a victory for both Korea and the rest of the world. Then in 2010, Korea created the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) to drive progress and move toward a sustainable paradigm of growth. These efforts were all in tandem with Korea’s domestic policies, including setting unilateral emissions reduction targets and making strong investment in cleantech (with the goal of capturing 10 percent of the market for new and renewable energy technologies by 2020). These proactive decisions ultimately allowed Korea to reshape its image as a leader with the credibility needed to host the Green Climate Fund.



We can take away several lessons from Korea’s success. First, let knowledge inform your choices and define who you are. From the beginning, it made a decision at the highest levels to take a look at the science and its economic future in order to develop a strategy. Even if the world wasn’t aware of it, Korea was who it said it was. Korea couldn’t expect to get to the next step if it wasn’t sincere. The same lesson can be applied to Corporate Social Responsibility plans and political candidates – if their actions don’t reflect their words, progress is impossible. Second, once you have a message, start sharing it through the right channels. Having a digital presence is important, pitching media matters, but every campaign is different. In this case, Korea wasn’t just trying to convince the public of its suitability. It had to win over experts, diplomats and their governments. It had to win over the GCF Board of Trustees and make its name synonymous with Green Growth. It did try to energize the public, enlisting PSY, the K-Pop star whose recent hit has gone globally viral, but the real impact came through targeting the email lists experts subscribe to and continuing to host events over the last several years where it could showcase its contributions that lined up with the Green Climate Fund’s agenda. The net result, of course, is that Korea has solidified its position in the global community while advancing its economy and contributing to the greater good of the planet.