University YMCA in Seoul: Climate action

Date: 20 December 2023

Opinion: Heading towards carbon neutrality, is the government going neutral also?

By Suhyeon Um, Seohyun Park, Suji Yun, Yeonji Lee, Bohun Kang

University YMCA in Seoul (Climate Crisis Team), YMCA Korea

Human society has entered the golden age thanks to the development of technology. However, as technology advances, Mother Earth’s faith is heading in the opposite direction. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), under the United Nations (UN), announced that there is a 66% likelihood that the global average temperature will exceed the 1.5°C reference point by 2027. So, what should humanity do to deal with the climate crisis?

In our daily lives, many of us might be familiar with climate actions that we can all practise, such as recycling, reducing disposable products, using public transportation, and avoiding meat products. However, resolving the climate crisis solely through individual efforts is a challenge.

Greenhouse gases, a direct cause of the climate crisis, are primarily generated in energy sectors such as oil and coal power plants, and most of the energy resources are consumed in the industrial sector. It has been stated that 20 global companies account for 35 per cent of the world’s total carbon emissions, and the top 10 Korean companies’ greenhouse gas emissions account for 46 per cent of the country’s total carbon emissions. Additionally, most of these companies were found to be major energy corporations or state-led power generation energy companies.

Sorae Wetland Ecological Park

The University YMCA in Seoul (Climate Crisis Team) tried to learn more about the climate crisis and to promote climate action to the citizens of Seoul. Our team organized a one-day ‘dark tour’ in Seoul to observe the devastation of the climate crisis at this point. The tour included visiting the mudflats, a marine ecosystem; Incheon’s industrial complex; and Songdo, a landfilled residential area which could be especially vigilant against climate change. During the tour, we tried to conduct citizen interviews and plogging (combining environmental work with outdoor exercise).

For our first destination, we visited the Sorae Wetland Ecological Park. The Sorae Wetland Ecological Exhibition Hall features accessible exhibits regarding the various organisms inhabiting the wetlands, the importance of mud flats and wetlands, and their influence on humankind. One particularly noteworthy point was the bird observatory on the third floor of the exhibition hall, which provided a panoramic scenery of the port of Sorae and the surrounding mud flats.

There was a bird-watching observatory in the middle, where we could closely observe the migratory birds flying over the wetlands. During our visit, we had an opportunity to observe egrets engaging in feeding activities in the restored wetland on-site. The ecological park also featured an educational area utilising non-functioning salt fields.

Wetlands naturally purify water, earning the nickname “nature’s kidneys”. In addition, wetlands offer various benefits, such as flood prevention, coastal erosion control, and groundwater recharge. They are ecologically valuable and contribute to creating beautiful and unique aesthetic landscapes.

Sorae Port fish market

After visiting the ecological park, we saw the Sorae Port fish market to discover the damage caused by the flooding in August 2023. We interviewed two fishermen who have worked in the Sorae Port for a lifetime. Fortunately, we had an opportunity to hear Sorae’s voice. Our interviewees, the two fishermen, were attentive to the issues in Sorae Port, including the environmental issues.

Beginning with the interview on Sorae Port fish market inundation, we could easily imagine the damage to merchants in Sorae Port, as we heard that the flood was high enough for water to enter their boots. The first interviewee emphasised the role of government in the environment. He stated that a practical policy should be implemented in Sorae to improve the lives of residents.

In succession, the second interviewee claimed he could feel negative environmental changes. While working in the fishing industry, he noticed the water’s surface had risen about 30cm, and he tried to pick up marine garbage. Initially, there was a policy that if someone picked up a bag of marine garbage, the government offered them incentives. However, because of cases of policy abuse, it was suspended. Therefore, he mentioned the necessity of policy that could induce public participation to reduce pollution without policy abuse. 

As a result of the interview, the interviewees agreed that the primary agent and responsibility for environmental pollution is the ‘government,’ and they wanted a substantial voice.

Interviewing Songdo citizens

In the Central Park, a resting place for many Songdo residents, we conducted climate response campaigns and interviews with Songdo residents. The campaign recommended that citizens living in Songdo, on the verge of flooding due to rising sea levels, raise awareness of climate response and inform governments and businesses of their responsibility in the climate crisis. Furthermore, we recommended they be aware of the problem of the climate crisis through examples of climate response by domestic and foreign governments and companies.

One citizen who participated in the interview mentioned the Korean government’s colour replacement of civil defence suits to turquoise green. He pointed out the unnecessary waste of the government budget and the environmental destruction caused by this decision. He mentioned that the government should set an example for the citizens to respond to the climate crisis and continually contemplate ways to reduce the waste of resources.

Team members go plogging

While some of our teammates conducted interviews and campaigns, others went plogging at Sorae Port and Songdo Central Park. We picked up 50 litres and 20 litres of trash at each site within an hour. 

Among the trash dumped on the side of the road, cigarette butts took up the most significant portion, followed by many paper cups, plastic bottles, and disposable cups from nearby coffee shops. The trash was thrown away by the passing citizens of the commercial district, especially in Sorae Port. Looking at the lack of trash cans in the vicinity and the absence of smoking areas, we felt the urgent need for the government and local government to play a significant role in solving the problem of garbage neglect. Our local governments must actively manage and create a commercial environment, such as building designated smoking areas and arranging trash cans in precise locations.

In the BIT zone

Our final destination was the Bio-information technology industry zone (BIT zone). There are several factory sites, including the Gyeongsin Songdo plant, Daeyang Electric Industrial Plant 3, and Celltrion Plant 1 and 2. Moreover, the KEPCO Songdo Substation and Incheon Songdo public sewage treatment plant are located in the BIT zone. By visiting the industry, we could see how much responsibility corporates bear regarding environmental issues.

From this dark tour, the University YMCA in Seoul (Climate Crisis Team) recognised the solemn responsibility of the government and industry sector regarding climate crisis issues. This tour allowed us to understand the importance of wetlands as an ecological treasure land and listen to the voices of locals through Sorae and Songdo resident interviews. Moreover, we recognised the seriousness of trash disposal on street walks through plogging events. After visiting the factory sites, we had time to consider how much companies contribute to eco-friendly activities despite the insistence of ESG management of major industries. 

In particular, as a member of Uni YMCA, we felt this generation of young people should be the leader in raising awareness of the climate crisis and sharing our thoughts on the problem. We must take a further step by requesting the local government to provide the necessary policies and for organisations to advocate our “environmental rights as human rights.” Last (but not least), we want to state the following phrase: Climate crisis responsibility, it is time for the government’s response!