South Korea | Health Advocates and Policymakers Convene at Launch of Healthy Energy Initiative

SEOUL — A diverse group of health leaders, policymakers, and civil society advocates convened at the National Assembly Building on April 5, 2018, to discuss the health impacts of energy choices and commit to the transition from fossil fuels to healthy, renewable energy at the official launch of the Healthy Energy Initiative Korea.

The half-day forum was convened by partners of the Healthy Energy Initiative Korea, including Yonsei University College of Medicine, the Korea Green Hospitals Society, Ecomom Korea, the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements (KFEM), and Solutions for Our Climate. Two Parliamentary members attended and supported the event: Shin Changhyun from the Democratic Party of Korea and member of the Environment and Labor Committee and the Special Committee on Mitigation of Fine Dust, and Sung Iljong from the Liberty Korea Party and member of the Health and Welfare Committee.

Dr. Shin Dongchun from Yonsei University College of Medicine delivered the opening remarks, followed by congratulatory remarks from former Minister of Environment Kim Myung Ja, Parliamentary members Shin and Sung, and Jennifer Wang (via video) from Health Care Without Harm, which coordinates the Healthy Energy Initiative globally.

The forum content focused on a series of presentations and moderated discussion with discussants including the journalists, academics, environmental advocates, and the aforementioned Parliamentary members.

Dr. Shin presented on the health effects of climate change and particulate matter (PM), noting that a transition to healthy energy choices is necessary to minimize harmful effects on our health and quality of life. He cited research from the U.S. showing that reducing air pollution can yield billions of dollars in health benefits, dwarfing the costs of such interventions.

Next, Ji-Un Lee, Director of KFEM’s Climate Change bureau, discussed the transition to healthy energy from fossil fuels. After giving the global context of the Paris Agreement of 2015 and the promising trajectory of renewable energy investment in recent years, Lee noted that the transition to renewable energy has started in Korea but requires increased ambition, as renewables currently account for only 5% of total energy generated compared to 40% from fossil fuels.

Joojim Kim, Lawyer and chair of Solutions for Our Climate, presented on plans for fossil fuel energy divestment from financial sectors, which has been gaining momentum all over the world. Despite clear indications that fossil energy is not a wise energy investment in the longer term, major financial groups in Korea are still investing in it. To accelerate divestment, Kim emphasized the importance of civil society engagement in creating public pressure, in addition to enhancement of regulation related to climate change and health, and enlargement of the renewable energy market.

Finally, Myung Hee Moon, Headquarter Director of Ecomom Korea, talked about their current education and health promotion work around particulate matter. Moon shared that schools in Korea only teach students what to do when PM levels are high, not what they can do to decrease PM to begin with. She suggested that education should be focused on the main causes of air pollution and climate change, and what policies are needed to solve the problem.

Last November, Yonsei University School of Medicine and Health Care Without Harm hosted in Seoul the First Asia Regional Meeting of the Healthy Energy Initiative, which kicked off the dialogue on healthy energy in Korea. Five months later, the increased level of interest and engagement from civil society, academia, and Parliament was evident at the official launch forum. Following this successful forum, Healthy Energy Initiative Korea is now focused on implementing its strategic objectives related to research, education, and advocacy to advance healthy energy choices in Korea.

Pictures from the forum:

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