▲ South Korea's Minister of the Environment, Lee Maanee, visited Jeju Island in mid-July to take part in the Second Ministerial Regional Forum on Environment and Health in Southeast and East Asian Countries. Photo by Yang Ho Geun
From July 14 through 16, Jeju hosted the Second Ministerial Regional Forum on Environment and Health in Southeast and East Asian Countries, at the International Convention Center. The forum was attended by health and environment ministers and senior officials from 14 countries. Song Jung Hee, publisher of The Jeju Weekly, had an exclusive interview on July 15 with Lee Maanee, South Korea’s Minister of the Environment, who visited Jeju for the meeting. The minister served as Jeju vice-governor in 1993 and 1994 and has strong opinions on protecting the island’s environment.
Q: Many people say that hosting the 2012 World Conservation Congress will mark a milestone in Jeju’s future development. What do you think are the significance and expected effects of hosting the event?
A: Jeju’s success in winning the right to hold the World Conservation Congress was a result of the full support of governmental and nongovernmental organizations and local citizens. The fact that 1.3 million citizens locally and nationally signed a petition of support especially illustrates a strong commitment to host this event. Also in April of this year, a special law was passed by the National Assembly which stipulates the administrative and fiscal support of the central government. The goal of hosting this event in Jeju does not lie in highlighting Korea’s economic power. The world’s largest environmental convention on Jeju should set an example to the international community about how to successfully balance conservation with development, how to implement green growth policies and how to inspire citizens to get involved with environmental issues.
Jeju anticipates a big economic pay off from the convention. Before calculating its economic ripple effects, however, we need to think of its gravitational effects in terms of enhancement of our national brand image. Most importantly, we need to consider first what we can give to participants rather than what they can give to us.
Q: Jeju is working hard to make the event a success in close collaboration with the central government and local residents. Do you have any suggestions on desirable directions and steps in preparing for the WCC?
A: The success of the WCC requires a bottom-up approach which promotes participation at all levels, starting from individuals and leading up to the government. It needs to integrate concrete environmental practices that are shared by all. The WCC is not simply a conference of environmental experts, but should be a festival where various environmentally conscious activities are reflected by all. When environmental issues are concerned, there is neither I and you, nor Jeju City and Seogwipo City. Environmental issues, rather, need a shared responsibility arising from the thought that they transcend conflict situations of groups or individual benefits.
The preparation for the 2012 WCC, I think, has focused more on building a facility infrastructure. The more important thing we should remember is a strong desire and awareness of Jeju residents for environment preservation. On Jeju, even weeds should be seen as “holy” plants. I ask Jeju residents to have an intolerable guilty conscience when they do something that disrupts nature, such as destroying gotjawal forests or polluting the sea with industrial waste. That’s why there is a need for education on the environment. That, I believe, is a vital part in bringing change in people’s attitudes. That aspect has not been sufficiently addressed on Jeju.
Q: The Jeju provincial government sees 2012 WCC as an opportunity to enhance its image as a green island. What do you think of Jeju’s new vision of becoming an environmental capital of the world?
A: Jeju’s new slogan, the “environmental capital of the world”? Honestly, it seems like we are saying it but we are not doing it. The vision will be achieved only when the slogan represents the voice of residents, a voice coming voluntarily from their will and pride in their environment, not an administrative campaign slogan rendered only by the government. That’s when Jeju will mark the start of becoming a true environmental capital.
I sincerely hope that Jeju, by hosting the 2012 WCC, can achieve its vision as a green capital of the world and serve as an exemplary role model for replication elsewhere in the world.
Q: There are conflicting views on Jeju’s development and preservation. What is your opinion?
A: I believe that preservation should come first and development next. Some people are concerned that the Jeju environment is vulnerable to overdevelopment and overuse of land. I don’t think Jeju is at crisis level yet, but if development hurts Jeju’s traditional beauty, we’d be better to sacrifice the convenience that such development can offer. Jeju’s true value is in its natural beauty. Still, there is so much Jeju Island has to offer, but so little it really shows, which should lead us to consider what Jeju should present and how.
Q: Do you have any personal links to Jeju?
A: The years I spent in Jeju are very special to me. I was a vice-governor of Jeju from 1993 to 1994. It was at that time that tangerine perfume was first made because of me. I was following a pleasant fragrance blown on the wind, and found that the fragrance came from a tangerine farm. I asked my colleagues to consider making tangerine perfume. Jeju still holds a special place in my memory.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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