There are many reasons why UN workshops do not start on time. In Seoul, Republic of Korea, the workshop organized for accelerated phase-out of HCFC started late, because that day was "Children's day" and it was raining. But then quickly the house was full with participants.
In the opening statement to the full house I said: "The late starting of this workshop, has not affected the attendance. With the full attendance, Korea has demonstrated short-term and long-term commitment to the environment. Short term, because Koreans want to assign dedicated priority to the 'domestic environment' by taking their responsibility as parents and make their children happy by engaging themselves at home. And long term because, they are committed to saving the planet so that their children and children's children will be safe by repairing the ozone hole, and hence they did not want to miss this workshop on even on children's day".
The mood in Korea in April of 2010 was quite different as compared to what I saw 21 years back when I visited Republic of Korea for the first time. In 1989, I was on a "technology search" mission to Seoul. The Montreal Protocol had been signed and was just about to enter into force. The private sector in India where I was working thought of taking the fresh opportunity of getting new ozone-friendly technologies and remain ahead of the curve. The Western world at that time was not keen to provide latest and emerging technologies to the developing countries, so countries like India turned towards East to explore the technology cooperation and collaboration.
Korea, that time, was just waking up from their 1988 Olympic dream that Koreans made it happen. The country was upbeat. The river Han, that cuts across Seoul was clean, restored and beautified. Koreans were proud of their achievement. Wide and green banks of Han with its winding walking paths looked like an ecological marvel and jewel of the capital city of Seoul. Koreans were proud of what they had achieved and were confident of their emerging position in the world economy and their image as environment friendly nation. Koreans had done "soul searching' and translated their dream into realities.
That time I visited KIST- Korean Institute of Science and Technology- a well known technology centre established in late 1960s to realise its shining dream of Korean industrialisation. KIST became the crucible of technology development and symbol of 'rising' Korea. The government of Republic of Korea was able to reverse the brain drain in 1970s and bring back brilliant scientists and technologists from USA back to KIST to rebuild the war torn country. In KIST I discussed with the technologists there , a two-pronged approach, i.e. first, developing alternative ozone-friendly technologies as long term measures and second, making existing ODS-technologies more efficient as developing countries, at that time, still had more than 20 years to phase out ODS; and in some applications, such as Halons, ozone-friendly technologies did not yet exist.
Indeed, the Republic of Korea continued to improve the technology of halon production to meet essential needs in critical and strategic area, for example, in defence and aviation till 2009. The Montreal Protocol, I feel, represented a very practical approach to solve the global environmental problems through appropriate technology path ways without any way halting the development. Indeed, it is a global agreement for sealing the hole, but it also proved to be 'soul searching' for the technology paths in short term and long term.
This time, in 2010, mood was upbeat too but for another reason. The current President of Republic of Korea Mr. LEE MYUNG-BAK has recently launched nation-wide paradigm shift towards " Green Growth'. In the face of global crisis, the President has proclaimed that Green Growth with low carbon technology development would be mainstreamed in the national planning of Korea. He has launched a new institute called Global Green Growth Institute ,GGGI to serve as a global "hub" of ideas, new technologies and policies for the green growth initiative.
Sitting with my old friend from KIST in the original Korean restaurant in one of those winding pedestrian roads of Dongdaemun Market in Myeongdong area-my most favourite wandering place after Itaewon- and sipping my favourite rice wine Soju-Jinro and savouring Bibimpa with Kimchi, I compared the Korean moods in 1990s and 2010 . We searched the relevance of institutes like KIST and GGGI , Olympics and Green Growth, industrialisation and low carbon economy, financial crisis and political crisis and so on.
The spices in bibimbap, flavour of white kimchi and inspiration sparked by Jinro starts taking me over. I invariably end my stay there with such Seoul searching.