Initiatives & EventsPast Events

  • Green Transition Public Forum: Cities Beyond Cities on 22 July 2021

The EU-Korea Climate Action project together with the Institute for Green Transformation organized the ‘Green Transition Public Forum: Cities Beyond Cities’ on 22 July 2021. This forum was aimed to explore current situations and challenges of responding to climate change under Korea’s weak local autonomy and centralized political system as well as to discuss suggestions and good examples to expand greener and more affordable mobility and housing for local communities. The invited speakers and panelists are listed in table below:


Session 1:
Climate Crisis - Rebuilding Local Autonomy and Decentralization
  • Ji-an Kim, Activist Researcher, Green Transition Youth Group
  • Seung-Kyu Huh, President, Youth Sympathy Network of Andong City
  • Seon-hee Cho, Chairperson, Special Committee on Climate Crisis Response, Incheon Metropolitan Council; Former President, Incheon Women's Association
  • Sang-hoon Lee, Head, Taskforce Team for Green New Deal and Climate Crisis Response, Metropolitan and Provincial Council Chairs Association of Korea
Session 2: 
Housing for Climate and Citizens
  • Na-kyung Lee, Activist Researcher, Green Transition Youth Group
  • Yoon-young Kim, Activist, Korean People’s Solidarity Against Poverty
  • Sanne de Wit, Head of ideas, Energiesrpong Foundation, The Netherlands
Session 3: 
Civil Action for Car-Free Cities
  • Trey Park, Activist Researcher, Green Transition Youth Group
  • Hyeon-gyeong Mun, Representative, Small Step for the Earth
  • Ah-ram Chae, Researcher, Local Regeneration Research Group, Architecture and Urban Research Institute
  • Xavier Matilla, Chief Architect, Barcelona City Council, Spain


Session 1: Climate Crisis - Rebuilding Local Autonomy and Decentralization

Ji-an Kim, Activist Researcher, Green Transition Youth Group

The first speaker, Ji-an Kim delivered her presentation on climate crisis and grassroots autonomy. She addressed the importance of local autonomy in responding to climate change, the current status in Korea and the methods to strengthen the local autonomy. Having emphasized climate change exacerbates the inequality problem, she said that a local safety net, entities to diagnose the problems, and networks are needed to respond to climate change and the Pandemic. She explained that the role of entities can be played by community groups including grassroots, but unfortunately, many community organizations have been disappearing. She also pointed out that despite the fact that local governments are more efficient than the central government in delivering public services to the local people,  local governments are still largely dependent on the central government financially and psychologically in Korea. She argued that local autonomy and a decentralized political system should be re-established in Korea based on the following four elements: community’s direct participation, local autonomy, local media, and election. 


Seung-Kyu Huh, President, Youth Sympathy Network of Andong City

The second presenter, Seung-kyu Huh, discussed the limitations of the local political system in Korea and how to reform it in order to include climate change as a main political agenda. He argued that the role of decentralized governance is to support the political equality and facilitate equal participation of the people, however, there are current limitations in the system in Korea characterized by a poor proportional representation in politics, the suppressed youth suffrage, and regional elections without debates. He also agreed on the needs for re-establishing local autonomy and strengthening the decentralized political system through initiating changes from scratch and reforming the political system such as allowing village party and reconsidering the multi-member constituency. Through these efforts, he said local politics can change in the direction to overcome inequality and connect local communities in the direction of mainstreaming the climate change agenda. 


Discussions started after the two presentations. Sang-hoon Lee stressed that decentralized problem-solving processes are needed to address various social problems as the approach provides greater power to citizens. He also suggested to develop public-private or private-private cooperation models to enhance decentralization. Seon-hee Cho agreed with the speakers that more diverse representation should be allowed in the decision-making system by pointing out that political parties are predominately represented by males over 50 years of age. 


Session 2: Housing for Climate and Citizens

Na-kyung Lee, Activist Researcher, Green Transition Youth Group

Na-kyung Lee delivered a keynote speech on housing rights as a solution to prepare for the climate crisis. Having stressed that climate change affects the people without proper housing more significantly, she said strong housing policies are needed to protect them. She said the definition of housing must be expanded to embrace good living conditions such as green space, local community, and public spaces, which help increase the climate resilience of people. She shared the case of Bromma Stockholm Airport which plans to permanently shut down the airport and transform it into a green city with 38,000 new houses. She pointed out that the main housing problem in Korea is the high concentration of housing owned by rich people and argued that proper housing environments should be ensured to everyone reflecting climate change penalizes the poor first.  


Yoon-young Kim, Activist, Korean People’s Solidarity Against Poverty

After the keynote speech, Yoon-young Kim discussed the relationship between poverty and housing. Having addressed the issues of rising housing prices and the lack of supplies of social housing in Korea, she stressed that ensuring housing rights is a minimum condition to provide safety and protection from the intensive heat and cold resulting from climate change, as well as survival from COVID-19.


Sanne de Wit, Head of ideas, Energiesrpong Foundation, The Netherlands

The last speaker of the session 2 was an EU speaker, Sanne de Wit, who introduced Energiesprong, the house energy retrofit program in the Netherlands. The key feature of the Energiesprong program is that tenants pay for their energy plan to the housing organization instead of paying for energy bills to utility companies, because the energy cost would drop to zero after the net zero energy house refurbishment by the housing organization. An energy consumption monitoring screen will be established inside the refurbished house for the tenants to check their energy consumption levels, and they will have to pay more or less for the gap in their energy consumption compared to their agreed energy plan. Energiesprong provides quality components with 30-year warranty with integrated solutions on façade, roof and integrated solar panels and all the installation with insulation. 


During the discussion and Q&A session, Yoon-young Kim provided her thoughts on the presentation delivered by Sanne de Wit. She pointed out that unlike the case in the Netherlands, Korea’s retrofit programs targeted at social housing are very limited and the renovation is usually implemented only partially instead of the whole building which would create minimal energy saving effects due to the aging status of buildings. She also expressed her concerns about an increase in the rent fee from the building renovation. Sanne de Wit responded that Energiesprong signs an agreement with the housing organization to prevent a rent increase after the retrofit. In some cases, the rent price increased a bit, but in the Netherlands and other EU member states like Germany, France, and the UK, a rent cap is placed on social housing. 

Session 3: Civil action for car-free cities

Trey Park, Activist Researcher, Green Transition Youth Group

As the first speaker of Session 3, Trey Park discussed the solutions for decarbonizing the transport sector. He pointed out that the recent transport policies in Korea predominantly focus on promoting electric vehicles (EVs), however, it can mislead electric vehicles as the only method to reduce GHG emissions in the transport sector. In fact, EVs are mostly powered with the coal-fired electricity as of now and require a big space in m2 for parking. He informed that biking is ten times more important than EVs in achieving net-zero cities and emphasized other approaches and regulations to promote net zero, such as enhancing public transportation, closing down parking spaces, improvement of pedestrian areas and biking infrastructure, etc. 

Hyeon-gyeong Mun, Representative, Small Step for the Earth

Following Park’s presentation, Heyon-geyong Mun presented about the project she initiated together with three other people to promote a decarbonized transport system in Gurye-gu, Gwangju. The project activities are largely three, which are: study the pedestrian roads and raise public awareness; promote car-free day on Earth Day, 2021; lobby for  car-free roads. More specifically, they did: examine and identify unsafe roads in their town; conduct surveys and organize workshops to raise public awareness of zero carbon and safe roads; demand for zero carbon transport to the local government; organize campaigns and events for car-free roads. Lastly, she shared the valuable lessons learned from her experience, which are: car-free activity should become a movement not a one-time event; align transportation reformation plans with local government’s carbon policy; ensure youth participation, include more diverse people in the movement; utilize media. 


Ah-ram Chae, Researcher, Local Regeneration Research Group, Architecture and Urban Research Institute

Ah-ram Chae presented about the experiment project that she participated in – ´Sleeping Giant Gunsan´. The Architecture and Urban Research Institute (AURI) was assigned to implement Gunsan Citizens Cultural Center Regeneration project authorized by the Gunsan City. At the beginning, Gunsan City and the local residents wanted a new parking lot to be built below the Center, but the AURI questioned about the actual beneficiary of the project, the GHG reduction effects, and the budget. Gunsan city and the AURI decided to run the experiment project of building a parklet which is used in a flexible way as both an open space for events and outdoor activities and a parking lot depending on the daily parking demands. This experiment was a huge success which received many positive responses from the participants and even changed the perspective of Gunsan City and the people about the needs for parking space. Ah-ram Chae shared a number of important lessons learned from this project such as advertising other practical benefits as part of the climate strategy, making continued efforts to persuade people, and demonstrating the actions instead of talking.  


Xavier Matilla, Chief Architect, Barcelona City Council, Spain

The last presentation for the session 3 was delivered by Xavier Matilla who focused on the superblocks of Barcelona City. Superblocks are opening up entire large blocks of streets to pedestrians and cyclists by restricting traffic inside their boundary. He explained about the second experiment of superblock, the monitoring indicators, and factors for the successful development. 

He started his presentation with a brief explanation about the positive results of the first experience such as reduced air pollution and car traffic, increased areas for pedestrians and social activities. Having been scaled up to cover the entire city, the second experiment designated the Cerdà street grid as the priority action area considering the high levels of pollution and traffic volumes. The main strategy applied to reduce the traffic was breaking the traffic continuity of the streets and squares. As the result, the plan will create 21 green streets, 21 squares, increase the pedestrian roads and green space by 33.4 ha and 6.6 ha respectively. Three difference levels of monitoring indicators will be applied, which are: physical transformation of the public space; influence on the people especially in the area of health and education; impact to the social and economic activities. He concluded his speech by emphasizing the importance of participation of various stakeholders and transparency of information as success factors.  

During the discussion, the moderator asked the speakers and panelists the question about what should be done to overcome the existing problems in the local community. Hyeon-gyeong Mun from Session 2 answered that more and more people have to cooperate together to promote social values such as self-subsistence, independence, and mutual caring. Ah-ram Chae responded that organizations should work together to implement ideas outside their work boundaries.

Webinar videos and presentation materials of the event can be found under the resources section of the EU-Korea Climate Action website.