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Land, water and forestry

Korea's land area is about 99 thousand square kilometres, of which around two-thirds is mountains and slopes. Poorly endowed with mineral resources, Korea depends on foreign imports for every major mineral except tungsten. About 65 per cent of the land area is forest, about 21 per cent is farmland, and the rest is used for housing, industry, etc. Since 1972 the government has tried to organize land use through the Comprehensive National Physical Development Plans. The first plan, which covered 1972-1981, aimed to establish growth-poles by concentrating industrial and social infrastructure investment in a few chosen areas. This growth-pole policy has contributed to population concentration, regional disparities and environmental degradation. The second plan (1982-1991) introduced the concept of Integrated Regional Settlement Areas, aiming to reduce urbanization and regional disparities, but has met with little success.

The annual renewable water resources in Korea are estimated to be about 63 km3. The annual withdrawal in 1976 was 10.7 km3, of which 75 per cent was taken up by the agricultural sector 14 per cent by the industrial sector, and 11 per cent for domestic use (Table 22.1, WRI 1992). Despite relatively plentiful water resources, there are growing concerns about availability of water due to pollution.

Even though 65 per cent of its land is forest, Korea imports large amounts of forestry products (about 1.4 billion dollars worth or 1.7 per cent of total imports in 1991). Massive tree cutting by the Japanese during the colonial period and centuries of firewood collection, especially during the period after the liberation to the Korean War when there was no effective government protection of forest, left most of the hillsides denuded in the 1950s except in remote areas. The consequences were dire: massive landslides, severe flooding and soil erosion inflicted heavy economic losses. As the demand for marginal land increased, the problem was further exacerbated. This vicious cycle of poverty continued until early 1960s.

In the 1960s the government banned the use of firewood and concentrated on erosion control. But the real turning point was the Ten-Year Forest Development Plan instituted in 1973 which called for rapid reforestation of the entire country. It was completed in just six years and a total of over 1 million hectares (15 per cent of the forest land) was planted. While this was an impressive achievement, the emphasis on fast-growing trees to achieve rapid reforestation meant low quality forest. This problem was addressed by the second Ten-Year Plan (1979-1988) under which 80 large-scale commercial plantations on 0.4 million hectares have been created and a total of over 1 million hectares have been planted. As a result of these efforts, the forest growing stock increased from 61.7 million m3 in 1970 to 216.4 million m3 in 1988 and the average stock volume rose from 10.4 m3 to 33.3 m3 per hectare during the same period (Chung et al 1990). However, since the newly planted trees are yet to mature, so far timber production has not increased.

The success of the reforestation campaign is a result of both vigorous government action and the rapid economic growth. The government mobilized the entire nation, from school children to corporate executives, for the tree-planting campaign as well as increasing its expenditures on the forest sector. It also designated private land as forest area and required the owner of the designated land to replant the land (as if it had never heard that establishing clear property rights can solve the problem of environmental externalities!). These forceful government actions might not have been as successful had it not been for rapid economic development which allowed substitution of firewood by other fuels and imports of timber and wooden materials. But of course the substitution of fuel means substitution of one kind of environmental problem for another, and wood imports from Malaysia and the US mean trees cut down there instead of in Korea.


Agricultural production in Korea increased 3.0 per cent per annum during 1965-1980 and 2.8 per cent per annum during 1980-1990; in per capita terms 0.8 per cent and 1.7 per cent, respectively. Nonetheless its share in GDP declined from 38 per cent in 1965 to 9 per cent in 1990, since the growth in the industrial and the service sector was far higher. Over the years the key policy goals in agriculture have been self-sufficiency in rice and the expanding production of vegetables, fruits, meat and milk products to accommodate changing food consumption patterns due to rising incomes. These goals have been successfully achieved, but Korea still remains a major importer of such agricultural products as wheat, corn and soybeans.

Due to the high population density Korean agriculture is characterized by extremely intensive utilization of land. The average cultivated area per farm household is only 1.2 hectare. The increase in rice production was achieved by extracting one of the highest rice yields through rapid increases in the application of chemicals along with the introduction of high-yield varieties. Fertilizer consumption in 1990 was 425 kg/ha, one of the highest in the world (Table 18.2, WRI 1992). It grew rapidly until early 1970s, at around 8 per cent a year, but since 1973 its growth rate slowed down to 1 per cent. Consumption of pesticides grew much faster in the earlier periods - around 26 per cent per year up till 1973 (Ban et al 1980) and did not slow down by much later. Between the 1975-77 and 1982 84 period the average annual consumption of pesticides rose from 4675 tons to 12,273 tons, an annual growth rate of 14.8 per cent (ibid). The intensity of fertilizer and pesticide use has led to a severe contamination of groundwater, rice fields and crops with heavy metals like cadmium and mercury (Bello and Rosenfeld, 1990:96-98).

Rice cultivation depends a plentiful water supply. During the colonial rule the Japanese engaged in massive irrigation development and, as a result, over 40 per cent of rice paddy acreage in Korea was irrigated even in the early 1950s. By the mid-1970s this had risen to 70 per cent. While irrigation has contributed to increasing the agricultural production, construction of dams and salinization of soil present new problems.

Environmental Pollution

This section documents some of the salient aspects of the environmental pollution in Korea. The reliability of the data is a problem. Although the government publishes wide-ranging data on the environment, frequently there are significant discrepancies between the government figures and the figures reported by private researchers. For the sake of convenience I rely on the government figures.

Air pollution and acid rain

The two major air pollutants in Seoul and other big cities are sulphur dioxide and total suspended particulates as one might expect in a typical middle-income country. The existing data indicate that the concentration of these pollutants peaked around 1980 in most cities. The reduction in the concentration of SO2 in the ambient air during the 1980s, by almost one half in Seoul, resulted from a belated government policy to require the use of low-sulphur oil in industries and liquefied natural gas in large buildings, and the enforcement of auto emission standards, etc (Chung et al 1990). But this is no cause for celebration. According to a WHO study Seoul had the highest SO2 content in the ambient air among the major cities in the world (Hepinstall, 1985:70). More recent data reported in World Resources 1990-91 show Seoul still in the third place in terms of the average number of days in a year with SO' over 150 g/m3, trailing only

Shenyang and Teheran (Table 24.5 in WRI 1990). Besides, due to the extremely fast increase in the number of automobiles, concentrations of carbon monoxide and nitrous oxides are expected to rise rapidly. (Currently, they hover around the Korean environmental standards which are less stringent than the international standards).

Air pollution has caused a trend of acidification of the rainfall: for example, between 1985-87 the pH level of the rainfall declined from 5.5 to 5.1 in Seoul, 5.4 to 5.3 in Taegu, and 5.0 to 4.9 in Ulsan (Environment Administration 1988). As a result, there is a serious acidification of soil in Seoul and other large cities. The pH level within 20 km of the city centre in Seoul is below 4.5 and within 50 km is below 5.0. The industrial complex area in Ulsan shows a pH level between 4.0 and 4.5 (Lee 1992). Due to acid rain and acidification of soil there is a severe damage to forest in the entire Seoul metropolitan area. For example, about a half of the tree species in the Secret Garden, an old palace in downtown area, have disappeared in the last five years. The destruction of forest has also caused a drastic decline in insect species: the number of insect species collected in Seoul fell to 459 in 1970 and down to only 90 in 1980 from 510 in 1960 and 519 in 1950 (ibid).

CO2 emissions in Korea increased at 9.0 per cent per annum during 1971-1982 and 7.3 per cent during 1983-1988, compared with 1.8 per cent and 2.3 per cent in the world during the same periods. Per capita CO2 emissions in Korea reached 1.4 tons in 1988, surpassing the world average of 1.2 tons, and is expected to reach 3.6 tons by 2030 (Ryu et al 1991).

Pollution of water

Rivers and coastal seas in Korea are heavily contaminated from municipal sewage, industrial waste water and agricultural runoff, much of which is discharged without treatment. All the important rivers, which are the major source of drinking water, are of second rate or poorer quality in terms of biological oxygen deman level. There are grave concerns about the contamination of the tap water with toxic heavy metals, even as the proportion of the population receiving piped water is increasing fast (25 per cent in 1967 to 68 per cent in 1987; 98 per cent in Seoul). The tributaries near the urban centres are so contaminated that their water cannot be used even for industrial purposes.

The water quality in the Han river, the water supply source for the Seoul metropolitan area, has been a major concern. Due to population concentration in the region, the Han river is heavily polluted there and the fish population disappeared long ago. The situation has improved somewhat after several sewage treatment plants were opened in 1987 and 1988 as part of the Han River Basin Environmental Master Project. Until then there was only one treatment plant in the area with the treatment capacity of less than half a million tons per day compared to 3 - million tons of daily waste water. Despite the expansion of the treatment capacity there are still problems due to the lack of a separate sewer system overflow of storm water into waste water (Chung et al 1990). Moreover, the water quality in the upstream Han river as well as in other major rivers is deteriorating. In the nation as a whole only about a third of the municipal sewage was being treated at the end of 1991. The government plans to raise the treatment rate up to 65 per cent by 1996 (The Government of ROK 1992).

While municipal sewage contains mostly organic materials, industrial wastewater contains much more toxic materials like heavy metals. Even though the government has set the standards for pollution-abatement facilities for industrial waste water, non-compliance is widespread: in 1989 the inspection by the Environment Administration found noncompliance in almost 20 per cent of the cases. Industrial complex areas like Kuro and Ulsan are severely contaminated with cadmium, copper, lead, mercury and other heavy metals. As many industrial complexes are located near the coastal areas, coastal contamination has become a serious problem. In the coastal sea of Ulsan, for example, concentration of lead and mercury was found at three times the legal limit and concentration of copper 47 times the legal limit.

Solid and hazardous waste

Inside Korea it is often said that Koreans top the world in discharging domestic solid waste. According to the Environment Administration data, in 1989 per capita domestic solid waste in Korea was 2.2 kg/day. This is far greater than in most of the OECD countries (for example, 1.1 kg/day in Japan, 0.8 kg/day in France, 1.0 kg/day in the UK) with the sole exception of the US (2.4 kg/day), although due to variations in the definition of waste it cannot be regarded as a strictly valid comparison (Table 21.4, WRI 1992). From this already very high level, it is still increasing rapidly: during 1984-1989 the average annual growth rate was over 6 per cent, compared to 1.5 per cent during 1980-90 in OECD countries. The principal reason for the high level of municipal waste is the widespread use of coal briquettes for heating and cooking: burned coal briquettes accounted for 40 per cent of the total in the nation and 28 per cent in Seoul. But even after subtracting burned coal briquettes, per capita domestic waste in Korea is 1.3 kg/day, very high by the international standards. As coal briquettes are being replaced by substitutes such as liquefied natural gas, the increase in municipal waste is expected to slow down and perhaps stabilize around the year 2000.

Disposal of domestic solid waste in Korea poses an important environmental hazard. In 1989 94 per cent of the total was disposed by landfill, 1.9 per cent was incinerated and only 2.9 per cent was recycled. Both the landfill and incineration are carried out mostly without any measures to10 The actual non-compliance rate is certain to be much higher, since often a cover-up goes on as the surveillance crew is obstructed at the entrance. Most of the small and medium sized firms are not equipped with anti-pollution facilities, and even the large-scale firms frequently resort to illegal dumping as in the case of Doosan contain environmental damage. In addition, existing landfill sites are quickly used up due to increasing amount of waste, while it is getting increasingly difficult to find new ones.

Industrial solid waste is increasing even more rapidly: during 1984 1989 it increased by about 13 per cent per annum. The designated (hazardous) industrial waste, which accounts for about 4 per cent of the total industrial waste, increased by 23 per cent per annum. In addition large quantities of toxic industrial waste, 560 thousand tons in 1989 according to the government figure, are imported as 'recyclables'. In 1989 when about 58 thousand tons of industrial waste was discharged daily, 53.9 per cent of it was recycled, 29.4 per cent dumped in landfills and 3.3 per cent incinerated. The low standards under which the industrial waste is disposed of and the widespread illegal dumping of toxic industrial wastes have created serious environmental hazards, the full extent of which is not known.


In principle, economic development need not necessarily cause environmental degradation. Since economic growth is accompanied by structural and technical changes which have independent effects on the environment apart from the pure growth effect, if the structural and technical changes are in the right direction they can offset the adverse impact of growth on the environment. Moreover, environmental impact is not a scalar variable: during the course of economic growth certain environmental problems associated with poverty can be ameliorated even as new problems surface. In fact, countries at different stages of development show different patterns of environmental problems (World Bank, 1992:10-11; Beckerman 1992).

In low-income economies the main environmental problems concern natural resources, especially deforestation and soil erosion, and lack of access to safe water. These problems tend to decline as income increases. In middle-income economies the main environmental problems are those created by industrialization, airborne and water-discharged pollutants arising from power generation, land transportation and industrial production (TSP, SO2, Pb, BOD, etc). These second-phase problems tend to worsen initially but then improve as income rises, although the improvement is not automatic. However, some environmental problems such as toxic wastes, municipal wastes, pesticide runoff and emissions of CO2 and NOX continue to worsen as income rises. These are the third phase problems associated with developed countries.

Some of the indicators of environmental stress reviewed above suggest that Korea is no exception to the general pattern outlined above. The rapid rise in income allowed a great improvement in such first-phase problems as deforestation, safe water supply and sanitation. At the same time, the rapid industrialization has created menacing pollution problems which were unknown only a few decades ago. During the 1960s and the 1970s the discharge of the second-phase pollutants increased enormously due to the structural and technical changes associated with industrialization. For example, during 1965-1979 the emission of sulphur oxides increased by ninefold while GDP increased by three and a half times. In the 1980s the government began to address pollution problems, and as a result some local improvements, such as air quality in Seoul and water quality in the Han river, were achieved. At the same time, toxic wastes, municipal wastes and CO2 emissions rose rapidly, indicating the advent of the third phase environmental problems. In the late 1980s solid industrial waste and waste water increased at about 20 per cent per annum.

That the Korean experience with environmental problems broadly conforms to the 'succession' model does not mean that all is well. Some third-phase problems are already more severe than in the developed countries (eg municipal wastes) or expected to be so in the near future (eg CO2 emissions), while the second-phase problems do not yet show signs of significant improvement. Table 9.4, which reports the results of an expanded input-output analysis by Rhee (1991), shows that such second phase pollutants as SO2, TSP and BOD increasing at a slightly faster pace than the already very high GDP growth rate during the period 1980-86. It is true that they are not increasing nearly as fast as they were in the earlier period, nor in comparison to third-phase pollutants like industrial and municipal wastes. However, it is also clear that Korea has yet to deal with the second-phase pollutants effectively.

Table 9.4 Causes of increasing emission of pollutants 1980-1986

Industrial waste

Pollutants Designated General BOD COD SOx TSP NO'`
1980 emission
(000, tons)
1053 10082 1048 896 422 291 136
1986 emission 2108 18947 1775 1571 696 512 228
% increase 100.0 87.9 69.4 75.4 65.0 76.1 67.9
growth effect 64.0 64.0 64.0 64.0 64.0 64.0 64.0
Structural change effect (%)
(Domestic demand)
1.0 1.2 -3.5 2.5 -9.0 -4.7 -7.9
(Export demand) 23.7 6.8 0.9 13.9 7.5 7.3 7.3
(Import substation) 2.2 5.3 -2.6 -8.4 1.3 1.1 1.4
change effect
9.1 10.4 10.5 3.2 1.2 8.2 3.0

Source: Rhee (1991)

What is most striking about the Korean experience with environmental problems is the contrast between the success in dealing with the first-phase resource problems and the failure in dealing with the second-phase or third-phase pollution problems. This can be explained by the fact that the primary objective of the government was growth maximization instead of welfare maximization. Restoring the resource base, both human and natural, was seen as an essential investment, while pollution abatement was considered as luxury consumption. Therefore the success of reforestation programmes, public health and population control programmes in Korea can be understood along the same lines as its success in educating its labour force. A relatively well educated and healthy labour force was to become the backbone of economic growth, while curbing population growth and controlling soil erosion were necessary to minimize foreign exchange drains on food imports. Korea's excellent achievements in these areas are a testimony to the capacity of its state. When necessary, the state went far beyond setting public spending policies and regulations, mobilizing public participation with massive campaigns and even riding rough-shod over individual rights as in the case of reforestation.

In contrast, pollution abatement was given little attention as the growth maximization dictated maximum support for industry and its profits. The engine of growth was not to be slowed down just because of some adverse side effects! The automobile industry provides a good example of this logic. As discussed earlier, the irrationality of a transportation system which relies heavily on passenger cars is painfully clear in Korea. However, rather than devising a rational transportation system that can move the people and goods most efficiently, the government enthusiastically supported the expansion of the automobile industry on the grounds that it is strategically important due to its backward linkage effects.

Both the public sector and the private sector expenditure on environment show the extent of environmental neglect in Korea. As a share of GNP the government expenditure on environment was only 0.16 per cent in 1988 which is, while a sharp rise from 0.06 per cent in 1982 and virtually zero in earlier years, still negligible compared to 0.5-1.5 per cent in OECD countries. The investment in pollution abatement in the manufacturing sector represented only 0.8 per cent of the total capital investment in 1988 in comparison to 5-10 per cent in the OECD countries (Shin 1991).

Given the lack of effective environmental protection policies, Korea has developed an industrial structure which is intensive in materials and energy use and employs technologies that are highly polluting. This has nothing to do with comparative advantage based on endowment: Korea, as mentioned above, has very little energy and other natural resources. Rather, it has to do with the artificial comparative advantage created by the low valuation of 'environmental goods' at the time when increasing opposition to environmental pollution within the advanced countries led to rising environmental standards (see Sen, Chapter 8). This shows up in the pattern of foreign trade as well as the pattern of foreign direct investment.

The artificial comparative advantage is reflected in the fact that the export sector is responsible for a disproportionately large share of major pollutants. In 1986 the export sector accounted for 29.6 per cent of the final demand or 14.4 per cent of total sales. But it generated 30-50 per cent of many pollutants, 45.4 per cent of designated industrial waste and 50.6 per
cent of solid industrial waste (Kim 1990). Another piece of evidence is that the changes in the structure of export demand are, along with the technological changes, the major cause of the growth of pollutants exceeding the growth rate of GDP, whereas the effects of the changes in the structure of domestic demand and imports are mostly pollution reducing or only modestly pollution-increasing (Table 9.4).

The pattern of foreign direct investment in Korea tells the same story. Except for the electronics/electrical goods sector, the bulk of the foreign investment went to such pollution-intensive industries as chemical/ petrochemical, including fertilizers and pesticides, and metallurgy in the 1960s. The same pattern continued in the 1970s and into the 1980s, with the addition of the transportation equipment sector as a major recipient of foreign investment in the manufacturing sector and a large increase in the share of the tertiary sector due to foreign investment in hotels and finance. Foreign direct investment in pollution-intensive industries was concentrated in industrial complexes. Thus, for example, in the Ulsan/ Onsan industrial complexes, there were 31 foreign-owned firms as of 1985; 25 of them in chemical/petrochemical industries and an additional three were metal refineries. Due to this heavy concentration in pollution intensive industries the foreign firms were generating 55 per cent of the particulates and 80 per cent of the waste water containing designated hazardous pollutants, while accounting for 34 per cent of the total sales in the Ulsan/Onsan industrial complexes. They also accounted for 59 per cent of the compensation for pollution damages (Tables 4, 11, 12 & 16 in Kim 1991).


Commenting on the NICs' (Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong) experience with economic development and environment, the World Resources Institute flatly says that they are 'not a model of sustainable development, even though they are often cited as a model of economic development' (WRI, 1992:43). This claim is based on the observation that the growth in these countries was achieved at the expense of severe environmental degradation. But this argument is less than compelling because of the possibilities of technological changes as well as the policy induced or otherwise behavioural changes toward reducing the environmental impact of economic activities. Such changes, however modest, are already beginning to taking place in Korea as a result of political democratization, the rise in income and various environment-related trade regulations. In fact, the gist of the optimistic view on development and environment is that not only are such changes possible, perhaps with strong government action, without sacrificing growth, but that economic growth will make it easier to pay for such changes (for example, World Bank 1992). Many would even argue that economic growth is the only answer to environmental problems (for example, Beckerman 1992; Baldwin 1993). From such a point of view there is little to be concerned about in Korea's environmental record.

Given the tremendous uncertainty about the effects of environmental degradation and the future possibilities in clean technologies, it seems impossible to make any conclusive judgment on whether the Korean model of development is sustainable. The usual difficulties in assessing sustainability is, in the case of Korea, compounded by the lack of data on the effects of environmental degradation, not to mention any sophisticated economic valuation of such effects. While horror stories abound about chemical poisoning of workers and farmers, increasing respiratory diseases among urban residents breathing polluted air, damages to crops and fisheries near industrial complexes and so on, a comprehensive picture on the economic costs of pollution is not yet available.

The growth record of Korea so far does not show any evidence of environmental constraints: decade average growth rates are roughly the same over the last three decades (see Table 9.1). It may, however, be noted that the high growth rates have been maintained by devoting an increasing share of output to investment (implying a rise in the capital output ratio). Gross domestic fixed capital formation as a share of GNP averaged 23.9 per cent during 1965-73, 29.8 per cent during 1973-81, and 30.6 per cent during 1981-90. The Seventh Five-Year Plan (1992-96) recognizes this trend and plans only(!) 7.5 per cent annual growth with the average investment share of 36.4 per cent during the plan period (The Government of ROK 1992). If this trend continues, the growth rate will inevitably decline in the future. It is, however, impossible to tell how important a role environmental degradation has been and will play in raising the capital-output ratio.

Although nothing definite can be said about the sustainability of the Korean model at the local level, one must not forget the global implications of extending the Korean model to the entire developing world. Of course, it would be ludicrous to scapegoat Korea (for that matter, even China) for the global environmental threat. After all, most developed countries have followed a similar historical pattern and continue to put an enormous burden on the world's environmental resources and space. The global problem must be dealt with at a global level and there is no question that the North must take the bulk of the burden in any equitable solution. But at the same time, it is not conceivable that we can find a solution to the global problem without changing our notion of what a successful development is.

It is not primarily because of its implications on the global sustainability that we must reject the Korean model as the general model of development to be emulated by the less developed countries. There are other reasons to question the desirability, or indeed the rationality, of the Korean model. First and foremost, economic growth should not be taken as an end in itself. This is not to deny the tremendous contribution to the material well-being that the economic growth in Korea has made. Rather, the point is that the relentless pursuit of growth maximization in Korea resulted in sub-optimal welfare and, therefore, is irrational. Growth maximization plus lack of democracy meant that local needs were trampled upon, avoidably and senselessly. The persecution of environmentalists and the suppression of public discussion on environmental problems under the authoritarian government (even mentioning the pollution situation in public was monitored and regarded as treacherous) suggest that the welfare costs of environmental degradation were grossly undervalued to say the least (Kim 1991; Bello and Rosenfeld 1990). The fact that a number of environmental stress indicators in Korea are at the high end of the spectrum bolsters this argument.

It might be argued that clean environment is a luxury good, and, as such, should not be given importance at the early stages of development. However, given the wide scope of environmental externalities, the political conditions that determine whose voices will be heeded are as important as the level of income in deciding how a society will treat its environment. Since the beginning of democratization in the late 1980s, there has been a remarkable surge in environmental protests and environment-oriented organizations. This suggests that the tolerance limit for environmental degradation was reached long ago but people were bulldozed into accepting the authoritarian state priorities.

The irrationality of untrammelled growth lies not only in its failure to maximize the welfare of the current generation. A strategy of 'growth first, environment later' can be cost inefficient, since 'it is often cheaper to prevent environmental degradation than to attempt to 'cure' it later', as the World Bank observes (1992:40). That is, if indeed Korea decides to clean up the mess. But the real problem is that the commitment to clean up is not easily forthcoming. Although as a consequence of growing environmental protests, narrow economic efficiency no longer reigns supreme, it is still true that the growth objective frequently overrides environmental concerns. For example, after ordering desulphurization facilities in the late 1970s, the government postponed its implementation until 1985 in the face of a threat from oil refineries that they would raise prices by 20 percent (Bello and Rosenfeld, 1990:99). Another example concerns regulation of foreign direct investment. On paper, there is a law that prohibits foreign investment in pollution-intensive industries specified by the Ministry of Environment. But it has remained just a piece of paper, because the official list has not been promulgated. Once the Environment Administration actually made up a list, but it was discarded by the cabinet meeting (Kim 1991).

The 'growth first, environment later' policy may be self-defeating. After decades of environmental degradation, a rather drastic change of priorities has become necessary in Korea. But the Korean people have become addicted to rapid growth (they talk of a 'total crisis' when the growth rate falls to 6-7 per cent a year!) and are deeply motivated to stay ahead of competition and catch up with the North. It is doubtful that they will accept in the near future any significant reduction in growth in exchange for a cleaner environment. An indication of this is the extremely poor market performance of the products sold with the 'green mark' in Korea. Decades of 'growth at the expense of the environment' does not make the best experience with which to begin 'growth with environmental care' or 'sustainable development'.

Many economists will find the expression 'addiction to growth' outrageously paternalistic, since it implies that there is an irrational element in the preference for growth. But that is precisely the situation. The case of automobiles is an excellent example. The government promotes domestic car sales in support of the industry and the country ends up with a totally irrational transportation system. People are flocking to buy cars even though they realize that they cannot commute by driving because of the incredible traffic congestion and the weekend getaways usually turn sour with aggravating struggles on the road. They have to have them, because everyone else has: because, without them, they feel inadequate, because that is the 'advanced' way of life. In a poor country there is no question that growth is of paramount importance in enhancing people's lives. But after a certain level of material necessities and comfort is achieved, growth may cease to be so. The rise of the environmental movement in Korea does give some hope that the 'growth addiction' may be cured in the future. At present, however, it is largely dominated by the not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) mentality rather than a deep questioning of the nature of growth in Korea.


The Korean model of development was founded on a developmentalist authoritarian state which was able to pursue growth maximization forcing the Korean people to accept suppression of political and labour rights, growing social inequities and severe environmental degradation. Therefore, the laudable growth performance is found somewhat wanting when we look at its welfare consequences. Especially when we embrace the imperative of sustainable development, Korea can no longer be regarded as an unmitigated success.

Korea has developed an industrial structure which is intensive in materials and energy use and employs technologies that are highly polluting as a result of the virtual non-existence of environmental regulations. Consequently, the rate of increase in pollutants has been higher than the world record-setting growth rate. In addition, Korean agriculture is one of the most intensive in fertilizer and pesticide use. The problems of municipal waste, toxic waste and nuclear waste have become critical with increasing difficulties in finding new dump sites or storage facilities.

But Korea is not without successes even in its environmental record. Its record in curbing population growth is one of the best in the world, its reforestation programme one of the more spectacular successes, and it has done a decent job of providing safe water and sanitation. These successes in dealing with the first-phase resource problems contrast with their rather dismal record on the pollution problem. Both are, however, consistent with growth maximization at least within the time horizon the government has had. In so far as the success with the first-phase problem was just one facet of Korea's extraordinary ability to expand the economy, it cannot be taken as an indication that Korea will be successful in dealing with the secondand third-phase pollution problems. In fact, some third phase problems are already extremely severe and rapidly worsening while the second-phase problems are not yet significantly improving.

It is true that the past growth in Korea has raised its ability to pay for the environmental protection. In addition, since the beginning of political democratization in 1987, the environmental movement is growing rapidly in Korea and has been able to force the government to be a little more attentive to the environment. However, economic growth ranks far above
the hierarchy of government objectives and the Korean people are deeply addicted to growth. Even the environmental movement is mostly of NIMBY sort. It is difficult at present to imagine Korea getting serious about the environment in the near future. Given the radical uncertainty about the effects of environmental degradation, it is not possible to make a firm judgment on whether the Korean model of development is locally sustainable. However, based on the observations made above, we can be quite confident in questioning its rationality. It is the conclusion of this chapter that the Korean model of development should not be 'the model' of development even though it can serve as a source of lessons for bringing economic growth to the South. Its growth maximization objective must be replaced by welfare maximization, which would mean, among other things, pursuing 'growth with environmental care' rather than 'growth at the expense of environmental degradation.'


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