New sustainability agenda – The Korea Times

Bomi Yoon

Korea must step up to the plate as an aspiring global pivotal state


By Kim Won-soo

NEW YORK — Humanity stands at an inflection point of peace or collapse. Complex global crises are taking place on multiple fronts at the same time. We are now facing a perfect storm of existential threats. The specter of nuclear winter is returning. Climate disasters are getting worse and worse. Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) are leaping ahead, essentially unchecked by either humans or institutions. Worst of all, global governance is failing when it is most needed.

This is unprecedented in the history of Planet Earth because these crises are mostly manmade. Over the last 10,000 years, human civilization has incurred an increasingly unbearable cost to our planet. I am afraid we are coming upon the point of no return, or worse, we may have already crossed it.

Unfortunately, the days ahead of us do not look good. Things will only get worse from here largely because of the excess of human civilization, particularly industrial civilization. This means what we are experiencing is in fact a crisis of civilization. Yet, our response has been profoundly lacking.

We, as humanity, have yet to take the necessary action to get off the path we are on. Unless we change the current paradigm of industrial civilization, we cannot solve this problem. Time is running out. With each passing day, we are inching toward collective suicide.

We do not have a Plan B because we do not have a Planet B. We only have one Earth. Keeping our planet safe and healthy requires all government, civil society, and private sector leaders to work together. We must transcend our differences and acknowledge our common fate.

Global leadership is in deep deficit and global governance is in great turmoil. Big powers are more intent on pursuing competition than cooperation. The U.N. Security Council’s inability to produce consensus following the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a prime example of this declining global governance.

Global governance must be restored as a matter of urgency. Multilateralism must be renewed as a primary tool for global governance. Public-private partnership must be formed to raise awareness among the public and encourage innovative thinking to correct the excessive and unsustainable course we are on. A new set of leaders are needed to address the demands of a great transformation like this. Higher education must play a crucial role.

All governments must be reminded of their responsibility to rise above narrow national and other vested interests and look to the common future of the whole humanity. We, the peoples of the world, must be reminded of our responsibility to fundamentally transform our ways of thinking, acting, and living. It calls for fundamental rethinking of our societal and political paradigms.

A first step toward achieving these goals should be to recognize that humanity is a tiny part of the nearly infinite universe filled with countless possibilities of cosmic evolution. Humanity will inevitably face even bigger questions about the universe, as our scientific and technological advancements continue.

The vastness of the universe as well as Planet Earth and human society within it compels us to profoundly reflect on the consciousness and politics that have driven human history. I hope this reflection leads to a fundamentally new and truly sustainable paradigm of human civilization. This must be our new global agenda if we are to save humanity from the looming existential crisis.

Korea has a special place and responsibilities in this journey toward sustainability. It is one of the biggest beneficiaries of industrial civilization who transformed from a least developed to an advanced economy. But in that process, Korea caused a significant damage to its natural eco-system. One study shows that if the rest of the world lived as Koreans did, humanity would need more than three and a half Earths. This is totally untenable. Now it is incumbent upon Korea to rectify its past excesses by taking the lead in reaching carbon neutrality targets as quickly as possible before 2050. It could also be a bridge that connects the haves and have-nots of technology and helps put in place optimal ethical and institutional standards to ensure meaningful human control.

Last but not least, Korea could serve as a catalyst in building a global consensus on a new global agenda. This would be a big step forward for Korea as an aspiring pivotal state. Divided we cannot make it; Together we have hope. Our future is still in our hands and it will be determined by the choices we make now. We must make the right choices. We must keep our planet safe and secure for all generations, present and future.

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