Nial Moores, Personal Comment, November 22nd
As part of a national Green Growth Strategy, the pursuit and promotion of renewable energy and associated technologies is being actively promoted here in the Republic of Korea. The intended speed of development has meant that some of the proposals appear to be particularly poorly-advised. In addition to massive offshore wind-farms (1) to be located in areas where there has been no formal bird surveys of which are aware, the most controversial has been the proposed development of several new tidal power-plants. There seems to be a reasonable argument for trying to generate tidal power through sluices in existing sea-walls (as now at Sihwa, and as we and others propose at Saemangeum). However, the construction of new seawalls and the reclamation of healthy tidal-flats cannot be justified on environmental, social or economic grounds.
We are therefore most encouraged to learn that public support for the proposed Ganghwa and Incheon tidal power-plants by central government is now truly ebbing away.
The Ganghwa and Incheon tidal power-plants aimed to impound the nation’s largest remaining open tidal-flats. By allowing water in at high tide and then releasing it out of synch with natural tides on the falling tide, the aim was to generate large quantities of “green energy.” In addition to the degradation of almost 20% of the nation’s remaining intertidal wetland, the tidal power-plants would have impacted the core breeding area of the globally Endangered Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor; they would have lessened the ability of these vegetated tidal-flats to act as a natural carbon sink; they would have led to the loss of livelihood of possibly thousands of local people; and they would been massively expensive.
Because of the likely environmental and social impacts probably all environmental NGOs in the nation were opposed to the project, as were several key overseas NGOs. Many academics also opposed the power-plants; as did many in the Incheon local government. Despite multiple objections, at the end of last year project proponents still applied to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) program to try to win support and additional benefits.
Fortunately, it appears that such an attempt, up to now at least, has not been successful.
Throughout 2012 too, the tidal power plant proposals have remained under constant criticism. This summer, for example, the national Ministry of Environment apparently expressed its concerns over anticipated environmental impacts of either one or both of the Incheon tidal power plants. The IUCN commissioned report on intertidal wetlands by Mackinnon et al. (2012) (developed throughout 2012, and released in September), and the IUCN World Conservation Congress (held on Jeju, also in September) both then increased national and especially global awareness of the problems of tidal-flat loss in the ROK, the Yellow Sea and throughout East Asia. Furthermore, the scientific consensus contained in this IUCN-commissioned report (2) is helping to support the growing focus of international NGOs in their support of domestic NGOs still working for Saemangeum and for the conservation of tidal-flats in the Incheon area.
Only a month after the WCC, specialist media here in the ROK reported that a meeting in mid-October expected to permit the next stage of the project was simply, “mysteriously” not held. This month, a new central government report outlining green energy funding appears to omit the tidal power-plants, and returns the emphasis to wind and solar. The construction-driven Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs also now appears to be withdrawing its support from the proposals.
As many of the texts and decisions appear unavailable for public review (or at the least are apparently very difficult to find online) it still appears unclear whether these tidal power plants have been suspended or cancelled. It is also perhaps important to note that the nation holds presidential elections next month (meaning that further changes in policy might be implemented); that there will be climate talks in Doha next week; and that the “green” Four Rivers project was initially proposed as the Grand Canal project, was then suspended, and then reappeared and has been built more or less as originally planned – dams and all.
Nonetheless, now does appear to be a rare time for cautious optimism. It is also provides a good opportunity to applaud the work of all those who have been expressing their opposition to the tidal power-plant proposals in a scientific and non-political manner. These include those in NGOs, in government and in academia. NGOs in Incheon and activists in e.g. the Ganghwa Tidal Flat Centre have led the work locally and helped to coordinate national efforts: many thanks are owed to them.
As a small organisation, Birds Korea is proud to have contributed too – by helping to raise national and domestic concerns through the 2010 Blueprint (3) through our letter to the CDM website (4); through our contributions to the IUCN 2012 report (including its translation into Korean for the IUCN); and by our regular communications with overseas NGOs – who have done much work on this and many other related issues, both publicly and behind-the-scenes.
Finally, many of us believe that the hard work for Korean birds and wetlands by overseas NGOs and international bodies like the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership is still not yet properly recognised domestically. So from me personally, and from Birds Korea as an organisation: a sincere thank you too to those key individuals and organisations!
1. For a cautionary comment on wind-farms, please see the Korea Times article by Tim Edelsten:
2. For more on Mackinnon et al. 2012, please see:
3. Please see the article by Jang Jeong-Gu, of Green Korea Incheon, Pages 36-39 of the Birds Korea Blueprint, available through:
4. For more on the CDM application, please see:
Note: A more formal commentary from Birds Korea will be posted on our websites once better information is received.