Sunday, November 1, 2009

Statement of Korean Wetland NGOs Marking the 1 Year After the Ramsar COP10

The Government of South Korea Should Recall the Spirit of the Ramsar Convention and Stop Destruction of Wetlands

One year has passed since the 10th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar COP10) was held in Changwon, South Korea from 28 October to 4 November 2008. The meeting was held successfully with the most participants in the history of the Ramsar convention. Thirty two resolutions were adopted including the Resolution X.3 ‘the Changwon Declaration on human well-being and wetlands’. However, we feel it is very regrettable that many of the resolutions and promises made at the Ramsar COP10 have not yet been implemented and wetlands of South Korea are faced with greater threats.

Mr. Lee Myung-bak, President of South Korea stated that "South Korea will keep increasing the number of Wetland Protection Areas and Ramsar Sites and it will be a model country of the convention" at his speech at the opening ceremony of the Ramsar COP10. Unfortunately, there have been no wetlands added to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance during the year since the Ramsar COP10, even though there are about 60 wetlands which have international conservation values in South Korea. Two wetlands were designated as Wetland Protection Areas on October 1st, but only one of them, the 1100 Highland Wetland in Jeju Island with an area of 0.126㎢ was actually added to protected wetlands in the country. The other had already been listed as a Ramsar Site before the Ramsar COP10.

The 'Changwon Declaration on human well-being and wetlands (Resolution X.3)', which was proposed by the government of South Korea and adopted at the Ramsar COP10 emphasized the conservation and wise use of wetlands, urged decision makers of the world to stop the loss and degradation of wetlands and to maintain their ecological character. But, right after the Ramsar COP10 is over, the government of South Korea proposed the so-called 4 Rivers Restoration Project which poses threats to the conservation of riverine wetlands and natural ecosystem along the rivers by building more than 20 dams on the rivers and dredging 570 million cubic meters of sediment from the rivers.

Resolution X.19 'Wetlands and river basin management: consolidated scientific and technical guidance' asked Contracting Parties to integrate wetland conservation and wise use into river basin management, and Resolution X.24 on 'Climate change and wetlands' asked Contracting Parties to make every effort to consider the maintenance of the ecological character of wetlands in national climate change mitigation and adaptation policies. However, the government of South Korea wants to drive the 4 Rivers Project to cope with the climate change, which threatens conservation of riverine wetlands by greatly affecting the maintenance of the ecological characters of the rivers. It is expected that around 130 riverine wetlands on the National Wetland Inventory compiled by the government of South Korea will be affected by the 4 Rivers Project if it is implemented.

Resolution X.22 'Promoting international cooperation for the conservation of waterbird flyways' noted that migratory shorebirds in the Yellow Sea area are under threat from the loss of tidal flats and pollution, and urged international cooperation and expansion of protected areas for the conservation of these habitats. However, the government of South Korea approved 11 coastal reclamation projects of 8.1㎢ including the reclamation of Songdo Tidal Flat (7.2㎢) in March this year, just 4 months after the Ramsar COP10. Also, the Saemangeum Reclamation Project, the largest tidal flat destroying project in the world, is going ahead while its initial purpose of creating of farmland, was abandoned.

Although the Tidal Flat of Jangbongdo is protected as a Wetland Protection Area and the Tidal Flat of Ganghwado and Breeding Ground of Black-faced Spoonbills is protected as a Natural Monument, both are under threat by the Incheon Bay Tidal Power Project and the Ganghwa Tidal Power Project, respectively. The tidal flat of Garorim Bay is the most well conserved tidal flats in South Korea and is one of the only two habitats of Spotted Seal Phoca largha in the country which is protected as Endangered Species Category Ⅱ designated by the Ministry of Environment of South Korea is also under threat by the proposed Garorim Bay Tidal Power Project.

The Nakdong River Estuary which is one of the most important sites for migratory waterbirds in Korea and is protected as a Natural Monument. It is under threat from a plan to halve its size of the Natural Monument area. It is also threatened by plans to build the Eomgung Bridge and the new international airport both of which will damage its ecological character as an important migratory bird habitat.

There is international concern about the loss and degradation of wetlands in South Korea. Resolution X.13 'The status of sites in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance' recommends that the government of South Korea advise the Ramsar Secretariat of any significant change in the ecological character of those Wetland Protection Areas and Ecosystem Landscape Conservation Areas that are wetlands. The plans to remove the Sin-gok Underwater Weir in the lower part of the Han River and to build a new one 14 kilometres downstream along with the Gyeongin Canal (Gyeongin Waterway) Project, the Han River Renaissance of Seoul City and the 6 Projects to link the Han River of Gyeonggi Province are threatening the conservation of the Han River Estuary Wetland Protection Area.

The marine area with soft corals off coast the Gangjeong Village in Jeju Island which is protected as a Natural Monument is very close to the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is under threat by a project to build a new naval base.

Though the governments of South Korea and Japan jointly proposed Resolution X.31 'Enhancing biodiversity in rice paddies as wetland systems' which encouraged the contracting parties to promote research on flora, fauna and ecological functions in rice paddies and on the cultures that have evolved within rice-farming communities that have maintained the ecological value of rice paddies as wetland systems, there has been no specific effort made by the government of South Korea to implement the resolution.

Though the Ramsar COP10 was held one year ago in South Korea, many important wetlands of South Korea are still not well protected, but rather face destruction and degradation due to various development projects of the government. Though the South Korean government adopted the so-called Low Carbon Green Growth Plan as the country's basic development strategy, it is destroying wetlands with various development projects in the name of Green Growth.

The government of S. Korea should recall the Spirit of the Ramsar Convention, "Conservation and Wise Use of Wetland", stop large-scale wetland destruction projects and implement President Lee's promise to be a model country of the convention.

27th October 2009

Preparation Committee for the Korea Wetland NGO Network

for more information please contact Mr. Park Chung-rok, Co-Representative of Wetlands and Birds Korea (WBK) at or Mr. Ma Yong-un, Director of Korea Federation for Environmental Movements (KFEM) at

* The statement was drafted by KFEM/FoE Korea

South Korea's Green Growth National Vision; Is It Really Green?

South Korea's Green Growth National Vision; Is It Really Green?

August 20th, 2009
The Group of South Korean Academics Opposing the Canal and Korea Federation for Environmental Movements (KFEM)/Friends of the Earth Korea

The government of South Korea adopted the so-called Green Growth National Vision last year and proposed quite a few new policies and projects based on the Green Growth Plan.
However, we can find out so many flaws in the plan as described below.

Presidential Committee on Green Growth

The government of S. Korea proudly tells the world that it set up the Presidential Committee on Green Growth. However, most of the members of the committee are government-friendly people who would not raise their voices against any government's policy. Andthere is no enough communication between the committee and civil society organizations in the country. The three largest environmental organizations of the country were not invited to the committee at all and there is only one person representing an environmental organization in the committee of 47 people. It just shows that the committee can hardly reflect suggestions from the civil society of the country.

Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard

The government of Korea will introduce a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) in 2012 to increase the share of new and renewable energy in total energy use. Actually the government of S. Korea had adopted fixed minimum price for renewable energy in 2002 which contributed to increase renewable energy use in the country. However, the new RPS to be introduced in 2012 will not guarantee the minimum price for renewable energy producers, which is expected to shrink confidence of investors in renewable energymarket and to affect the related industry. A UNEP report "Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in Sustainable, Low-Cabon World)" published in September 2008, recommended governments to guarantee producers of renewable energy fixed minimum prices.

Promotion of Nuclear Energy

The 5 Year Green Growth Plan of S. Korea also includes promotion of nuclear power in energy supply from 24% of nuclear power in power generation in 2009 to 32% in 2020, where as a UNEP report "Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in Sustainable, Low-Cabon World)" published September 2008, recommended governments to reduce support for nuclear power as well as fossil fuels.
There is no safe technology to deal with high-level nuclear wastes including spent fuels and it is still controversial in and outside the country whether the nuclear power can be included as green energy or not.

Incineration of Solid Wastes

The government of Korea included promotion of waste-to-energy in the 5 year Green Growth Plan as a measure to cope with climate change. However, the government's plan is just to increase incineration of solid wastes rather than trying to reduce the amount of wastes generated. Burning of wastes will only cause damages to air quality and public health.

Reduction of Taxes

The government of S. Korea reduced taxes including income and corporate tax since the start of the President Lee Myung-bak government, early last year. Though the reduction of taxes may bring the 'business-friendly' environment for corporations and the rich, S. Korea is expected to have a record deficit of more than 400 trillion Korean Won (about USD 335 billion) next year, which is causing a threat to managing balanced finance of the country. The government is going to spend a lot of money in the 4 River Project when they have reduced tax revenue, which can be used for social welfare programs supporting vulnerable and marginalized people of the society.
The sustainable development strategy, which the all countries of the world should adopt and implement, has the three pillars of economic development, environmental conservation and social equity. The Green Growth Initiative of the country is about to threat the balance among them.

4 River Restoration Project as a Key of S. Korea's Green Growth Plan

Though, S. Korean government is proposing the 4 River Project as a measure to climate change impacts including droughts and floods, they failed to provide sound grounds based on scientific research on the climate change impact on the country. The project is based on simple assumption that droughts and floods will be increased.
There is no enough environmental and social impact assessment on the project. And the government can not provide scientific grounds to build so many dams and to dredge rivers so much. Though, the most of damages from droughts and floods happened in the areas of tributaries of the 4 rivers rather than mainstreams of the 4 rivers, the government just want to build dams, strengthen river banks and dredge the mainstreams. The ecosystems of the 4 rivers will be severely impacted from dams constructions and dredging, there is no enough explanation from the government on how to restore rivers.

The amount of the total budget for the 4 Rivers Project just increased from 13.9 trillion Korean Won (about USD 11.6 billion) at the announcement of the interim plan on April 27th, 2009 up to 22.2 trillion Korean Won (about USD 18.6 billion) at the announcement of the final plan on June 8th, 2009. We can not help but doubt about that project is well planned when we saw that the total budget of the project had increased about 8.3 trillion Korean Won (about USD 6.9 billion and 60% of the total budget) increased in a period of just one and a half month. The project will turn out to be a failure when the project is not scrupulously planned. And the people of Korea will have to pay for all the costs from the waste of tremendous amounts of budget, irreversible damage to natural rivers' environment and social discords surrounding the project.

New Dams on the Nakdong River

According to the "National Water Resources Plan(2006-2020)"v, the top level water resources management plan produced every 10 years, which was drawn up in July 2006 by then Ministry of Construction and Transportation in consultation with experts and civil society organizations, there will be 11 million cubic meters of surplus water in the Nakdong River basin in 2011. And, there is no solid ground for the government to provide 1 billion cubic meters of extra water in the river basin by building more than 8 dams on the river's mainstream. The dams will eventually reduce flow rate of the river water and to deteriorate the water quality severely.

Flood Control and Water Quality Improvement

If the government really wants to prevent flooding and to improve water quality, it should invest on managing small tributaries rather than mainstreams of the 4 rivers. More than 97% of the mainstreams of the 4 rivers already have finished river bank strengthening. And, most of the flood damages in the country are happening along small rivers and tributaries so that investing most of the budget in mainstream of the rivers is not proper. And, it is more effective to improve the water quality of tributaries rather than trying to improve in the mainstreams.

4 River Restoration Project and Job Creation

The government of South Korea argues that the Green New Deal policy including the 4 River Restoration Project will be effective in providing jobs. However, it will not provide any decent jobs, but only jobs for simple and manual labors, which will not helpto solve the social problem of increasing jobless young people with higher education who do not want dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs. Many of manual labors in the country are filled with foreign workers and the 4 River Project will create jobs for them.

Bicycle Lanes along the 4 Rivers

The government of S. Korea also argues that it promotes the green transport and the construction of 1,728km long bicycle lanes newly paved along the water front of the 4 rivers will help increase the use of bicycles from 1.5 per cent in 2009 to 5 per cent in 2013, thus contribute to the reduction of carbon dioxide emission. However, if the government really wants to increase the use of bicycles as a green alternative to driving cars, they should promote the use of bicycles in urban areas instead of country-side areas along the 4 rivers. The bicycle lanes along the 4 Rivers will only increase leisure opportunities for people. And, the construction of the bicycle lanes will only result in the destruction of riverine environment and isolation of the rivers from the surrounding environment.

Lack of Democratic Decision Making

There has been no enough communication about the 4 River Project. Government-funded research institutes made up the largest development project of the country worth of 22.2 trillion Korean Won (about USD 18.6 billion) in just 6 months. The government strictly controlled to keep the related information from reaching out to the public. Though there were just few public hearings and meetings with local people, all of them were merely formalities and concerns of local people and civil society organizations were not reflected at all.

Environmental and Social Impacts of the 'Four Rivers Project' in Korea

Environmental and Social Impacts of the 'Four Major Rivers Restoration Project' in Korea

31 July 2009
Korea Federation for Environmental Movements (KFEM)/Friends of the Earth Korea

The proposed 'Four Major Rivers Restoration Project' is one of the largest development projects in South Korea, which will cause very big impacts on environment and people living along the 4 largest rivers of South Korea.

According to the master plan of the project which was made public on 8 June 2009, it was proposed to store water to be prepared for drought and water shortage; to prevent flooding; to improve water quality and restore ecosystems; and to promote local tourism.

Most of the total budget of 22.2 trillion Korean Won(USD 17.8 billion) will be spent by 2012 to build more than 16 new dams on the mainstreams of the 4 rivers and 5 new dams on their tributaries, to raise 87 existing irrigation dams, to strengthen 377km of river bank and to dredge 570 million cubic meters of sand and gravel from 691km long sections of the rivers to keep the water 4-6m deep of the 4 rivers and to strengthen 243km of river bank and to raise 9 existing irrigation dams in other tributaries and river basins.

KFEM is worried about the negative impacts the project will bring on to environment and society of Korea and would like to point out a few major concerns it has and to propose a few policy suggestions for the real restoration of the rivers.

Water Supply

The Korean government argues that we need to build new dams and to raise existing irrigation dams to secure 1.25 billion cubic meters of additional water as water shortage of 1 billion cubic meters is expected by 2016 due to climate change. Especially, it plans to secure 1 billion cubic meters of water in the Nakdong River basin by building more than 8 new dams on the mainstream of the Nakdong River to secure 650 million cubic meters of water and 3 new large dams on its tributaries to secure 250 million cubic meters of water and raising 31 existing irrigation dams in the basin to secure 100 million cubic meters of water.

However, according to the 「National Water Resources Plan(2006-2020)」, the top level water resources management plan produced every 10 years, which was drawn up in July 2006 by then Ministry of Construction and Transportation in consultation with experts and civil society organizations, only 21 million cubic meters of water will be in short by 2016 in the Nakdong River basin.

There is no solid ground for the government to predict water shortage in the river basin and to build such a many new dams in the basin.

Korean water supply system is already so much developed, especially in most populated area, that droughts and water shortages in recent years happen only in remote areas such as mountainous areas and islands. Therefore there is no need to build many new dams on the mainstream of the 4 rivers.

Flood Control

The government argues that we need to reduce the waste of annual tax money of 7 trillion Korean Won(US$ 5.5 billion) spending on flood damage and recovery. However this amount of money include all the damages far from the mainstream of the 4 rivers. Most parts of the 4 largest rivers are embanked that there has been few flood damages along the mainstream of them. Most of flood damages in recent years have occurred in mountainous and urban areas which can not be prevented by construction of new dams on the mainstream of the rivers.

Water Quality Improvement

About two thirds of all the S. Korean people depend on the two largest rivers, the Han river and the Nakdong River for their sources of drinking water. And, it is expected that the water quality of the rivers will deteriorate rather than improve when about 20 dams are built on the mainstream of the rivers as dams will block free flow of river water. When the free flow of river water is blocked by dams depletion of dissolved oxygen in the water, eutrophication and algal bloom will be induced.

According to an independent research of a professor in environmental engineering, more than 10 dams on the mainstream of the Nakdong River will degrade water quality as retention time of the river water will be increased from the current 18.3 days up to 191 days. It will also induce blooms of green algae and brown algae in the water.

Dredging also bring about water quality deterioration as it will remove river shallows and riparian wetlands which facilitate aeration into river water and absorption of excessive nutrients from the river water.

The government plan to finish all the necessary works within only three years by 2012. Massive construction works to build dams and to dredge 570 million cubic meters of sand and gravel from the 4 rivers will dramatically increase suspended particles in the river water which is normally clean and clear. The suspended particles will be another concern especially during the project period.

Impact on Environment

The project will cause negative impacts on the conservation of many important wetlands along the 4 rivers which support diverse forms of wild animals and plants as it include a lot of dams construction and dredging. Most of riparian wetlands, vegetations and sand bars along the rivers will lose their natural integrity and habitat diversity due to dam constructions and extensive dredging of 570 million cubic meters of sand and gravel from the 4 rivers.

The Nakdong River will be affected the most from the heavy dredging of collecting 440 million cubic meters of sand and gravel from the 330 km long section of the river from its mouth by 2011. There are plans to build more than 8 dams of 10 to 13 meters high on its mainstream and a couple more on its tributaries. As a result of the project, depth of the mainstream of the Nakdong River will be maintained more than 6 meters deep.

There are many important wetlands developed in the floodplain of the Nakdong River including Upo Wetland, Haepyeong Wetland, Hwapo Wetland, and Gudam Wetland as well as many along the Han River, Geum River and Yeongsan River.

The Nakdong Estuary Ecosystem and Landscape Conservation Area is a protected wetland with 5 different domestic laws and regulations. The project will impair the integrity of the wetland including which meet the criteria to be listed as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. Many endangered bird species use the estuary for their wintering, breeding and/or staging sites including Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor, Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus, Steller's Sea Eagle Haliaeetus pelagicus, and Saunders's Gull Larus saundersi.

The Upo Wetland, one of the Ramsar Wetladns of International Importance in the country will get negative impact from the project. As the Upo Wetland has developed in the floodplain of the Nakdong River, change in the hydrology of the river due to dam construction and dredging will be expected to change the hydrology of the wetland in a negative way.

The Haepyeong Wetland is a riparian wetland along the Nakdong River and is protected as a Wildlife Protection Area. It is an important staging sites for 20-70% of the global population of Hooded Crane Grus monacha and 10% of White-naped Crane Grus vipio.

The Junam Reservoir in the lower stretch of the Nakdong River is an important wintering sites for White-naped Crane Grus vipio supporting more than 10% of the global population of them in winter. White-naped Cranes of the Junam Reservoir find their roosting sites in nearby riparian wetlands of the Nakdong River which is under threat from the dredging.

The Geum Estuary also is an important wetland supporting 300,000 to 500,000 Baikal Teals Anas formosa, 60-70% of Northeast Asian population of Oyestercatchers Haematopus ostralegus osculans, and more than 10% of the global population of Saunders's Gull Larus saundersi. It is also under threat due to the extensive dredging along the river.

Dozens of Freshwater fish species will also be threatened by the project as dam construction and dredging will result in the loss of rivers' natural habitat diversity. About 40 fish species among 60 endemic freshwater fish species of the country tend to spawn and find foods in river shallows which are expected to be eliminated due to dam building and dredging. Most of the diverse freshwater habitats of the 4 rivers will be changed into that of artificial lakes with more depth and less turbulence. And, such changes in characteristics of freshwater habitats, especially in turbidity and turbulence which is crucial for survival and diversity of freshwater fish species will result in the loss of freshwater fish species diversity.

Endangered endemic freshwater fish species, Gobiobotia nakdongensis is dependent upon sandy shallows of the Nakdong River and Koreocobitis naktongensis is dependent upon gravelled shallows of the river. Another endangered endemic freshwater fish species, Iksookimia choii is living in shallows of the upstream Geum River. Their survival is critical when the shallows are disappeared by dams and dredging.

Extensive dredging will also impact on many freshwater fish species as dramatically increase suspended particles in the river water will impair breathing of fishes as well as other organisms which are food sources of fishes. Photosynthesis and survival of algae will be impaired by dredging which will result in decrease of important food sources for fish.

Dams are also expected to prevent migratory freshwater fishes, such as Plecoglossus altivelis and Anguilla japonica, from moving freely up and down the rivers for spawning and feeding.

Environmental Impact Assessment

The project was made public for the first time on 15 December 2008 and its master plan was announced in 8 June 2009. And the government wants to start the project from October 2009 and finish it by 2012.

When the government announced its interim plan on 27 April 2009, the total budget of the project was about 14 trillion Korean Won and it just increased to 22.2 trillion Korean Won when the master plan was announced on 8 June 2009. The total budget increased by 59% in just one and a half months, which implies that the planning of the project might be made with poor consultation among government bodies, let alone consultation with concerned local people and civil society organizations.

Though it is the one of the largest development projects of the country costing more than 22.2 trillion Korean Won(US$17.8 billion) by 2012, there is no proper Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA) carried out. Though 5.2 trillion Korean Won(USD 4.2 billion) will be spent on dredging and 2.7 trillion Korean Won(USD 1.7 billion) on building new dams which will have tremendous impacts on rivers’ environment, there was no Feasibility Study about the project, either.

The government wants to finish the EIA in just a couple of months and start the project from October, this year. It is not a proper process for such a large development project which will cause big impact on riverine environment of the country.

Social Impact

The government also plans to relocate thousands of farms along the rivers to restore them. It is estimated that there are about 17,000ha of farmland in floodplains along the rivers.

In the case of Paldang area which is one the oldest and largest organic farming clusters in the country, about 100 farms of 81ha will have to be relocated that local farmers are very much concerned. Actually their farming in organic way was promoted by local governments as it was considered the best way to lead sustainable livelihoods for local farmers and to protect the water quality of the Paldang lake which is the source of water for almost 25 million people in Seoul and its vicinity. Farmers were informed of the situation that their farms will have to just a couple of months ago.


It is very important to restore rivers, to supply water and to prevent flooding in a sustainable way. Many international bodies including the UNEP, other UN agencies and Ramsar Convention have tried to implement the Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).

The Fifth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity defined the Ecosystem Approach as ‘a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way’. It requires the taking into consideration of the effects of actions on every element of an ecosystem, based on the recognition that all elements of an ecosystem are linked.

If the South Korean government really want to restore its 4 major rivers, it should make restoration plans for the Integrated Water Resources Management with ecosystem approach to restore full functions and interactions among living organisms and their environment.

It is known that natural riverine wetlands provide diverse ecosystem services including water supply, flood control, water quality improvement and tourism promotion when they are managed in sustainable way. If we manage rivers and riverine wetlands wisely based on the ecosystem approach, we can solve almost all the challenges related to river and water resources management.

A recent poll conducted by an independent research institute in late June 2009 showed that 67.4% of Korean people wanted that the budget for the 4 Rivers Restoration Project should be used in other areas such as public welfare.

Korean government must change its traditional water manager’s view which can provide limited jobs and boost local economy for during the project period, only three years to come. Instead, the government should try to look for a real approach for reviving rivers and their ecosystems based on participatory approach, involving all the stakeholders of the country.