Vesela Todorova

ABU DHABI // The South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak’s achievement in committing his country to “Green Growth” was yesterday recognised with the award of the Zayed Prize for Global Leadership in Environment.

President Lee Myung-bak was awarded $500,000 for his vision to commit South Korea to the “Green Growth” path. The policy, which became law last year, allocates 2 per cent of the country’s annual GDP to developing eco-friendly businesses and projects.

“Climate change is undoubtedly the challenge of our times,” Mr Lee said. “We believe protecting the environment and attaining sustainable growth can go together and we believe it must.”

President Lee was presented with the award by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai at a ceremony at the Dubai Convention Centre.

The Zayed International Prize for the Environment seeks to award political leaders, scientists and activists in three respective categories. Named after the late President of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed, the award gives out a total of US$1 million (Dh3.67m) biannually.

Mr Lee’s green policies include measures to address climate change such as encouraging electric vehicles and developing smart grids, which are more flexible and can distribute electricity more efficiently. South Korea is also considering a scheme to trade greenhouse emissions.

South Korea has also founded the Global Green Growth Institute, an organisation which aims to introduce clean technologies to developing countries.

Yesterday, the UAE and South Korea signed an agreement to establish a Middle East and North Africa regional office for the institute at Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City.

Among the other winners yesterday was the Indian-born environmental economist, Sir Partha Dasgupta, of Cambridge University. He was awarded $300,000 for his work to link sustainability and economics.

The economics professor is famous for being the man who invented the term “inclusive wealth” in an attempt to show that conventional measures of wealth, such as GDP, fail to take into account the value and importance of natural assets.

The $200,000 prize for environmental activism will be shared by two people, Dr Mathis Wackernagel, the Swiss-born is president of the Global Footprint Network, and Professor Najib Saab, the Lebanese publisher of the magazine Environment and Development.

Dr Wackernagel is one of the inventors of the concept of the environmental footprint, which measures humanity’s demands on the environment in terms of the territory needed to produce the food, fibre, wood and other resources, in addition to the land needed to accommodate human settlements.

Professor Najib Saab’s Arabic-language publication became the springboard for the creation of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development, an organisation bringing together environmental activists and scientists from the region. The organisation publishes annual “state of the environment” reports and has voiced alarm on issues including water management and unplanned urbanisation.

Prof Saab called for the region’s governments to re-examine nuclear safety issues, as explosions at an earthquake-hit nuclear plant in Japan raised concerns.

Prof Saab said governments interested in pursuing nuclear power should exercise caution.

“After what happened in Japan, we have to revisit the question of nuclear reactors,” he said. “I am not against it or for it, but we should be revisiting the whole question.”

He said renewable technologies such as solar power and wind generation, as well as clean fossil fuels, were viable alternatives to nuclear power. However, Mr Lee yesterday spoke of the safety of South Korean-built nuclear reactors.

During his trip to the Emirates, he attended a ceremony for the construction of nuclear power plants and said the country would have “top-class” installations.

A South Korean consortium has won a $20.4 billion contract to build four nuclear plants in the UAE. “South Korea has the top level of nuclear power plants in terms of safety and efficiency, and they will become a good model in the Middle East,” Mr Lee said in a statement quoted by Yonhap news agency.

* Additional reporting from Agence France-Presse