Conflicting Greens around Korean Rivers and Tidal Flats: Implications for Systematic Water and Coastal Management

Yekang Ko, University of Oregon

Monday 11 February 2019, 2-330 pm, Rm 315A Wurster Hall


Boosting the green economy is a goal for many nations in the era of climate change, and a number of green policies have been bursting around the world in the last decade. The efforts of South Korea include the world’s largest tidal power generation along the west coast, a new green city incorporating sustainable urban design principles, and a nationwide river restoration program. These green initiatives have been widely touted by international organizations and the media as “Green New Deals” or have received a major urban design award. In spite of this recognition, these efforts have been highly controversial and severely criticized by many scholars, environmental groups, and the public because of their substantial ecological impacts, particularly on endangered wildlife habitats and internationally recognized wetlands that host tens of thousands of migratory birds.


Ko critically reviews three cases of green initiatives in South Korea: tidal power plants plans, Songdo International City, and the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project that have been pursued since 2008, focusing on lessons learned from the past decade, on-going issues, and new policy directions in water and coastal management. Given the urgency of climate change, the conflicts among different “green” approaches are expected to increasingly occur around the world. Ko points out the implications for wise decision-making and planning in comparable cases.


Yekang Ko is an Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Oregon where she teaches urban sustainability, energy landscapes, and landscape planning analysis. She obtained her Ph.D. in Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning from UC Berkeley in 2012. Her research focuses on urban energy planning, green infrastructure assessment, and physical planning and design for climate change mitigation and adaptation, with a geographic focus on the Asia-Pacific region. She is the BLA program director and the Director of the Sustainable Cities and Landscapes Hub of the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU).


This seminar is part of the interdisciplinary faculty seminar series, Water Management: Past and Future Adaptation, presented under the auspices of the UC Berkeley Institute of International Studies.  As both the developed and developing world confront intensifying demands on rivers and other water resources, impacts are evident from extractions of water for human uses, proliferation of dams, mining sediments from river beds, and intensified land-use impacts, all exacerbated by climate change. Accelerated erosion of coasts and deltas (e.g., from sediment starvation, groundwater pumping, accelerated sea-level rise) are among the manifestations of these impacts. Our seminar takes an interdisciplinary approach these challenges by examining how societies have adapted to variability in the past (uncertainty in water supply, flood risk, etc) and considers the tools we have to manage future variability in river flows and sediment loads, including variability in water supplies, increased flood risk, and the existential threat to many coastal and riverine areas.