Over 30,000 people marched down Sejong-daero street in central Seoul, Sept. 23, calling for climate justice. This was the 923 Climate Justice March, which comes on the heels of worldwide climate protests taking place in September, with millions rallying across the globe. The march was organized by Action for Climate Justice, a coalition of more than 600 civic, environment, labor, regional and trade union movements.
Lee Sae-un, a 16-year-old student from Bakdal Middle School in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province, felt the urgency to march with her four classmates in the nation's capital when she realized that the climate crisis has become a reality.
"During the first year of middle school, we vaguely imagined what would happen if the glaciers in the North Pole disappear, as what our textbook warns. It was a wake up call to learn that in just the span of two years, this is already happening in places like Greenland. We, too, are no more free from this crisis on the warming planet. That is why we march today," Lee said.
"School taught us to shift focus to big polluters, who are the enablers of the climate crisis, like corporations and governments. Joined by thousands of people today, we urge them to beef up climate action because all of us are watching. Regardless of age, everyone has an obligation to stop the climate crisis," Lee added.
Baek Jong-soo, a 37-year-old farmer from Wanju, North Jeolla Province, was one of many people who came to the march with their children.
"Organic farmers like me, who rely heavily on honeybees to fertilize and pollinate crops, experience the climate crisis firsthand. Rising temperatures are detrimental to bees' survival. If bees cannot pollinate, crop cultivation and farmers' livelihood are severely impacted," Baek said.
"Along with 90 residents of Wanju who came a long way to attend the march, we no longer believe in the government's false pledge to curb the climate crisis. Rather, we believe in people's power to pressure the government to do what ought to be done," he added.
Lee and Baek were among the many protesters who expressed their frustration with the inaction of those responsible for curbing the climate crisis.
Kwon Woo-hyun, head of the 923 Climate Justice March organizing committee, denounced the government's climate policies as being regressive.
"While the climate crisis has been threatening job security, housing and people's rights to safe lives, the government has abandoned its responsibility to protect the people. We are here to overcome the crisis through our own efforts. In this time of crisis, let's use our solidarity to move forward," he said.
That is why this year, under the slogan, "People Power to Overcome the Crisis," the committee prepared specific demands to fight for. They include protecting people's right to be safe from climate disasters, calling for an end to nuclear and fossil fuel energy, a just transiton to renewable energy, an end to the privatization of railways, an end to new airports and national park development, holding multinational corporations and the weathly accountable for the climate crisis, and listening to those on the frontlines of the climate crisis.
Japanese environmentalists also participated in the rally, calling for an apology from the Japanese government and TEPCO for the recent discharge of treated wastewater from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean.
"Japan, which colonized Asia in the past, perpetrated violence again with its discharge, and the Japanese people failed to stop it. I apologize as one of the Japanese people," Daisuke Sato, Japan Secretary General of the Anti-Nuclear Asia Forum, said. "Nuclear power, with its incident risks and waste problems, cannot be a sustainable energy source. We call on you to stand in solidarity with the anti-nuclear movement in Asia," Sato said.
Starting around 3 p.m., the participants split into two directions and marched through downtown Seoul. One group marched toward the SK Group headquarters building in Jongno, the Japanese Embassy, and to the Gwanghwamun Government Complex, while the other marched from Seoul Station to the presidential office in Yongsan District.
Kim Eun-yeong, an activist from NGO group Green Asia, which fights desertification in Mongolia through community-based reforestration projects, said people have the power to nudge governments to gradually phase out emission-intensive energy sources like fossil fuels.
"Although it will inevitably take time for transition to cleaner energy, communities can pressure those in higher-level positions to implement robust climate policies," Kim said.
Linus Bauer, a 27-year-old student from Germany currently studying at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, is a climate activist from Fridays For Future, an international movement of students striking for climate begun by Greta Thunberg.
"The climate is changing rapidly, politics is changing as well, but not fast enough," Bauer said.
"The German government invests a lot of money in energy transition and 60 percent of electricity produced in Germany is from renewable energy. And I am actually surprised that there are few mitigative measures put in place in Korea, because it's such a technologically advanced country. Every country has to act, but especially rich countries like Germany, the U.S., and Korea have the means to ramp up climate action first."
Jee Hyun-young, a lawyer from Seoul-based Institute of Green Transition, said, "Despite Korea's pledge to go carbon-neutral by 2050, Korea's renewable power generation lags behind G20 members." Jee emphasized that on a governmental level, "phasing out subsidies to the production and consumption of coal, and incentivizing the generation and use of renewable energy are the first steps to change."
She added, "Nuclear energy cannot be a sustainable alternative to pursue since there are no measures put in place to handle its nuclear waste problems. Globally speaking, countries phase down nuclear energy and expand renewable energy."
Kim Bo-mi, one of the 14 lawyers participating in Climate Justice March, said, "The court is the last line of defense for the rights of people. A proactive judicial response to the climate crisis, such as recognizing the responsibility of governments and corporations to reduce carbon emissions, will protect people's fundamental rights and also the animals and ecosystems with which we coexist."
Pointing to how the judiciary ought to reflect public interest, Kim added, "The judiciary system should think about what values are more important to the people in the era of the climate crisis. The interpretation and judgment of law have been changing in tandem with the changing climate of the society and perceptions of the people."
Cho Hye-yoon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an intern reporter of The Korea Times.