Seoul: Climate Risk and Response

Source: Cho, 2012 Source: Cho, 2012

Seoul is the capital and largest city in South Korea, boasting a population of 10.4 million in 605 km2 (Seoul, 2011). Seoul produces 48.6% of national GDP and contains 25% of the national population on 0.6% of land (UN Habitat, 2010). With a high City Prosperity Index of 0.861, Seoul has rapidly developed since the 1950s (UN Habitat 2012). Seoul is divided into 25 districts, known as gu’s, with 17,219 people/km2 (Seoul, 2009). The Seoul Metropolitan Government, the city’s administrative body, had an operating budget of US$18.4 billion in 2010 (Seoul, 2011).

Performing a climate risk assessment (Mehrotra et al., 2009) begins with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projections of increases in both precipitation extremes and daily mean temperatures in East and Southeast Asia (IPCC, 2007). These hazards can negatively impact vulnerable populations within Seoul, particularly poor and disabled populations living in flood-prone areas. Rising temperatures, increased CO2 emissions, and the Urban Heat Island effect create health risks for sick and elderly people across income levels. Seoul may respond by adapting aging infrastructure to accommodate a growing population and reduce climate risk.

In an effort to mitigate urban heat island (UHI) effect, air quality issues, and congestion levels caused by population growth, this report recommends prioritizing expansion and development of energy-efficient public transportation while emphasizing carpooling, a No-Driving Day, and non-motorized transportation. This policy mechanism would be enforced via the three transit regulators of Seoul, allotting a maximum allowance of CO2 emissions per vehicle in order to reduce transportation energy usage. On the demand side, fuel-efficient vehicles would be instituted for personal use and public transportation. On the supply side, carpooling would be incentivized as a way to increase maximum CO2 emission allowances.

In order to adapt to the increase in precipitation events in Seoul, a green stormwater management system should be proposed through the Seoul Department of Planning. Stormwater management systems will be incorporated into developments along the Han River and in flood prone areas of Seoul. Systems would include higher retention volumes for stormwater, additional porous surfaces around streams, and increased multipurpose green space, intended to flood during intense rain, that can also be utilized for recreation in dry periods. The additional green space would help alleviate UHI effects in the city, thereby reducing the need for mechanical cooling and yielding a co-benefit in reduced emissions. This system would seek to improve the current Cheonggyecheon River Restoration project, and would recalibrate plans to connect the Han River with the Yellow Sea. This policy would serve as an entry point for a city–wide response to flooding via zoning within and beyond the city limits.

Seoul is implementing numerous strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change. However, more emphasis needs to be placed on the city’s vulnerable populations. Seoul has the opportunity to serve as a laboratory for climate change solutions applicable to cities in both developed and developing contexts.



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Mehrotra, S., C.E. Natenzon, A. Omojola, R. Folorunsho, J. Gilbride & C. Rosenzweig. (2009). Framework for city climate risk assessment. Washington, DC: World Bank.

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UN Habitat. (2012). State of the world’s cities 2012-2013: Prosperity of cities. S.l.: United Nations Publications.

UN Habitat (2010). State of the world’s cities 2010/2011: Bridging the urban divide. London: Earthscan.