Academic journal article Washington International Law Journal

Korean Environmental Regulations: Ready to Take on One of the World's Largest Private Real Estate Development Projects?

Academic journal article Washington International Law Journal

Korean Environmental Regulations: Ready to Take on One of the World's Largest Private Real Estate Development Projects?

Article excerpt


Korea1 is building a new master-planned city on reclaimed lands with all new infrastructure, a six-mile bridge, and one of Korea's tallest buildings at 65 stories.2 A new convention center, system of canals, world-class golf course, a mix of office, residential, and office buildings, and large civic and smaller pocket parks are also part of Korea's plans for this new city.3 This is the Songdo City, a self-sufficient metropolis that will be big enough to support 487,000 people, advancing Korea's plan to increase its international competitiveness. Songdo City is one of three cities planned as part of the Incheon Free Economic Zone ("IFEZ").5 The Korean government designated the IFEZ in an effort to become a regional economic hub in Northeast Asia.6

The IFEZ was established in August 2003 by the Act on Designation and Management of the Free Economic Zones ("The FEZ Act").7 As the country's first FEZ, the IFEZ is located close to the Incheon International Airport.8 Two months after the passage of the FEZ Act, the Korean government added two more FEZs: Pusan/Jinhae and Gwangyang.9 Developing Free Economic Zones is one of Korea's "key strategies to prepare for the era of Northeast Asia," a region that is emerging as a global economic powerhouse, with a population four times that of Europe, and a twenty percent share of the world's gross domestic production.10 As part of a strategy to counter increased competition from other countries in the global economy, Korea launched a program of developing FEZs.11

With such a large scale development at Songdo,12 the Korean government is also likely to face tremendous environmental challenges. Korea may suffer the same severe environmental degradation that China experienced, which resulted from explosive population growth and economic development in the Chinese special economic zones ("SEZs") during the 1980s.13 China's SEZs received the greatest proportion of foreign direct investment ("FDI") in China14 which led to exponential economic growth. Along with the economic growth, however, China's SEZs experienced profound environmental consequences. These SEZs were designated in China's already environmentally distressed regions, which intensified the problem.15 For example, the rapid growth of industries and population in Shenzhen SEZ led to a significant decline in environmental quality such as decreases in air quality, water quality, and waste concerns.16 IFEZ's ambitious real estate development plans will similarly face tremendous environmental problems due to the IFEZ's location and size.

This Comment argues that the existing Korean environmental regulatory system is inadequate to protect the fragile ecosystems of the IFEZ from this potentially explosive growth. The Korean environmental regulations were modeled after the Western regulations, and while they are generally considered effective, these regulations, like their Western counterparts, are not perfect.17 The fragility of the natural environment in Korea's FEZs, combined with Korea's ongoing problems with its environmental regulatory regime will hinder fulfillment of Korea's environmental protection goals and result in great environmental degradation in its FEZs. China's experience is provided as support that Korea will face environmental challenges in its FEZs.

This Comment analyzes the effectiveness of existing Korean environmental regulations as applied to the development of Songdo City. Part II examines China's experience with SEZs and the resulting environmental degradation, and considers the implications for the future of the environment in Korea's FEZs. Part III asserts that IFEZ is likely to encounter a great deal of environmental challenges. Part IV considers certain problems of the Korean regulatory environment, specifically the Environmental Impact Assessment Act,18 and provides evidence that Korean environmental regulations, Korea's Water Quality Conservation Act19 and Coastal Zone Management Act,20 which were modeled after U. …

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