Developmental environmentalism: explaining South Korea's ambitious pursuit of green growth

Sung-Young Kim*, Elizabeth Thurbon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Citations (Scopus)


Why, after fifty years of fossil fuelled brown growth and steadfast refusal to join international agreements on carbon reduction did South Korea prioritize green growth (GG) as an overarching national initiative in 2008? Our principal aim is to explain Korea's ambitious pursuit of GG since that time. We argue that Korean-style environmentalism is best understood as an extension of the long-held philosophy of developmentalism amongst the policy-making elite. We first examine the origins and specify the central tenets of this new philosophy that we term developmental environmentalism. We then discuss the motivations that led the policymakers to embrace developmental environmentalism, and the means by which GG was translated into swift and sustained policy action. While the empirical focus of this article is Korea, we conclude by tentatively proposing an analytical framework that might explain why some countries are more likely than others to initiate a sustained shift towards GG.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-240
Number of pages28
JournalPolitics and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • green growth
  • brown growth
  • developmental state
  • Korea
  • innovation


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