French President Hollande seeks climate accord ally in Seoul

French President Francois Hollande at the Ewha Women's University in Seoul.
French President Francois Hollande at the Ewha Women's University in Seoul.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - French President Francois Hollande visited South Korea on Wednesday (Nov 4), looking to bring Seoul fully on board as a "very useful" ally in securing a global climate change deal in Paris next month.

It was the first visit by a French head of state to Asia's fourth largest economy for 15 years and coincided with the 130th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Mr Hollande, who flew into Seoul late Tuesday after a visit to China, was travelling with a delegation of corporate heads and a clutch of senior ministers.

In Beijing, China and France reached what Mr Hollande described as a "historic" agreement that the international deal on tackling climate change to be negotiated in Paris should include checks on compliance.

The Nov 30-Dec 11 conference, to be attended by at least 80 world leaders, seeks a single global agreement, with the goal of capping warming at two deg C over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

In Seoul, the French leader was looking to ensure South Korea was ready to play the role of facilitator in getting the agreement signed.

South Korea hosts the Green Climate Fund - the global fund created to spearhead climate change financing - and is seen as a key go-between in negotiations on whether developed or developing countries should bear more of the burden for reducing emissions.

Mr Hollande said the negotiations would begin before the Paris conference, with leaders of the G-20 group of leading industrialised and emerging economies due to meet next week at a summit in Turkey.

"Success in Paris needs to be secured before Paris, and that's why I thought it was necessary to stop over in Seoul," he said at a round table on climate change and green growth in Seoul.

"South Korea is heavily involved in preparations for the Paris meeting and will have a very useful role to play in the whole process," he added.

South Korea has made significant efforts to boost its green credentials in recent years, and in January became the first Asian country to set up a carbon emissions trading exchange.

The country is among the world's top 10 carbon emitters, but in June it finalised a 2030 target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 37 per cent from business-as-usual (BAU) levels - higher than its earlier plan for a 15-30 per cent cut.

Also participating in the round-table meeting was South Korean climate economist Lee Hoe Sung, who was elected to head the UN's climate science panel last month.

Among EU countries, France is the second-largest investor in South Korea and Mr Hollande's visit is also aimed at boosting economic ties, especially in the IT sector with a particular focus on Korea's burgeoning start-up community.

Earlier this year, Google opened its first Asian start-up "campus" in South Korea, which boasts some of the world's fastest broadband speeds and highest smartphone penetration rates.

Mr Hollande was scheduled to hold talks with President Park Geun Hye later in the day with both leaders expected to sign a number of bilateral accords before the French President leaves for Paris in the evening.