In Memoriam: Park Won-soon, Mayor of Seoul (1956 – 2020)

The ICLEI Global Executive Committee and the entire ICLEI network are deeply saddened by the passing away of Mayor Park Won-soon. The world has lost a visionary city leader and a tireless advocate for local climate action and sustainable cities.

We acknowledge that the circumstances leading up to and surrounding his death are of an exceptional nature. Here we seek to recognize his legacy in sustainability and climate action for cities around the world.

Mayor Park was deeply involved in the leadership of ICLEI over the last decade. He served as ICLEI President from 2015 – 2018, chaired the World Mayors Council on Climate Change from 2012 – 2015 and hosted the 2015 ICLEI World Congress in Seoul.

Mayor Park held a vision of the power of local governments collaborating and learning together that perfectly embodied the mission of ICLEI. His unwavering belief in and tireless efforts toward global collaboration for sustainable development were paramount in raising up the sustainability ambitions not only of his own city of Seoul, but of cities, towns and regions worldwide.

Mayor Park’s leadership in bringing innovation and focus on sustainability at the local level is greatly admired around the world. The success of the One Less Nuclear Power Plant campaign – which brought citizens together with policy-makers to achieve an ambitious goal in Seoul – is just one example of Mayor Park’s local leadership.

Mayor Park’s impact was not just local – he has left behind a truly global legacy.

In 2012, he helped to establish and host the ICLEI East Asia Secretariat, to support other Member cities’ efforts in the region to jointly address climate change and facilitate sustainable green growth. He was responsible for the strategic advancement of ICLEI’s cooperation with Chinese cities on sustainability efforts, particularly in the area of improving urban air quality. East Asia is one of the most heavily air polluted regions in the world due to continuous growth of air pollutant emissions caused by rapid urbanization and industrialization. Mayor Park, together with the ICLEI East Asia Secretariat and nine cities and partners in the region, launched the initiative East Asia Clean Air Cities in 2016, aiming to support and accelerate local actions against air pollution through multilateral cooperation, a hallmark of his vision for local government sustainability work.

Mayor Park also championed The Promise of Seoul, a comprehensive climate strategy developed through an intensive consultation process that gathered input from residents, experts and environmental NGOs.

The model of effective climate action at the community level behind The Promise of Seoul was later spread to local governments in Southeast Asia through the Ambitious City Promises project, which is led by ICLEI and designed to embrace inclusive, ambitious climate action and mainstream low emission development strategies. Seoul Metropolitan Government supported the development of the project from the beginning, offering support across all sectors and levels of leadership.

Mayor Park’s global coalition building was immense. He mobilized fellow local leaders from around the world for the Seoul Mayors Forum from 2015 – 2019, enabling exchange and collaboration on climate action strategies. He also saw the value of nature and biodiversity in cities, and of sharing lessons learned in this area. Seoul was one of the original 21 Local Action for Biodiversity (LAB) pioneer cities, which was the forerunner of today’s CitiesWithNature initiative, recognizing the importance of cities in the fight to preserve biodiversity.

Mayor Park was the founder of the Global Lead City Network on Sustainable Procurement and Chair of the Network for the first three years (2015 – 2018). He provided leadership, support and acted as a champion in fostering the role of public procurement for global sustainable development.

ICLEI mourns with the family of Mayor Park, with the residents of Seoul, and with cities all around the world, by whom the absence of Mayor Park will be deeply felt. May we be inspired by his legacy of tenacity around the issue of sustainability in cities and let it inspire us to act collectively and boldly in the future.


Messages from Ashok Sridharan, Mayor of Bonn, Germany and ICLEI President