Climate change experts say S. Korea is lagging in efforts to reduce carbon emissions

Posted on : 2020-05-14 17:33 KST Modified on : 2020-05-14 17:33 KST
Country has to more than double emissions reduction to comply to Paris Agreement
Student activists call for more aggressive measures to respond to climate change in Seoul Plaza on June 4, 2019. (Yonhap News)
Student activists call for more aggressive measures to respond to climate change in Seoul Plaza on June 4, 2019. (Yonhap News)

In a new report, international climate change experts argue that South Korea will have to more than double its current emissions reduction target if it’s to shoulder its fair share of reductions while keeping its commitments under the Paris Agreement.

That was the conclusion of a report titled “Transitioning towards a zero-carbon society: science-based emissions reduction pathways for South Korea under the Paris Agreement.” The report was published on May 13 by Climate Analytics, a Berlin-based climate change policy research institute, and Solutions for Our Climate, a Korea-based nonprofit. The report is the first to analyze the level of Korea’s “fair burden” under the Paris Agreement.

The deadline for submitting updated national determined contributions (NDCs) to the UN is coming up at the end of this year. The NDCs represent each country’s targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in order to counteract climate change.

The report concluded that the target under Korea’s current NDC of reducing emissions to 37% of business-as-usual (BAU) levels by 2030 is “highly insufficient.” To assume a fair burden, the researchers said, Korea will have to boost its reduction target to at least 74% of BAU and at least 70% of 2017 levels by 2030.

The concept of “fair burden” corresponds to the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), taking into account countries’ historical responsibility for climate change, the size of their economies, and their ability to cut emissions. Given such considerations, South Korea needs to cut its 2030 greenhouse gas emissions target by more than half, from its current level of 536 million tons of CO2 to 217 million tons.

In its 2018 basic roadmap for cutting emissions, the South Korean government agreed to reduce its projected 2030 BAU emissions level of 851 million tons by 276.5 million tons (32.5%) through direct cuts by industry, buildings, and the transportation sector and by 38.3 million tons (4.5%) through activities to reduce overseas emissions, including forest absorption and market mechanisms. A revision of the enforcement decree of the Framework Act on Low Carbon and Green Growth last year expressed this goal as a 24.4% reduction from 2017 emissions, but that didn’t change the actual amount of the reduction.

Referring to this reduction plan, the report said that if all the countries in the world followed South Korea’s lead, global temperatures would rise more than four degrees above pre-industrial levels. The report went on to say that, in order to meet the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree temperature goal, Korea must raise its 2030 domestic reduction target to 66% and ensure that domestic emissions don’t exceed 291 million tons.

The report noted that South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party had pledged to respond aggressively to climate change with a Green New Deal in the recent National Assembly elections. In line with that pledge, the report recommended, the ruling party should draw up a clear roadmap for phasing out coal and improving its 2030 NDC target.

“The important thing is for the Korean government to strengthen its 2030 emissions target to bring it in line with the Paris Agreement. Key to that is accelerating the supply of renewable energy as quickly as possible so that coal plants can be shut down within 10 years,” said Ursula Fuentes, a senior climate policy adviser at Climate Analytics.

“The Paris Agreement espouses the ‘principle of progress,’ under which newly submitted NDCs have to be tougher than previous targets. If Korea submits the same target of 536 million tons that it submitted in 2015, it will open itself up to criticism from the international community for violating international law,” said Yun Se-jong, an attorney with Solutions for Our Climate.

By Kim Jeong-su, senior staff writer

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