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The Carbon Brief Profile: South Korea

COUNTRY PROFILES 6 April 2020   The Carbon Brief Profile: South Korea, 6 Apr 20, 

As part of its series on how key emitters are responding to climate change, Carbon Brief looks at South Korea’s attempts to balance its high-emitting industries with its “greenaspirations.

Though still dwarfed by those of its neighbours China and Japan, South Korea’s rapid economic expansion over the past few decades has left it with a significant carbon footprint. It was the world’s 13th largest greenhouse gas emitter in 2015…….

 the nation has drawn criticism for not always matching its green-growth rhetoric with action. Proposed phaseouts of coal and nuclear have been prompted primarily by concerns about air pollution and safety,as opposed to climate.

With an election approaching, many environmental groups joined together to call for more action from the major parties, which they claimed have prepared virtually “no countermeasures” against climate change.

In March, a group of Korean youth activists sued the government over its climate framework, which they deemed insufficient to meet the nation’s Paris Agreement targets.

According to a 2019 study by the Pew Research Centre, South Koreans place climate change highest in their list of potential national threats…….. Recent polling suggests 77% of voters would vote for political parties promising to respond to the threat of climate change in the general election……

This year, nations are expected – though not strictly required – under the Paris Agreement to come forward with updated plans that scale up the ambition of their original target. South Korea has yet to indicate whether it intends to meet this expectation. …….

Finally, South Korea is home to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a UN body based in the “international business district” of Songdo, near the north-western city of Incheon. The fund is the main mechanism set up for mobilising $100bn every year “by 2020” from richer countries to finance climate mitigation and adaptation in the developing world…….

‘Green growth’ policies

In keeping with South Korea’s rapid industrialisation over the past few decades, the nation’s approach to climate and energy is best summarised by the principle of “green growth”.

Upon the inauguration of President Lee Myung-bak in 2008, he made it clear his overarching philosophy would be based on clean-energy technologies and environmentally friendly development in order to fuel long-term economic growth. In a speech at the time, he said:

“If we make up our minds before others and take action, we will be able to lead green growth and take the initiative in creating a new civilisation.”

This was reflected in the flagship Framework Act on Low Carbon, Green Growth (pdf), which was passed in 2009 and provided the legislative framework for emissions targets and renewable energy expansion, as well as the basis for a carbon trading system.

A five-year plan implemented the same year saw South Korea commit 2% of its GDP through to 2013 to invest in the green economy, which included investing in renewable energy, smart grids and green homes.

According to the World Bank, this focus on green investment is partly credited with the nation’s early recovery from the global financial crisis…….

there are concerns that this system still does not make it attractive enough for private entities to invest in renewables, with insufficient subsidies for solar and wind while coal is still being incentivised .

Another issue with the current Korean system concerns the electricity grid, with renewable energy facilities facing delays in being connected due to inadequate substations.

The government-owned KEPCO controls the grid and has a monopoly on electricity generation. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has identified restructuring of KEPCO as a key recommendation for energy reform.

There are also concerns in South Korea that expanding renewable capacity only benefits foreign companies that already dominate these markets. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy issued a press release reassuring people that reports of Chinese companies dominating the Korean solar market were “not true”.

Despite all these issues, the SFOC has identified the “biggest problem” facing renewable expansion as conflicts arising with local communities, when trying to construct new renewable facilities in their vicinity.

Conservatives politicians and news outlets, often with a pro-nuclear slant, have been blamed for “tarnishing” the reputation of renewables by stating that solar projects in particular are the cause of “environmental destruction”. According to SFOC:

“As a result, there is an increasing number of local governments autonomously establishing ordinances and rules restricting the sites for solar PV and wind power.”


Analysis by SFOC
 found that South Korean public financial institutions have provided around $17bn (£13.7bn) of financial support for coal-power projects since 2008, around half of which was for schemes overseas.

The group concludes that without this “easily available financing…such proliferation of coal-fired power plants would not have been possible”.

Another report by Carbon Tracker questions the economic viability of South Korean coal power, identifying the country as having “the highest stranded asset risk in the world” due to market structures which effectively guarantee high returns for coal.

It concludes that South Korea “risks losing the low-carbon technology race” by remaining committed to coal. A newer report from the thinktank says it is already cheaper to invest in new renewables than build new coal in South Korea and it will be cheaper to invest in new renewables than to operate existing coal in 2022. ………

https://www.carbonbrief.org/the-carbon-brief-profile-south-korea

April 7, 2020 - Posted by | climate change, South Korea

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