South Korea has committed to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, after a number of other Asian states made similar pledges to step up efforts to fight the climate crisis. To achieve its goal, the country will have to make dramatic changes to its heavily fossil fuel dependent economy and make significant investments into renewable energy and clean technologies.
South Korean president Moon Jae-in has recently announced the country’s plans to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, bringing it into line with goals laid out by other major economies in the region. In a policy speech to the national assembly, Moon stated that it was crucial for the country to “actively respond” to the climate crisis “with the international community”.
Currently, South Korea’s electricity grid is heavily reliant on dirty energy, with 40% powered by coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, and renewables only making up less than 6% of its total. Under its proposed Green New Deal, the country plans to invest billions of dollars in new green infrastructure, ramping up the supply of clean energy and electrification of transportation.
The deal, if implemented, also means introducing a carbon tax, building urban forests, improving the country’s recycling infrastructure and creating low-carbon industrial complexes and buildings. In addition, it would put an end to financing of foreign coal plants, despite South Korea’s recent contradictory backing of an Indonesian coal venture, calling into question the authenticity of its green commitments.
South Korea’s announcement comes shortly after similar net-zero commitments made by Japan, and China’s pledge to reach net-zero by 2060, though details remain scant on how the world’s second biggest economy plans to slash its emissions. The Philippines has also announced a moratorium on new coal projects, suggesting shifting priorities towards renewable energy.
While many environmental campaigners welcomed Moon’s latest pledge, they remain cautious about whether the necessary policies to achieve the goal will take place.
“South Korea is finally one step closer to aligning itself with the reduction pathway compatible with Paris climate agreement goals,” said Joojin Kim, managing director of the Seoul-based nonprofit Solutions for Our Climate, in a statement.
“However, there is much to be done to make this declaration actually meaningful. The most urgent tasks are enhancing its 2030 emissions reduction target, presenting a clear roadmap to phase out coal by 2030, and putting a complete stop to coal financing.”
The group added that as of now, South Korea still has seven coal power units under construction, and remains the third biggest funder of overseas coal projects that are scattered across Asia.
Despite these concerns, South Korea’s plans do indicate at the very least a change in positioning and renewed pressure to undertake a greater role to clamp down on emissions, particularly in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the resultant economic crisis for the fossil fuel industry.
In May, the global energy watchdog International Energy Agency (IEA) said that renewable energy will emerge as the only resilient source of electricity in the future. The body further reiterated that coronavirus rebuilding packages must include a rapid transition away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy technologies, while scientists pointed out that taking action on the climate crisis is a crucial step to prevent future pandemics.
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