In 2016, South Korea’s revised Green Grown Act replaced its previous 2020 Copenhagen pledge with its 2030 Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) target. Given that its 2020 pledge was more ambitious—aiming for a similar emissions level ten years earlier—the INDC actually represents a weakening of South Korea’s climate plans. However, under current policies, South Korea is unlikely to meet its INDC target, which the CAT rates “inadequate.” We project that the growth rate of South Korea’s emissions will slow from 4% per year in the period 1990–2012 to 0.3–0.4% in the period 2012–2030. However, to reach the INDC target, emissions need to peak and start declining. To achieve this, more stringent policies are required.
On 30 June 2015 South Korea submitted its INDC to the UNFCCC, putting forward an economy-wide target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 37% below business-as-usual (BAU) emissions of 850.6 MtCO2e by 2030. This is equivalent to limiting GHG emissions in 2030 to 536 MtCO2e (81% above 1990 emission levels) excluding land-use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF).
The “inadequate” rating indicates that South Korea’s INDC is not in line with interpretations of a “fair” approach in line with holding warming below 2°C, let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit. This means that if most other countries were to follow South Korea’s proposed approach, global warming would exceed 3–4°C.
South Korea intends to achieve part of its target by using “carbon credits from international market mechanisms” (Republic of Korea, 2015). In its INDC submission South Korea has not specified which part of the target is to be achieved by international market mechanisms. The South Korean Government has, however, stated that a 25.7% reduction below BAU will be achieved domestically and a further 11.3% reduction will be achieved by international market mechanisms (Ministry of Environment, 2015).
This target allows domestic greenhouse gas emissions to more than double compared to 1990 levels, excluding LULUCF, by 2030. Given that current emission levels are already above the 2030 target level, emissions would need to peak and start declining to be on track for the INDC target.
South Korea’s INDC states that “In assessment of mitigation performance, a decision will be made at a later stage on whether to include greenhouse gas emissions and sinks of the land sector as well as the method for doing so” (Republic of Korea, 2015). Our current analysis treats South Korea’s INDC target as excluding LULUCF. Given that South Korea’s LULUCF emissions have been a small sink in the past and are projected to remain a sink, including LULUCF emissions would weaken the impact of the INDC on the other sectors.
Earlier, South Korea pledged to reduce its emissions by 30% below BAU emissions in 2020 (84% above 1990 emission levels). We rated this pledge “medium.” However, South Korea has replaced the 2020 target by the 2030 target from the INDC in its revised Green Growth Act (Republic of Korea, 2016). Although the Copenhagen pledge has not officially been withdrawn, it is no longer actively pursued.
South Korea is one of the fastest growing emitters in the OECD. Its per capita emissions are continuing to rise, bucking the trend in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries, where per capita energy emissions are declining as economies shift toward the service sector and improve energy efficiency. South Korea’s per capita energy use is expected to be more than the US by 2035.
Paris Agreement targets
South Korea signed the Paris Agreement on 22 April 2016, but has not yet ratified it. On 30 June 2015 South Korea submitted its INDC, proposing an economy-wide target to reduce GHG emissions by 37% below business-as-usual (BAU) emissions of 850.6 MtCO2e by 2030 (Republic of Korea, 2015). In absolute terms, this is a target of 536 MtCO2e excluding land-use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) (equivalent to 81% above 1990 emission levels).
South Korea intends to achieve a 25.7% emissions reduction below BAU domestically (equivalent to 115% above 1990 emission levels, excluding LULUCF), one of the four options ranging from 14.7% to 31.3% below by BAU by 2030 that South Korea announced for its INDC prior to submission in June 2015 (Korea Herald, 2015). The remaining 11.3% will be achieved through international market mechanisms.
South Korea’s INDC is an economy-wide pledge covering all greenhouse gases. A decision on the inclusion of the LULUCF sector will be made a later stage (Republic of Korea, 2015). Our current analysis treats South Korea’s INDC target as excluding LULUCF. South Korea’s LULUCF sector has been a small sink of around 50 MtCO2e in the past (UNFCCC, 2015) and is projected to remain a sink of 24 MtCO2e by 2020 (Republic of Korea, 2012). Therefore, including LULUCF emissions would weaken the INDC.
Under the Copenhagen Accord, South Korea agreed to reduce its emissions by 30% below business-as-usual (BAU) emissions by 2020. It proposed the unconditional target in November 2009 and submitted it to the Copenhagen Accord on 25 January 2010.
Under the BAU projections from the Third National Communication, this pledge would have resulted in emissions of 543 MtCO2e in 2020 excluding land-use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF). This represents an increase of 84% in GHG’s from 1990 emissions levels.
However, South Korea has replaced the 2020 pledge by the weaker 2030 INDC target in its updated Green Growth Act (Republic of Korea, 2016). Although the Copenhagen pledge has not officially been withdrawn, it is no longer actively pursued. We therefore no longer take this target into account when calculating the global temperature increase resulting from the current pledges of all countries.
We rate South Korea’s 2030 target “inadequate.” The “inadequate” rating indicates that South Korea’s INDC is not in line with any interpretations of a “fair” approach in line with holding warming below 2°C, let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit. This means that if most other countries followed South Korea’s approach, global warming would exceed 3–4°C. To be on a “medium” pathway by 2030, South Korea's emissions would need to be below 500 MtCO2e per year, lower than levels in the year 2000.
We rated South Korea’s previous pledge for 2020 “medium.” That pledge had been in line with approaches that focus on responsibility and staged approaches. The “medium” rating indicates that pledge was at the least ambitious end of what would be a fair contribution. This means it was not consistent with limiting warming to below 2°C, let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit, unless other countries make much deeper reductions and comparably greater effort.
Between 1990 and 2012, South Korea's emissions have more than doubled. Emissions steeply increased in the early 1990s. Growth then continued at a slower pace, and is continuing to slow down. Actual emissions levels in the period 2010–2012 were above the BAU projections from the Third National Communication. South Korea is one of the fastest growing emitters in the OECD. The high export rates from Korea’s manufacturing industry play a critical role in Korea’s increasing emission levels (Kim et al., 2015). In most developed APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) economies, energy consumption per capita is declining as economies shift towards the service sector and improve energy efficiency. However, Korea is an exception: energy per capita continues to rise as industrial energy use increases and population declines (APERC, 2016). The growth in energy use per capita is partly caused by production growth in the steel sector. After 2035, Korea is expected to overtake the United States in terms of energy use per capita (APERC, 2016).
Current implemented policies are estimated to lead to an emissions level of 728–744 MtCO2e in 2030 (147–153% above 1990 levels), excluding emissions from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF). To reach its 2030 INDC target, South Korea will have to strengthen its climate policies. LULUCF emissions have historically been a sink of between 26 and 41 MtCO2e and are projected to remain a sink of 24 MtCO2e by 2020 (Republic of Korea, 2012).
South Korea’s power demand increased by 162% over the period 1990–2013 and is dominated by coal-fired (43% in 2015) and nuclear generation (30% in 2015) (IEA, 2016. In July 2016, South Korea announced plans to shut ten ageing coal-fired power plants by 2025 (Reuters, 2016). Eight of the remaining 43 coal power plants that are older than 20 years will be retrofitted to curtail emissions, while the rest will get expanded emissions-reductions facilities.
However, South Korea is also planning to build 20 new coal-fired power plants by 2022 (Reuters, 2016). South Korea also announced plans for two new nuclear reactors, bringing the total of planned nuclear reactors to 13 (Reuters, 2015). In the 7th Electricity Supply Plan, South Korea targets the following electricity supply mix by 2029: 23.4% nuclear, 26.4% coal, 20.6% LNG, 20.1% renewable energy, and 9.5% others (including anthracite, oil and pumped). This represents a decrease in coal and an increase in nuclear compared to the previous Electricity Supply Plan. Although nuclear electricity retains a high share it is already downscaled from what was set out in the 1st Energy Basic Plan in 2008 where the planned share was 41% of the economy’s generation capacity (APERC, 2016). The reduction of the targeted nuclear share is mainly cause by the Fukushima accident that raised public environmental and safety concerns.
The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) was introduced in 2012 and is replacing a previous feed-in tariff scheme. The new standard obliges suppliers to meet annual generation targets from renewable and new energy, starting at 2% and increasing to 10% in 2024 (IEEJ, 2014). In this target, Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plants are also considered as “new energy.” We, however, do not consider this renewable energy.
The upper end of current policy projections is based on the APEC BAU scenario, which includes the RPS (APERC, 2016). This scenario only achieves a share of 3.7% of renewables (excluding IGCC) in power generation in 2024, growing to 4.7% in 2030. The lower end of range represents a scenario where South Korea achieves 10% renewable power in 2024, and sustains this to 2030.
South Korea has implemented its Green Growth Strategy, a comprehensive policy package targeting all policy areas including climate change. One of its key policies is the cap and trade scheme introduced in January 2015. Before the implementation of the ETS, in 2012 South Korea introduced the Target Management System (TMS), which was a precursor to the ETS and covered 60% of total emissions.
In Phase I (2015–2017) of the ETS, all allowances are allocated freely. Auctioning will only take place for 3% of allowances in Phase II (2018–2020) and for 10% of allowances in Phase III (2021–2025) (IETA, 2015). Energy intensive and trade-exposed sectors will receive free allowances for all of their emissions in all three phases. The ETS covers 525 business entities from 23 sub-sectors from steel, cement, petrochemicals, refinery, power, buildings, waste and aviation sectors; this includes all installations in the industrial and power sectors with annual emissions higher than 257 ktCO2e. The ETS system includes both direct and indirect emissions (emissions electricity use).
In Phase I of the ETS (2015–2017) the absolute emissions cap will decrease from 573 MtCO2e in 2015, to 562 MtCO2e in 2016 and 551 MtCO2e in 2017 (Carbon Market Watch, 2015). In addition to the overall cap, the ETS also sets sectoral caps that reflect sectoral-based emission reduction targets (ICAP, 2016). The sectors were selected based on the size of their contribution to the country’s overall emissions and are expected to play an important role in reducing emissions to 30% below the baseline by 2020, with sector-wide reductions ranging from 17.5% for waste to 34.3% for transport. The caps for Phase II (2018–2020) and Phase III (2021–2025) have not been announced. In 2016, responsibility for the ETS shifted from the Ministry of Environment to the Ministry of Strategy and Finance (Carbon pulse, 2016).
In 2009, South Korea set a light-duty vehicle emissions standard of 140 g/km in 2015. In December 2014, this was strengthened to 97 g/km by 2020.
Pledge and post-2020 contribution
Historical emissions in South Korea were taken from the national inventories submitted to UNFCCC (2015). The 2030 INDC target was calculated based on the accompanying BAU scenario (Republic of Korea, 2015). The target is calculated excluding LULUCF emissions.
BAU projections for the 2020 pledge were taken from the Third National Communication (Republic of Korea, 2012) whilst the BAU for INDC is taken directly from the INDC pledge. We no longer consider this target when calculating the global temperature rise associated with the aggregated pledges of all countries.
Current policy projections
Current trend projections are based on the BAU scenario from the 6th Edition of APEC Energy Demand and Supply Outlook (APERC, 2016) and the US EPA non-CO2 emission projections until 2030 (USEPA, 2012). Non-energy related CO2 emissions are assumed to remain constant at the 2012 level. For the upper end of the range we use the APERC BAU scenario directly. This scenario reaches 3.7% of renewable power generation in 2024, growing further to 4.7% in 2030. For the lower end of the range we adjusted the scenario based on the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), assuming 10% or renewable power generation is achieved by 2024 and sustained up to 2030.
Asia Pacific Energy Research Centre (APERC,2016). APEC Energy Demand and Supply Outlook 6th Edition.
Carbon Market Watch. (2015). Towards a Global Carbon Market Prospects for Linking the EU ETS to Other Carbon Markets.
ICAP (2016). Korea Emissions Trading Scheme.
IEA (2014). CO2 emissions from fuel combustion. International Energy Agency (IEA), Paris, France.
IEA (2016). IEA Energy Data Balances (IEA), Paris, France.
IETA (2015). Republic of Korea: an Emissions Trading Case Study.
Kim, Y., Yoo, J., and Oh, W. (2015). Driving forces of rapid CO2 growth: A case of Korea. In: Energy Policy 82 (2015).
Korea Herald (2015). S. Korea to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 14 pct by 2030.
Ministry of Environment. (2014). Roadmap for achieving national greenhouse gas reduction targets.
Ministry of Environment (2015). Korea confirmed 2030 greenhouse gas reduction target of 37% reduction as compared to BAU (851 million tons) (in Korean)
Republic of Korea (2010). South Korea's pledge to the Copenhagen Accord. Compiled in: Compilation of information on nationally appropriate mitigation actions to be implemented by Parties not included in Annex I to the Convention, UNFCCC (2011).
Republic of Korea (2012). South Korea’s 3rd National Communication to the UNFCCC.
Republic of Korea (2015). Submission of the Republic of Korea Intended Nationally Determined Contribution.
Republic of Korea (2016). Green Growth Act.
Reuters (2015). South Korea axes four coal plants, plans two new nuclear units.
Reuters (2016). South Korea to shut 10 ageing coal-fired power plants by 2025
TransportPolicy (2015). South Korea: Light-duty: Fuel Economy and GHG.
UNEP (2010). Overview of the republic of Korea’s national strategy for green growth. Geneva: United Nations Environment Programme.
UNFCCC (2015). GHG emission profiles for non-Annex I countries.
USEPA (2012). Global Mitigation of Non-CO2 Greenhouse Gases, Washington, D.C., USA.