South Korea pledged to reduce its emissions by 30% below business-as-usual emissions in 2020. This pledge is rated “medium”. South Korea is not expected to meet its pledge with current policies, even though its policy package is innovative and exceptional for a non-Annex I country.
South Korea has agreed to reduce its emissions by 30% below business-as-usual (BAU) emissions in 2020. The target was proposed in November 2009 and submitted to the Copenhagen Accord on 25 January 2010. No conditions were specified for this pledge.
In its 3rd National Communication (2012), South Korea lowered its BAU projections to 776 MtCO2e in 2020 from projections provided earlier of 813 MtCO2e.
It notes: “this recalculation does not change the 30% reduction goal rate.” South Korea is the only country that increased the stringency of its pledge (in terms of associated absolute emission target to be achieved) by correcting BAU emissions downwards. Under the new BAU projections the pledge would result in emissions of 543 MtCO2e in 2020, excluding LULUCF. In 2014, the Ministry of Environment published its National GHG Emissions Reduction Roadmap. This roadmap confirms the BAU projections from the National Communication and the emissions reduction pledge, and provides a sectoral breakdown of the emissions reductions.
We rate South Korea’s pledge for 2020 “medium”. The pledge is in line with approaches that focus on responsibility and staged approaches. Due to the inclusion of more effort sharing studies, the “sufficient” and “medium” range for South Korea has changed compared to the assessments in previous years. As a result of this we changed the rating for South Korea from “sufficient” to “medium”, even though there has been no change in the pledged emission level for 2020. Notably, we decreased the lower end of the “sufficient” range as a result of the inclusion of approaches that focus on equal cumulative per capita emissions. The upper end of the “medium” and “sufficient” range is lowered because of development in South Korea that was not included in the studies used in earlier assessments. The Increasing GDP level leads to more stringent fair shares in approaches that focus on for example capability.
Current implemented policies are estimated to lead to emission levels of between 597 to 637 MtCO2e in 2020 and 601 to 697 MtCO2e in 2030, excluding emissions from LULUCF. Whether South Korea will meet its unconditional pledge depends on the final design and implementation of the emissions trading system. While emissions stabilise in 2020 under current policy projections, they show an increase again up to 2030. This has to do with the emission trading system (ETS) that will run only until 2026. It is not clear yet what the cap will be in phase III (2021-2026), and if and how South Korea will continue this system after 2026. LULUCF emissions have historically been a sink of between 26 and 41 MtCO2e and are projected to remain a sink of 23 MtCO2e by 2020 (Republic of Korea, 2012).
South Korea's emissions have more than doubled between 1990 and 2010. Emissions steeply increased in the early 1990s. Growth then continued at a slower pace, and is continuing to slow down. While South Korea's energy intensity has been slowly declining, it is still very high, and will foreseeably remain above the OECD average in the coming years. The share of nuclear energy in electricity supply is projected to remain high at 44% in 2020 and 49% in 2030.
South Korea has successfully 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.
South Korea introduced the Target Management System (TMS) in 2012. The TMS covers 60% of total emissions. Full implementation of the ETS started in 2015 and covers all installations in the industrial and power sectors with annual emissions higher than 25 ktCO2e. The absolute emissions cap of the ETS in phase I (2015-2017) and phase II (2018-2020) is expected to be in line with the pledge. However, it is not yet clear what percentage of total national emissions will be covered under the system. No information on the design of phase III (2021-2026) has been published yet. Since there are still uncertainties about the measuring, reporting and verification (MRV) of emissions, we assume that the target of the scheme will not be fully achieved, resulting in a reduction range between 131 and 174 MtCO2e, compared to the BAU from the National Communication.
The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) was introduced in 2012 and is replacing a previous feed-in tariff scheme. The new standard is obliging suppliers to meet annual generation targets from renewable energy. They begin with 2% and increase to 10% in 2022 (Kemco, 2013). South Korea has already started implementing renewable energy technologies but is still dependent on coal, so the reduction effect is low compared to its potential.
For the residential building sector, the government has set up a subsidy program that is targeting one million homes to be supplied by renewable sources such as geothermal, solar PV, small wind or thermal solar. Fifty percent of the costs for each household will be subsidised. So far, the annual increase rate of the scheme, as well as the supporting modalities, seem to be successful and therefore we assumed that the target will be reached.
Together, the RPS and the million green homes measures are expected to reduce emissions by 29 MtCO2e in 2020 and 80 MtCO2e in 2030 (overlap with the ETS scheme not taken into account).
Historical emissions in South Korea were taken from the national inventories submitted to UNFCCC (2014) and the Third National Communication (Republic of Korea, 2012). BAU projections were taken from the Third National Communication (Republic of Korea, 2012).
Current policy projections
Current trend projections are based on the International Energy Outlook 2013 Reference case projections for CO2 emissions only until 2030 (EIA, 2013), the US EPA non-CO2 emission projections until 2030 (USEPA, 2012). The International Energy Outlook 2013 projections are further updated to include the Renewable Portfolio Standard, “1 Million Green Homes” Project and ETS. It is assumed that with these policies, the share of renewable energy in total energy supply is 6.1% in 2020 and 11% in 2030 (UNEP, 2010). The ETS system is assumed to cover from 60% (coverage of TMS system; EDF & IETA, 2014) to 75% (own assumption) of total emissions in 2020 and to cap emissions at 30% below the BAU projections (EDF & IETA, 2014). An implementation barrier of 0%–6 % is assumed, based on expert judgement. This implies that 94-100% of the targeted emission reductions are achieved. Since Phase III of the ETS runs until 2026 and no information on the design of this phase is available yet, 2030 emissions under current policies are uncertain. The range reflects two possible pathways to 2030; 1) The cap and coverage of the ETS remain at the 2020 level; 2) The ETS is no longer in place in 2030 and emissions increase at the reference growth rate. Overlap between the emission reductions resulting from the increased use of renewables and the ETS is assumed to be 25% to 75%.
EIA (2013). International Energy Outlook 2013. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Kemco (2013b). Background information on 1 million green homes.
Republic of Korea (2012). South Korea’s 3rd National Communication to the UNFCCC.
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).
UNEP (2010). Overview of the republic of Korea’s national strategy for green growth. Geneva: United Nations Environment Programme.
UNFCCC (2014). GHG emission profiles for non-Annex I countries.
USEPA (2012). Global Mitigation of Non-CO2 Greenhouse Gases, Washington, D.C., USA.