In June 2021, South Korea’s ruling party proposed increasing the country’s current 2030 target from a 24.4% reduction to a 40% reduction, below 2017 GHG emission levels. While the proposal, if adopted, represents a significant improvement to the country’s 2030 target submitted in December 2020, it is not yet aligned to what is needed globally to be on a Paris Agreement compatible 1.5°C consistent pathway. South Korea’s official NDC submission, with its promised strengthened 2030 target, is expected ahead of COP26 in November.
CAT analysis of NDC proposal
After submitting its updated NDC in December 2020, President Moon Jae-in pledged at the P4G Seoul Summit that South Korea would strengthen its 2030 climate target and submit it to the UNFCCC ahead of COP26 in November 2021. During a speech to parliament in June 2021, the leader of the South Korea’s ruling Democratic party, Song Young-gil, proposed that South Korea reduces its emissions by 40% below 2017 emissions by 2030.
The proposal, if adopted, would significantly strengthen the 2030 target from the 24.4% reduction below 2017 emissions in the December 2020 NDC submission. It would further reduce Korea’s emissions in 2030 by 111 MtCO2e compared to the December submission. It would, however, still not be compatible with what would be necessary at a global level to be on a pathway consistent with 1.5°C.
The CAT is in the process of revising its rating system for country’s targets and climate action. As part of this new rating system, the CAT has derived “1.5˚C consistent modelled pathways” for each country it assesses from downscaling global and regional 1.5°C compatible scenarios from the IPCC special report on 1.5°C, filtered to account for sustainability constraints on bioenergy use rates and magnitude of carbon dioxide removal. These scenarios distribute emission reductions across countries and sectors in a cost-effective way to limit global temperature rise to below 1.5°C by the end of the century.
Our analysis shows South Korea would need to further increase its current 2030 climate target to a 58% reduction below 2017 emissions (equivalent to an absolute national emissions level of 303 MtCO2e excl. LULUCF in 2030 — within its borders and excluding offsets) for it to be compatible with a 1.5°C pathway and be on track to achieve net zero CO2 in 2050. It is important for the South Korean government to consider this benchmark throughout its process of updating its 2030 climate target ahead of COP26. CAT is currently in the process of updating its rating methodology. Based on the previous CAT rating system, South Korea’s proposed target would not have been 1.5 compatible either.
Together with South Korea’s plan to strengthen its 2030 climate target ahead of COP26, it would be crucial for the South Korean government to communicate how it expects to achieve it. Based on the latest CAT assessment, projections under current policies show a growing trend in GHG emissions, despite slowing down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the past year, there have been a number of positive policy developments in South Korea. For instance, the government announced its plans to construct an offshore wind farm that will account for 50% of the country’s planned offshore wind production by 2030. It also announced it will speed up efforts to reduce GHG emissions from older ships. We will assess these developments in our next country update, later this year.
South Korea plans to achieve part of its 2030 target through purchasing international credits and increasing the LULUCF sink. The 2020 NDC provides that “the updated target also includes an increased share of domestic reduction,” but lacks further specifics. As the NDC proposal also, similarly, lacks specifics, for this analysis we assume that the contribution of LULUCF and international credits remain the same as in the 2030 Roadmap (i.e. a reduction of 4.5% below 2030 BAU emissions or 39 MtCO2e); and estimate that South Korea’s domestic reduction target (excl. LULUCF) is 467 MtCO2e by 2030.
Although the updated 2020 NDC includes an increased share of domestic reductions, it provides no specifics. We have therefore assumed that the contribution of voluntary cooperation through Article 6 and LULUCF remains the same, i.e. a reduction of 39 MtCO2e as in the 2030 Roadmap. This results in a domestic reduction target of 578 MtCO2e and an overall target of 540 MtCO2e for the December NDC target. We have assumed the same contributions for the NDC proposal by Korea’s ruling party. The 40% reduction from 2017 proposed target is thus equivalent to a domestic reduction of 467 MtCO2e and an overall target 428 MtCO2e.
Global Warming Potential (GWP) values
South Korea uses GWP values from the IPCC’s Second Assessment Report (SAR). We converted to AR4 GWP values to ease comparison of countries’ targets and emission trajectories.