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The South Korean government recently released a new 15-year “Plan for Electricity Supply and Demand” that confirms President Moon Jae-in’s stated intention to increase the share of renewable electricity generation. This is a positive sign that the government is willing to take stronger actions to tackle climate change. Under the plan, South Korea aims to expand the share of renewables in 2030 to 20% of generated electricity, building on the 10% share by 2024 currently targeted by the renewable portfolio standard.
The Plan also includes projections for new gas-fired capacity at a lower level than previously announced. This is probably partially due to expected lower level of peak electricity demand in 2030 (-11%) and the inability of the government to close the coal-fired plants already planned or under construction. This means South Korea's power generation mix will remain heavily dependent on thermal coal, which will still account for more than a third of generated electricity in 2030.
If fully implemented together with the expected lower level of electricity demand, these announcements would lead to emissions reductions of around 53 to 69 MtCO2e/year (7–9%) below the current policy projection level in 2030, still quite far off the NDC target level to be achieved domestically (see “Planned policy projection” in the graph).
South Korea’s mitigation commitments are still very weak, allowing domestic greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 to more than double from 1990 levels. With emissions already above 1990 levels, and in a country with some of the fastest growing emissions in the OECD, the government has a lot of work to do.
In 2016, South Korea submitted its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), including a target of reducing GHG emissions excluding land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) by 37% below business-as-usual emissions (or 18% below 2010 level) by 2030. Based on this target, we rate South Korea “Highly insufficient”.
In its updated Green Growth Act South Korea has replaced its 2020 pledge with the 2030 NDC target (Republic of Korea, 2016). Given the 2020 pledge was more ambitious than the NDC target—aiming for a similar emissions level than ten years earlier—the NDC actually represents a weakening of South Korea’s climate plans.
The NDC target allows domestic greenhouse gas emissions (excl. emissions from the land use sector) to more than double by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. 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 NDC target. To achieve this, more stringent policies are required, even for a weak target.
South Korea intends to achieve part of its target by using “carbon credits from international market mechanisms” (Republic of Korea, 2015). The Government clarified 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).