South Korea

Overall rating
Highly insufficient
Policies & action
Highly insufficient
< 4°C World
Domestic target
Insufficient
< 3°C World
Fair share target
Critically insufficient
4°C+ World
Cimate finance
Not assessed
Net zero target

year

2050

Comprehensiveness evaluated as

Poor
Land use & forestry

impact on overall emissions is

Overview

This assessment includes our policy analysis from 30 July 2020 translated into our new rating methodology without new analysis of South Korea’s climate policies since then, except the NDC update submitted in June 2021. We will fully analyse South Korea in the coming months and the rating may change.

Overall rating
Highly insufficient

The CAT rates South Korea’s climate targets and policies as “Highly insufficient”. The “Highly insufficient” rating indicates that South Korea’s climate policies and commitments are not consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit.

South Korea’s domestic 2030 target would lead to 3°C of warming when compared to modelled domestic pathways. To achieve its target, South Korea would need to enhance its policies and action which are currently only compatible with 4°C of warming compared to modelled domestic pathways. We rate South Korea’s NDC target including the emissions reductions abroad as “Critically insufficient” when compared with its fair-share contribution to climate action. South Korea should significantly increase the domestic component of its emissions reduction target, to get on a 1.5°C Paris Agreement compatible pathway. To meet its fair-share contribution, it needs to support additional reductions beyond that in other countries, roughly in the size of the reductions implied by the current international element of its NDC.

Policies & action
Highly insufficient

We rate South Korea’s policies and action as “Highly insufficient”. The “Highly insufficient” rating indicates that South Korea’s policies and action in 2030 are not at all consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit. If all countries were to follow South Korea’s approach, warming could reach over 3°C and up to 4°C. The range of projections under current policies spans two rating categories, with the median of the scenarios just about falling in the “Highly insufficient” range. A small upward change in the scenarios would result in a downgrade to “Critically insufficient” of South Korea’s policies and action.

We expect that emissions in South Korea will be about 4% to 6% lower in 2020 than in 2019 as a result of the global pandemic. While it is challenging to project the eventual impact of the COVID-19 crisis on future emissions, the CAT estimates that South Korea’s emissions may stagnate and even slightly decrease towards 2030, a trend that could be further strengthened by more stringent climate policies.

While the current ruling party of South Korea publicly committed during the 2020 general election campaign to stop financing coal, introduce a carbon tax, and boost the development of renewables as part of its “Green New Deal”, except for renewables support, these were not adopted in the final New Deal package. While the strengthened support for hydrogen and electric vehicles is important for decarbonisation, the South Korean government did not commit to a phase-out timeline for internal combustion vehicles. The government also continues supporting new coal power constructions both domestically and internationally, and recently bailed out a major coal plant manufacturer, Doosan Heavy Industries.

The energy policy of South Korea (the third Energy Master Plan up to 2040) adopted in June 2019, together with the 2017 power sector plan for the period up to 2030, aims to increase the renewable electricity share to 20% by 2030 and 30% to 35% by 2040–up from 3% in 2017. The government has yet to commit to a complete phase-out of its coal-fired power plants. The draft ninth electricity plan contains a significantly more ambitious renewable electricity target.

Currently implemented policies are estimated to lead to an emissions level of 665 to 743 MtCO2e/year in 2030 (‑7% to 4% in relative to 2017 levels, that is 123% to 150% above 1990 levels) depending on the eventual impact of the COVID-19 crisis, excluding emissions from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF).

The full policies and action analysis can be found here.

Domestic target
Insufficient

We rate South Korea’s domestic target for 2030 as “Insufficient” when compared modelled domestic pathways. The “Insufficient” rating indicates that South Korea’s domestic target in 2030 needs substantial improvements to be consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit. If all countries were to follow South Korea’s approach, warming would reach over 2°C and up to 3°C.

Fair share target
Critically insufficient

We rate South Korea’s overall NDC target (including the domestic and the international element) as “Critically insufficient” when compared with its fair-share contribution to climate action. The “Critically insufficient” rating indicates that South Korea’s fair share target in 2030 reflects minimal to no action and is not at all consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit. South Korea’s target is not in line with any interpretation of a fair approach to meeting the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit. If all countries were to follow South Korea’s approach, warming would exceed 4°C.

Net zero target
Poor

We evaluate the net zero target as “Poor”. South Korea’s target does not cover all sectors and gases as it only concerns carbon neutrality. The target is enshrined in law through the Climate Crisis Response Act, which was passed in August 2021. South Korea provides no information on its intention to include international aviation and shipping, and does not explicitly rule out the use of international credits to achieve its target. Another shortcoming is the lack of detail in both the government’s review process and its plan to reach net zero CO2 emissions.

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