South Korea

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



Comprehensiveness rated as

Land use & forestry
Not significant

Historical emissions

Historical emissions in South Korea were taken from the latest national inventories published in January 2020 (Greenhouse Gas Inventory & Research Center of Korea, 2020). This data is provided in SAR GWPs and is converted to AR4 based on detailed data by gas. The 2030 NDC target was calculated based on the accompanying BAU scenario (Republic of Korea, 2016b). The target is calculated excluding LULUCF emissions.

NDC and other targets

Previous CAT assessments indicated that South Korea’s previous NDC target of a 37% reduction below BAU by 2030 (excl. LULUCF and international credits) equalled 539 MtCO2e by 2030. This assessment states that the new target of 24.4% below 2017 levels (excl. LULUCF and international credits) equals 540 MtCO2e. This difference of 1 MtCO2e is the result of converting 2030 and 2017 base year values from SAR to AR4 GWP values. For all intents and purposes, we consider the target unchanged, notwithstanding these minor methodological variances.

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.

For the domestic contribution, we took the following assumptions:

The 2030 Roadmap, which was introduced in 2016 and revised in 2018, provides for a 37% reduction below 2030 BAU emissions. This target consists of two components: a 32.5% reduction below BAU in domestic emissions and a 4.5% reduction through international market mechanisms and the LULUCF sector. This equals a reduction of 39 MtCO2e by 2030.

Although the updated 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. This results in a domestic reduction target of 578 MtCO2e and an overall target of 540 MtCO2e.

2020 pledge

BAU projections for the 2020 pledge were taken from the Third National Communication (Republic of Korea, 2012) whilst the BAU for NDC is taken directly from the NDC pledge. We no longer consider the 2020 pledge when calculating the global temperature rise associated with the aggregated pledges of all countries. Both targets were defined in GWPs from SAR and therefore updated to AR4 in our assessment by harmonising given data with data on historical emissions.

Current policy projections

Current trend projections are based on the BAU scenario from the 7th Edition of APEC Energy Demand and Supply Outlook (APERC, 2019) and the US EPA non-CO2 emission projections until 2030 (US EPA, 2019). Non-energy related CO2 emissions are assumed to remain constant at the 2014 level. For the upper end of the range we use the APERC BAU scenario directly. Under this scenario the share of renewables in total electricity generation in 2030 reaches 7.6%. There are, however, other analyses that project higher renewable electricity shares (17% by Wood Mackenzie (Wood Mackenzie, 2019) and 14% by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (Keramidas et al., 2018)). Therefore, the upper bound emissions projections represent the electricity mix as projected by the APEC Outlook, while the lower bound emissions projections represent an adapted electricity mix in which renewable electricity share reaches 17% by 2030 by replacing coal-fired power generation. The average electricity CO2 emission factors for fossil fuel-fired power generation displaced by renewables in 2030 per fuel type were assumed to be similar to the 2016 levels as reported by IEA (IEA, 2018).

COVID-19 impact

We applied a novel method to estimate the COVID-19-related dip in greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 and the deployment through to 2030. The uncertainty surrounding the severity and length of the pandemic creates a new level of uncertainty for current and future greenhouse gas emissions.

We first update the current policy projections using most recent projections, usually prepared before the pandemic. We then distil the emissions intensity (GHG emissions/GDP) from this pre-pandemic scenario and apply to it most recent GDP projections that take into account the effect of the pandemic. To capture a wide range, we used GDP projections by IMF and OECD for 2020 and 2021 (IMF, 2020; OECD, 2020). For years after 2020, we use the GDP growth until 2030 that was used as a basis for the original pre-pandemic current policy scenario. GDP projections from the South Korean government and the Bank of Korea were not used in the calculations because they only provide 2020 projections and no 2021 projections; their 2020 projections are a little higher than the IMF and OECD projections (-0.2% to +0.1%, compared to -2.5% to -1.2%).

Global Warming Potentials values

The CAT uses Global Warming Potential (GWP) values from the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) for all its figures and time series. Assessments completed prior to December 2018 (COP24) used GWP values from the Second Assessment Report (SAR).

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