South Korea

Overall rating
Highly insufficient
Policies & actions
Highly insufficient
< 4°C World
Domestic target
< 3°C World
Fair share target
Highly 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 PRIMAP National Historical Greenhouse Gas Emissions Database (Gütschow, Günther and Pflüger, 2021). This data is provided in AR4. The latest historical datapoint in this set is 2019. The CAT develops 2020 estimates either by sector, or by gas. For South Korea we use the gas method, assuming that CO2 emissions follow the 2020 growth rate observed in the Global Carbon Budget (Le Quéré et al., 2020), while non-CO2 emissions follow the five-year historical trend.

NDC and other targets

The updated 2021 NDC sets a new target of 40% below 2018 levels (total emissions excl. LULUCF in 2018 compared to net emissions in 2030 – incl. reductions from LULUCF and international credits). The document provides a breakdown of emissions per sector, in addition to details on targeted removals from LULUCF, CCUS, and overseas. We convert the domestic and overall targets from SAR to AR4 following the method outlined below.

South Korea’s first NDC target was a 37% reduction below BAU by 2030 (excl. LULUCF and international credits) (Republic of Korea, 2016). Using the BAU presented, the CAT estimates the absolute 2030 emissions target as 539 MtCO2e by 2030.

The updated 2020 NDC target was a 24.4% reduction below 2017 levels (total emissions excl. LULUCF in 2017 compared to net emissions in 2030 – incl. reductions from LULUCF and international credits). Using the historical emissions data from South Korea’s national GHG inventory (Republic of Korea, 2020a), the CAT estimates the absolute emissions target as 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 convert to AR4 GWP values to ease comparison of countries’ targets and emission trajectories. We use detailed emissions data per gas from the national inventory (SAR), and the SAR/AR4 GWPs to derive a full emissions dataset in AR4. We use the ratio of total emissions in SAR and AR4 in 2017 to convert the BAU to AR4 (the annual difference between SAR and AR4 is around 4.5 MtCO2e, with low variance). We apply the reduction stated in the NDC to the total emissions in AR4 GWPs.

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.

The Carbon Neutrality Act sets a target to reduce emissions by 35% compared to 2018 emissions (727.6 MtCO2e SAR). We convert to AR4 emissions following the method outlined above. We assume that South Korea, as with the NDC, intends to use LULUCF and international credits to meet this emissions target. The CAT estimates the domestic reduction target as 514 MtCO2e and the overall target as 476 MtCO2e.

South Korea’s 2050 carbon neutrality scenarios present 2050 emissions targets for each sector, in addition to details on targeted removals from LULUCF and CCUS. The CAT considers total emissions excl. LULUCF in 2050. The value is derived from the information provided and converted to AR4 by multiplying the value in SAR with the ratio of the 2017 values in AR4 and SAR. We assume that the target values presented cover all GHGs.

2020 pledge

BAU projections for the 2020 pledge were taken from the Third National Communication (SAR) (Republic of Korea, 2012). We convert the BAU to AR4 GWP following the method described above. We no longer consider the 2020 pledge when calculating the global temperature rise associated with the aggregated pledges of all countries.

Current policy projections

Current policy projections are calculated based on emissions reductions below 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 2020 level.

The APEC BAU is not used as a current policy scenario as its forecast for renewables share in power generation (7.6%) is comparable to the 2020 share of renewables (6%) (IEA, 2021b) and much lower than other studies, which range from 14% to 20% (Keramidas et al., 2018; Hong et al., 2019; Wood Mackenzie, 2019).

With no change to the five-year trend in renewables share, this would reach around 15% in 2030. We therefore consider the Wood Mackenzie projection for the upper bound of current policies projections – 17% in 2030, representing a slight increase in activity before 2030, but missing the target of 20.8%. We derive the emissions projection from the APEC BAU by assuming additional generation from renewables replaces coal-fired power generation.

For the lower bound current policies projections, we consider the power generation level and mix presented in the Ninth Electricity Plan in December 2020 (MOTIE, 2020).

The average electricity CO2 emission factors for each fossil fuel type in South Korea were assumed to be similar to the values forecast for Japan in the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2020 (IEA, 2020).

COVID-19 impact

We apply a novel method to estimate the COVID-19-related dip in greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 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 in to account the effect of the pandemic. To capture a range, we use GDP projections from the IMF 2021-2026 and OECD for 2021 (OECD, 2020; IMF, 2021a, 2021b). After the last year in each projection, we use the GDP growth until 2030 that was used as a basis for the original pre-pandemic current policy scenario.

The quantification of South Korea’s current policies projections focuses on energy-related CO2 emissions reductions. For scenarios that already consider the impact of COVID-19, we do not adjust energy-related CO2 emissions, to avoid double-counting.

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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