Paris Agreement targets
South Korea submitted its updated NDC in December 2020. Compared to its previous submission, South Korea has now put forward an absolute mitigation target instead of a reduction compared to a business as usual (BAU) scenario. Because the previous NDC provided this scenario in absolute terms, the previous NDC target was de facto also absolute. The updated NDC does not change the targeted 2030 emissions level in absolute terms and represents no enhancement of ambition.
The updated NDC aims for a reduction of 24.4% below 2017 levels by 2030, whereas the previous NDC set the goal of reducing business-as-usual emissions by 37% by 2030. These two targets both lead to an emissions level of 540 MtCO2e by 2030 (see assumptions section). This is 81% above 1990 emissions and 19% below 2010 emissions.
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. We therefore assume that the contribution of LULUCF and international credits remain the same as in the 2030 Roadmap; and estimate that South Korea’s domestic reduction target (excl. LULUCF) is 578 MtCO2e by 2030. This is equal to the domestic target under the previous submission.
In its updated NDC, South Korea provides information to facilitate clarity, transparency and understanding of the mitigation target, as per Decision 4/CMA.1. Most importantly, by setting an absolute target, South Korea made it easier to understand the meaning of its NDC. Further, in an Annex, the government provides clear information on timeframes, scope and coverage, planning processes, and other aspects of the 2030 target. All of this information also provides for more clarity on the country’s implementation plan. However, details on the extent to which it will increase its domestic target and the reliance on LULUCF are missing.
The updated NDC is based on a number of policy and legislative documents, including the Korean Emissions Trading Scheme (K-ETS) and the 2nd Basic Plan for Climate Change Response, which includes key strategies and sectoral mitigation measures. The K-ETS is the main policy for NDC implementation and currently covers 73.5% of domestic emissions. South Korea will promote the scheme more widely to efficiently reduce GHG emissions.
In October 2020, President Moon Jae-in announced South Korea’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. The updated NDC notes that the government will analyse various scenarios that lead to carbon neutrality by 2050, and further emissions reduction potential for 2030. Based on these analyses, South Korea may raise the NDC’s ambition level in the next few years.
The CAT rates South Korea’s domestic target as “Insufficient” and its fair share target as “Critically 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.
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.
Further information on how the CAT rates countries (against modelled pathways and fair share) can be found here.
Last NDC update
South Korea submitted its updated NDC in December 2020, but did not strengthen the nation’s 2030 target. It has made improvement in the architecture of its NDC as its target is now set as a 24.4% reduction below 2017 emission levels, whereas the previous NDC set a reduction target compared to a business as usual (BAU) scenario. However, the strength of the target remains unchanged at 540 MtCO2e – including contributions of LULUCF and international credits. If these contributions are excluded, we estimate South Korea’s target to correspond to 578 MtCO2e by 2030 or 19% below 2017 levels (see assumptions section).
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 (see our analysis here). South Korea’s official NDC submission, with its promised strengthened 2030 target, is expected ahead of COP26 in November.
Net zero and other long-term target(s)
We evaluate the net zero target as: Poor.
After president Moon Jae-in has announced South Korea’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2050, the government also included this commitment in its updated NDC and its Long-Term Strategy, which were both submitted to the UNFCCC in December (Republic of Korea, 2020a, 2020b). The carbon neutrality target is enshrined in law through the Climate Crisis Response Act, which was passed in August 2021.
The target does not cover all sectors and gases as it only concerns carbon neutrality. 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. Other shortcomings are the omission of a regular review cycle and the lack of a detailed plan to reach net zero CO2 emissions.
For our full South Korea net zero analysis click here.
Under the Copenhagen Accord, South Korea agreed to reduce its emissions by 30% below business-as-usual (BAU) emissions by 2020. It proposed this unconditional target in November 2009 and submitted it to the Copenhagen Accord on 25 January 2010.
Under the BAU projections from the Third National Communication, this pledge would have resulted in emissions of 551 MtCO2e/year in 2020 excluding LULUCF (equivalent to 85% above 1990 emission levels).
However, South Korea has replaced the 2020 pledge by the weaker 2030 NDC target in its updated Green Growth Act (National Law Information Center, 2016). Although the Copenhagen pledge has not officially been withdrawn, it is no longer actively pursued. We therefore no longer take this target into account when calculating the global temperature increase resulting from the current pledges of all countries.