Paris Agreement targets
South Korea announced a stronger NDC in October 2021 – a 40% reduction in emissions compared to 2018 levels, including emissions reductions from LULUCF and international credits (Republic of Korea, 2021a). The CAT estimates the domestic target as 501 MtCO2e and the overall target as 468 MtCO2e, representing an 19% reduction compared to the NDC submitted in December 2020 (see assumptions section). While this is a significant improvement, the CAT still rates the domestic target as “Insufficient”. To meet the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit, the CAT estimates that a domestic reduction of at least 59% is needed by 2030 (301 MtCO2e).
South Korea plans to achieve part of its 2030 target through purchasing international credits and increasing the LULUCF sink. Compared to the 2020 NDC update, the new NDC increases the LULUCF sink from -22.1 to -26.7 MtCO2e and the overseas reductions from -16.2 to -33.5 MtCO2e. Reductions from carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS) remains unchanged at -10.3 MtCO2e.
In its updated NDC from 2020, South Korea provided 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. These additions provide 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 CAT rates South Korea’s domestic target as “Insufficient” and its fair share target as “Highly 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 “Highly insufficient” when compared with its fair-share contribution to climate action. The “Highly insufficient” rating indicates that South Korea’s fair share target in 2030 leads to rising, rather than falling, emissions and 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 could reach over 3°C and up to 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 announced its updated NDC in October 2021, strengthening the nation’s 2030 target from 26.3% to 40% below 2018 level, including emissions reductions from LULUCF and international credits. In absolute terms, the CAT estimates that the new NDC reduces domestic emissions excl. LULUCF from 578 to 501 MtCO2e. The new NDC is now aligned with South Korea’s carbon neutrality target, announced in October 2020.
Net zero and other long-term target(s)
We evaluate the net zero target as: Average.
After President Moon Jae-in announced South Korea’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050, the government also included this commitment in its updated NDC and its Long-Term Strategy (Republic of Korea, 2020b, 2021a). The carbon neutrality target is enshrined in law through the Carbon Neutrality Act, which was passed in August 2021 (Ministry of Environment, 2021).
In October 2021, South Korea published the 2050 carbon neutrality scenarios with two pathways to net zero emissions in 2050 (Republic of Korea, 2021b). Both scenarios lead to a coal phase out before 2050 but remain unclear about the exact phase out year. One of the scenarios maintains a share of natural gas, while the other one phases out gas by 2050 as well. Improving on the LTS, the 2050 carbon neutrality scenarios explicitly states that the net zero target does not include overseas reductions. South Korea is still not explicit in its coverage of GHGs, and the target review process lacks detail.
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, the 2020 pledge would have resulted in emissions of 551 MtCO2e/year excluding LULUCF (equivalent to 85% above 1990 emission levels). Emissions in 2020 exceeded this target by around 25% at 687 MtCO2e excluding LULUCF.