By Hwang Jang-jin
The government yesterday decided to voluntarily cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to 4 percent lower than 2005 levels.
The target represents a 30 percent reduction from its forecast amount in 2020 and the highest level recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for developing and emerging countries.
Korea is not bound by the Kyoto treaty, which requires industrialized nations to set emissions cut targets.
Through the voluntary commitment, Korea hopes to show its resolve to fight climate change and set an example for other countries to follow, Cheong Wa Dae said.
The decision came amid dim prospect for a U.N. climate change summit in Copenhagen in December, in which leaders will discuss a new treaty to replace Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012.
On Sunday, Asia-Pacific leaders supported delaying a legally binding treaty until 2010 or later and aiming to a political deal to push for more comprehensive accord.
Korea is the world`s ninth-largest emitter of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases and registered the fastest emission growth among OECD members from 1990-2005.
The target was approved by the Cabinet in a meeting chaired by President Lee Myung-bak.
The government chose the boldest of three options it has considered: one was an 8 percent increase from 2005, the second was a freeze and the third was the 4 percent drop.
The goal is a domestic and unilateral target, not an internationally binding one, the presidential office added.
Businesses complain that the target is too ambitious and would hurt the competitiveness of a nation largely depending on manufacturing and competing with China, the world`s second largest carbon-emitter.
Beijing has yet to give specific goals while pledging in September to make a "notable" reduction in proportion to its gross domestic product.
With respect to business concerns, Lee stressed the need to meet an increasingly pressing demand worldwide for an environmentally-friendly growth.
"We should give more consideration to how to attain larger national gains by reducing greenhouse gas," he said during the Cabinet meeting.
"Companies should revamp themselves into low-carbon, higher-efficient structure."
If no action is taken, Korea`s annual emissions are estimated to reach 813 million metric tons by 2020, a 37 percent increase from 594.4 million tons in 2005.
"This will be a chance for the nation not only to contribute to international efforts to fight global warming, but also to significantly raise its status in the international community," he said.
"Even though there are doubts about the Copenhagen meeting, the announcement of our voluntary reduction plan will be a chance to urge the international community to act more responsibly," the presidential office said in a statement.
The government will form a special taskforce to establish detailed plans to attain the goal next year, the office said.
In initial stages, the efforts will be focused on construction, transportation and other sectors which have much room for reduction, the office said.
"The government will continue to discuss measures to mitigate damage to economic growth and industrial competitiveness," Knowledge Economy Minister Choi Kyung-hwan said during the meeting.
Businesses demand government support and flexible implementation in consideration of conditions of individual industries.
The new policy is expected to hit hardest electricity, steel and automobile and other high energy-consuming manufacturers, which have already faced stiff competition with China.
Petrochemical firms worry that a further reduction would be difficult in the industry which has already achieved a world leading level of energy efficiency through facility investments so far.
Major businesses have announced plans to invest in cutting emissions to cope with increasingly stricter regulations at home and overseas.
Samsung Electronics said in July that it will spend 5.4 trillion won by 2013 in research and development and production facilities hoping to halve its emissions from 2008 levels.
Hyundai Kia Automotive Group plans a 500 billion won investment by 2013 and LG Electronics aims to cut greenhouse gas emitting from its products by 30 million metric tons per year until 2020.
Environmental activists expressed disappointment with the goal, saying the government succumbed to pressures from the business community.
They call for at least a 25 percent cut by 2020 from 2005 levels in consideration the nation`s economic status and the fast growth in its energy consumption.