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Korea waters down emissions cut plan

South Korea on Thursday unveiled four different targets for an emissions reduction by 2030, which critics say would backtrack from its previous commitments.

The Ministry of Environment said it would choose one from among the four options before the country submits it to the United Nations later this month. National goals will be evaluated for a new global climate change pact to be adopted at a U.N. conference in Paris in December.

Korea‘s new proposals call for a reduction by 14.7 percent, 19.2 percent, 25.7 percent or 31.3 percent from the business-as-usual level by 2030.

Given more than 850 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent are projected to be released that year according to the government, the options mean limiting the anticipated emissions to between 585 million and 726 million tons.

The proposals drew criticism from both environmentalists and businesses.

Civic groups say that the plan is weaker than the nation’s previously declared commitments.

In 2009, the government proposed a reduction of about 543 million tons by 2020. This was a 4 percent cut in actual emissions from 2005 levels, or a 30 percent cut from projected levels. 

Except the most aggressive goal of 31.3 percent, the other three options are likely to allow for more emissions by then, they said.

Businesses, on the other hand, expressed concerns about possible damage to cost competitiveness. They claimed the government’s plan underestimates the expected level of emissions in 2030.

They project that over 900 million tons of CO2e will be emitted, which is about 50 million tons more than the government’s calculation.

The ministry said the targets were drafted in consideration of feasibility, gross domestic product forecasts, potential economic impacts and growing international demand. 

The government plans to hold public hearings starting from Friday to make a final choice of its “intended nationally determined contribution” to global climate reduction efforts by the end of the month.

The U.N. Climate Change Conference, or the Conference of the Parties 21, in December is intended to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, which experts consider to be the threshold for catastrophic climate change.

About 200 countries will likely set up a new global agreement on climate change in Paris to replace the Kyoto Protocol from 1997.

The new agreement is expected to involve developing countries in the climate change effort for the first time. The Kyoto Protocol only required developed states to curb emissions, stirring international calls for the participation of developing countries with growing emissions.

Korea was not obligated to cut emissions but has voluntarily sought to contribute to a carbon cut.

As of this month, 38 countries, including the U.S. and European Union members, submitted their cut pledges. China, Japan and Singapore are expected to unveil their plans soon, officials said. 

By Lee Hyun-jeong (