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[Editorial] Overambitious target

Panel proposes to raise emission goal drastically; grounds not mentioned

The presidential committee on carbon neutrality on Friday proposed to raise the country’s greenhouse gas reduction goal to eliminating 40 percent of the 2018 emissions by 2030, a drastic increase from its previous target of 26.3 percent.

This is an intermediate target on the way to the long-term goal of achieving carbon neutrality or net-zero emissions by 2050.

It exceeds even the 35 percent stipulated in the basic law on carbon neutrality that passed the National Assembly on Aug. 31.

The government plans to present the country’s emission reduction goal, dubbed Nationally Determined Contributions, during the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Of course, strengthening a country’s emissions target will certainly contribute to solving climate problems. However, the attainability of a goal is an entirely different matter.

The panel revised the country’s goal sharply upward less than a month after President Moon Jae-in made an instruction to set the goal with the strongest will on Sept. 14. The following day, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum disclosed that Moon had said at a meeting that the goal should be raised to at least 40 percent. Then the panel raised the intermediate-term goal to 40 percent. There was no mention of the grounds for setting the raised target.

The government described Korea’s enhanced goal as “challenging and ambitious.” It is easy to see why it says so, if compared with other countries. To attain the new goal, Korea should reduce emissions by 4.17 percent on average each year until 2030. This is far higher than the US’ 2.81 percent, the UK’s 2.81 percent and the EU’s 1.98 percent.

Of course, the EU and the US began emission reduction efforts earlier than Korea so it needs to step up its efforts. But its targeted reduction rate is too high, considering the high weight of heavy industry in Korea’s economy. Manufacturing makes up 28.4 percent of Korean gross domestic product, far bigger than in the EU (16.4 percent) and the US (11 percent).

The government may want to show a strong will to cut emissions, but companies should bear the economic burden accompanying it. They will have to buy emissions rights or reduce operations if they cannot find new technologies to cut back on emissions.

The revised goal is certain to hit energy-intensive industries hard, such as steel, petrochemicals and electronics. Power generating companies forecast that an electricity rate hike will be inevitable.

If companies have to bear increased costs, they cannot but lose competitiveness. The 40 percent reduction target gives the impression that the government prioritizes Korea’s external image. Rather, the 35 percent stated in the carbon neutrality basic law looks reasonable.

More concerning is that the Moon administration is organizing its road map for greenhouse gas reduction while sticking to its nuclear phase-out policy. Under the 2050 carbon neutrality scenario unveiled by the committee in August, the proportion of nuclear power generation in the nation’s energy mix should decrease from the current 30 percent level to 6 or 7 percent by 2050. Instead, solar and wind power should increase to a range of 56 percent to 71 percent. The scenario projects that the country will need over 30 times the amount of solar generation it has now. The facilities will cover an area 10 times bigger than Seoul. This is far from reasonable.

The total cost of energy storage systems to be installed under the scenario could range from 787 trillion ($658 billion) and 1,248 trillion won, according to the committee’s estimate. The cost of this is prohibitive. Korea’s government budget for 2021 is 558 trillion won. The scenario is absurd.

Speed control is required. The government must listen to industries. Businesses complain that the government heeds environmental groups in setting the country’s reduction goal. It is not civic groups but companies that shoulder economic burdens to attain the raised target. The government ought to reconsider the revised goal and pursue a reasonable timeline.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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