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Korea eyes 37% emissions cut

Government raises the target but critics are still skeptical of the new plan

South Korea on Tuesday offered to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 37 percent from the expected business-as-usual level by 2030, revising its previous targets in the face of criticism that the country was backtracking in its progress.

The latest target comprises actual mitigations of 25.7 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and the purchase of global carbon credits equivalent to 11.3 percent. This will lead to emissions of 536 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, the Environment Ministry said. 

The new goal was finalized at a Cabinet meeting presided over by Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn.
“(The government) raised the target from the previous plans as it has acknowledged Korea’s leading role in anticarbon efforts in the global community and the need to take this opportunity to innovate in the renewable energy industry and manufacturing business,” Hwang said.

Earlier this month, the government unveiled four proposals that would cut carbon by 14 percent to 31 percent from the BAU level of 2030 in consideration of feasibility, gross domestic product forecasts and potential economic impacts.

The government’s toughened pledge came after public criticism that the state’s four post-2020 plans were a sharp backslide compared to the 2009 plan.

In 2009, the government proposed limiting the emissions to 543 million tons by 2020, a 30 percent cut from projected levels, although Korea was not obligated to cut the emissions.

All four proposals this year, however, were likely to allow more emissions by 2020, stirring both local and international criticism. 

Sustainable Development Solutions Network Korea for the United Nations had urged the government to redraft the commitment, claiming that all the options would “seriously damage Korea’s credibility in the world and chill down the heat of green innovation and creative economy efforts.”

U.S. President Barack Obama had also asked his counterpart Park Geun-hye to offer an ambitious plan for the long run during a phone call on June 12. The call was made after Park’s visit to Washington was postponed in light of the Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak.

Although the government pledged to set a stronger aim, critics see little improvement.

The industry sector will be responsible for 12 percent of the emissions cut, the same as in the original plan, in consideration of potential business damage.

But the final plan was still opposed by the business and the civic sectors.

“The government’s excessive cuts plan will act like another ‘cancer-like’ regulation that holds business back,” the business union Federation of Korean Industries said, demanding a plan review.

Civic groups, on the other hand, argued that the business sector must shoulder much more of the anticarbon burden, as it is the largest emitter in the country.

“Giving relatively lighter anticarbon responsibility to the industry, which contributes to 70 percent of the emissions in the country, suggests that the other sectors, such as the transportation business or households, have to shoulder the rest of the cuts burden, ” Ahn Byung-ok, the head of the Institute for Climate Change Action, told The Korea Herald.

Green experts also claimed that the scheme to reduce emissions by an additional 11.3 percent may strategically take advantage of other countries’ climate efforts.

The environment authorities vowed to utilize the international market mechanism for the additional cut plan. Under the IMM, countries are allowed to buy and sell emission rights by using carbon credits.

“Purchasing emission rights also takes financing. The state, however, has not mapped out the funding plan yet. The final proposal does not show the government’s active will to tackle the climate issue,” Ahn added.

As of 2012, Korea had become the seventh largest emitter in the world with emissions per capita standing at sixth.

As part of its efforts to help the carbon cut of the business sector, the government said it would support anticarbon technology development and consider building more renewable energy facilities and nuclear power plants as an alternative to coal-powered stations.

The business union, however, refuted, saying that nuclear power plants cannot be a realistic option due to fierce resistance from environmentalists. It also added that renewable energy may only hike the electronic fare, considering the cost and benefits.

“The figure ’37 percent’ seems like the state drastically improved the post-2020 plan, but the proposal is actually very weak. The government needs to use this time as an opportunity to set up a long-term strategy over how to cut emissions and manage the industry environment,” SDSN Korea Director Young Soo-gil said.

The final plan was submitted to the U.N. later in the day. The proposal will be evaluated for an international climate pact to be adopted at the U.N. conference in Paris in December.

By Lee Hyun-jeong (