South Korea beefs up climate goal amid mounting global pressure

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) – South Korea is joining China and Japan in setting a deadline to zero-out carbon emissions.

The Asian country is targeting to become carbon neutral by 2050, President Moon Jae-in said during a speech in parliament on Wednesday (Oct 26). His pledge comes after the nation revealed a 42.7 trillion won (S$51.4 billion) plan, known as the Green New Deal to boost low-carbon power sources and foster green industries amid an effort to triple renewable electricity generation by 2025.

“While the government has been strongly pushing for energy transitional policies” previous efforts have fallen short, Moon said, adding that South Korea plans to invest 8 trillion won in the Green New Deal next year.

“We will create jobs and build new markets and industries by transferring coal power generation to renewables.”

The new target means that any emissions that still exist in 2050 will either be captured and stored or offset by activities like tree-planting. The Green New Deal in July faced criticism from environmental activists for not clearly setting a time frame for when the country will phase out carbon emissions.

While South Korea vowed to ramp up its commitment to renewable energy and environmentally friendly infrastructure, it has continued to come under fire for doing too little to curb its role in the spread of coal-fired power. Korea Electric Power Corp, the nation’s state-owned utility, was called out by investors for deciding to fund coal-fired power plants in Indonesia and Vietnam this year.

“President Moon’s target lacks detailed plans, but South Korea’s undoubtedly stepping forward,” Hong Jong Ho, a professor at Seoul National University Graduate School of Environmental Studies, said by phone.

“Unless the government makes drastic changes in policies across all sectors, including economy, industry and energy, the goal cannot be achieved by simply spending billions of dollars through the Green New Deal.”

South Korea’s carbon pledge follows ambitious goals set by its neighboring countries. China, the world’s biggest polluter, said last month it seeks to become carbon neutral by 2060 in an effort that could cost US$15 trillion (S$20.4 trillion), while Japan on Monday (Oct 26) set a net-zero target by 2050.

Moon’s climate pledge will be “welcomed by investors who increasingly want to deploy private capital into markets that are reducing climate risk and enhancing opportunities for clean technology deployment”, said Rebecca Mikula-Wright, executive director at Asia Investor Group on Climate Change.

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