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Coal-Dependent South Korea Adopts 2050 Carbon-Neutral Target, Sets Deadlines for Green New Deal

In a major shift, South Korea’s governing party has pledged to adopt a Green New Deal and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, with a recently-introduced plan that includes a carbon tax, a phaseout of financing for domestic and overseas coal projects, and accelerated support for renewable energy.

“If the plan goes through, the country—the world’s seventh-largest emitter—will be the first in East Asia to set a time frame to end its contribution to climate change,” writes Eco-Business.

The ruling party’s decision to make climate action one of its major pledges in the lead-up to a general election April 15 is “a significant change,” according to Daul Jang, government relations and advocacy specialist at Greenpeace Korea. “Reaching net-zero carbon emissions is very ambitious in a highly industrialized country where climate change has never been high on the political agenda,” he told Eco-Business. 

In addition to being a major emitter, “South Korea is also the third-biggest coal financier and has long been under fire for failing to act on climate change,” the publication adds. Climate Action Tracker rates the nation’s commitments as “highly insufficient and not consistent with keeping global heating below 2°C.”

The most daunting obstacle to implementing the plan is the country’s ongoing dependence on coal, both domestically and via heavy investment in coal plants abroad.

“Slashing emissions in South Korea—which counts electronics, automobiles, shipbuilding, chemicals, and steel among its energy-intensive industries—won’t be easy,” Jang noted. Renewables currently account for less than 10% of the nation’s energy mix, and vast monies will be required to boost energy efficiency.

“Replacing the country’s emissions trading scheme—the world’s second-largest after the European Union’s—with carbon pricing will be challenging, while the switch to green power will affect millions of workers in South Korea’s fossil fuel, petrochemical, and automobile sectors,” Jang added.

While Greenpeace Korea welcomed the news of the ruling party’s pledge, it stressed the urgent need for South Korea “to adopt a concrete plan with a clear roadmap and timeline to reach its net-zero goal,” Eco-Business writes.