South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced today that the government is commiting to a goal of reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.
The announcement comes after heavy criticism of the country, which is the the world’s 7th largest emitter and heavily finances coal, for its lack of a climate action plan. Korea’s targets had been rated as as “highly insufficient” by the Climate Action Tracker.
‘Net zero’ means the country would reduce emissions to almost zero, making up for the remainder with carbon sequestration and abatement projects such as planting trees or building carbon capture and storage (CCS) facilities.
The Korean target may be challenging for the country to reach, given its intensive emissions and relative lack of action up till now. But the government was under increasing pressure, both internally from Korean companies and externally from neighbors, to increase its ambition. In the past month, KB Financial Group SBFG
The news comes in the context of the US presidential election, where voters are being offered a stark choice between Donald Trump, who has dismantled American efforts to fight climate change and called it a hoax, and Joe Biden, who has a platform experts are calling the most ambitious climate plan by any presidential campaign in history.
Biden’s plan includes a commitment to phase out emissions to net zero by 2050, matching a commitment already made by the European Union last year. 95 other countries have also made this commitment. Only two countries, Suriname and Bhutan, have already achieved net zero.
The net zero announcements are being “welcomed by investors who increasingly want to deploy private capital into markets that are reducing climate risk and enhancing opportunities for clean technology deployment,” says Rebecca Mikula-Wright, executive director of Asia Investor Group in Climate Change (AIGCC).
“The three largest economies in East Asia now have clear commitments to net zero emissions by or near mid-century. This is a powerful market signal that should help encourage other Asian nations to follow suit and send a strong message to carbon-intensive trade partners further afield that the region is moving to decarbonise.”
But she cautions that setting these goals is the easy part – meeting them is what’s hard. And these 2050 goals cannot be met without equally ambitious goals for 2030 that put these countries on the right trajectory. The EU is currently debating raising its existing 40% reduction target for 2030 to between 50% and 60%. But the Biden plan is vague about what interim targets would be set, and South Korea is also lacking an interim target that puts it on track for the 2050 goal.
“To help ensure an orderly transition to net zero emissions, Korea should now work towards bolstering its 2030 emissions reduction goal, ending coal financing and submitting an updated nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement,” she says. The country has already made significant advances in its climate change response this year through its Green New Deal policy and New Deal Fund, she adds.
Japan has a target of reducing emissions by 26% by 2030 (or 15% down from 1990 levels), which is rated “highly insufficient” by Climate Action Tracker. This interim goal would make it very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve full decarbonization by 2050, the tracker concludes.