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Seoul’s goal not green enough for some

South Korea is calling its target for cutting emissions the “most ambitious” it can pursue under the current circumstances, but environmental experts aren”t satisfied.

The country has pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 40 percent from the 2018 levels by 2030, as announced by South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on Monday in an updated Nationally Determined Contribution.

Moon described it as “a daring goal” that represents a sharp increase from the nation’s previous target of a cut of 26.3 percent.

But Justin Jeong, a campaigner in the Seoul office of environmental group Greenpeace, said he is unimpressed by Moon’s words.

“The (South) Korean government uses the gross emissions data for the base year 2010 and the net emissions data for the target year 2030, which makes the reduction rate bigger,” Jeong said.

Jeong notes that the reduction will be only 30 percent if the calculation is based on gross emissions data for both the base and target years.

“Regardless of whether it is 40 or 30 percent, it is still insufficient compared to the role and responsibility of South Korea in tackling the global climate crisis in line with the 1.5 C goal,” said Jeong, adding that the country should set a target to cut emissions by at least 50 percent by 2030.

Under the Paris climate accord, the international community has outlined a goal to limit the global temperature rise to well below 2 C and preferably to 1.5 C.

‘Wonderful progress’

While welcoming the growing awareness on global warming, Frank Rijsberman, director-general of the Global Green Growth Institute, said South Korea’s updated reduction goal is “wonderful progress” but still “not enough”.

Rijsberman called for bolder, faster actions on coal-fired power generation to tackle worsening air pollution, which has become a serious problem for Asia’s fourth-largest economy, Yonhap News Agency reported.

Targeting a complete end to coal-fired power generation by 2050, Moon said eight plants powered by coal were shut down under his administration, with two more plants to be closed by the end of this year. The country has, since April, suspended funding for new coal-fired power plants overseas.

According to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford, fossil fuels accounted for nearly 87 percent of South Korea’s energy in 2019; low-carbon energy sources including nuclear and renewables contributed only 13.06 percent.

“There is a serious question on whether the reduction in emissions will possibly be made by the target schedule,” said Yang Junsok, an economics professor at The Catholic University of Korea.

He pointed out that many South Korean companies have complained that either they do not have the technology to meet the emissions goals or that the cost will be too high.

However, Yang said South Korean companies are expected to make faithful efforts to meet the goal due to consumers’ strong support for climate action even though there are doubts the companies can do so on time.

At COP 26 in Glasgow, Moon announced that South Korea will join the Global Methane Pledge, a global pact to cut methane emissions by more than 30 percent by 2030 from 2020 levels.

Moon also reaffirmed South Korea’s commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050, a plan that he first announced in October 2020.

Following the latest announcement, South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said on Wednesday that the country will invest 1.4 trillion won ($1.18 billion) by 2030 to develop technologies for carbon capture and storage.

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