Carbon Pricing Hanbit nuclear station, South Korea (ansnuclearcafe.org)

Published on July 4th, 2015 | by Sandy Dechert

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Korea Makes Climate Pledge, But Is It Enough?

July 4th, 2015 by  

The Republic of Korea (South Korea) is one of the 44 countries that have submitted emissions pledges to the official United Nations INDC list. South Korea is one of the fastest growing emitters in the developed world and is in the top 10 (#7, in April) on the world list.

Hanbit nuclear station, South Korea (ansnuclearcafe.org)

Hanbit nuclear station, South Korea (ansnuclearcafe.org)

The country’s high export rates for manufactured goods plays a critical role in Korea’s increasing emission levels. The International Energy Agency found last year that South Korea’s power demand increased by 162% over the period 1990–2013. Coal-fired generation (45% in 2013) and nuclear (26% in 2013) make up the bulk of the nation’s power sources. The country emitted around 694 million tons of greenhouse gases in 2014. Korea is now shifting the balance toward nuclear, canceling 4 coal plant orders and announcing two new orders for reactors last month. It is also an exporter of nuclear technology.

The Korea INDC was the last plan of four that were submitted on June 30, the midway UNFCCC deadline date. The plan calls for a 37% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below the business-as-usual emissions mark of 850.6 MtCO2e by 2030. This pledge exceeds four previously discussed targets of 14.7-31.3%. Said a Korean government communique quoted by Ed King of RTCC:

“We decided to raise the target from the reduction scenarios, considering our leadership on climate change such as hosting the GCF (Green Climate Fund), our global responsibility, and opportunity to develop new energy business and innovative manufacturing sectors.”

Although Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary-General, and US Secretary of State John Kerry have both endorsed (and praised) the South Korea INDC, others are unconvinced it will be very effective. First, Korea is counting on nearly a third of its emission cuts coming from purchasing international carbon credits—not quantified in the INDC, but in government correspondence—rather than making real domestic reductions.

Second, critics find the plan wanting for the same reason the deeply researched Climate Action Tracker ranks it “inadequate.” South Korea’s proposed target is not in line with an approach considered fair to all in order for the world to reach a 2°C threshold. In other words, the Korea INDC would not contribute to holding warming below 2°C unless other countries put in extra effort. If most other countries followed South Korea’s approach, global warming would top 3°–4°C, currently thought incompatible with life as we know it.

The lack of land-use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF) components in Korea’s INDC—an area that assessors are increasingly recognizing as significant worldwide—also causes some concern. If these elements were included in a more realistic scenario, the INDC would be even weaker than as proposed now. Leaving substantial forestry considerations to chance is risky business these days.

Carbon Pulse sees the domestic segment of the Korean plan as similar to Japan’s (also rated inadequate). Part of the insufficiency may stem from the fact that the South Korean emission trading scheme initiated this year (the world’s second-largest) has started off slower than expected. However, the business lobby (Federation of Korean Industries) sees the goal as too high and having been influenced by international pressure.

Did the US influence the choice of goal South Korea finally adopted? Brian Deese, President Obama’s top energy and climate change advisor, told The Hill that the President and South Korean President Park Geun-hye discussed the issue earlier this month:

“The United States has been actively engaged with Korea as they’ve worked on their INDC, and in particular as they’ve finalized it. We are pleased to see the Koreans set a target that is more ambitious than the draft public scenarios that were out for consultation, and to make a target that is consistent with their prior commitments to 2020 emissions goals.”

Whatever the case, as Christiana Figueres, chief of the UNFCCC, has repeatedly noted, these INDCs represent only starting points, ones that each nation will likely refine (and tighten) in years to come to bring the world to the 2-degree temperature rise, or better yet, the newly recognized 1.5-degree goal.


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About the Author

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."



  • windbourne

    Pledges are SUCH the wrong way to go.
    Far better to use economics to force this issue.

  • Marion Meads

    It’s very obvious, they want nuclear power plants so that they can build more nuclear bombs to counter the threat of N. Korea. It’s double purpose. You get free electricity that emits no greenhouse gases as you build bombs. Ahh, and yes, now you can pledge to the UN too!

  • JamesWimberley

    Korean industry blames international pressure for too high targets. The process is working.
    The Korean government thinks it can build safe nuclear reactors cheaply. We’ll see.

    • Bob_Wallace

      If they cut enough corners then they can perhaps drop the price.

      Using components with faked safety certification is one way to drop the price.

      • Matt

        It is NOT expensive to build nuclear reactors, it is just when you add the word “safe” that the cost go up. But there is a long tradition of “faked safety certification” in the nuclear industry so …

        • Keanwood

          I’m always surprised when small countries (by land mass) want nuclear. Even if the chance of an accident is .01% the damage would be huge. At least the US, Russia and China and others have plenty of space. I mean if a hundred square miles was contaminated who cares. But for them that is a large chuck of land.

          But I’m all for people spending their money on nuclear. It will just prove that it is expensive.

          Oh I forgot to mention. If you have a potentially insane neighbor like N-Korea building nuclear power plants is just a bad idea. They would be prime targets.

          • windbourne

            South Korea’s energy mostly comes from Coal and nukes.
            You should not be the least bit surprised that they do not want to import energy.

        • windbourne

          That is TRUE with gen III reactors, but not with gen IV reactors esp. when talking about the molten salt reactors.

          • Bob_Wallace

            When someone builds a Gen IV, V or XII reactor that delivers electricity at a competitive price then we can reconsider nuclear.

            But do keep in mind the spread between current new nuclear builds (12+ c/kWh) and current new wind builds (<4 c/kWh). Those Gen Whatevers need to cut the cost of nuclear by 3x or more in order to get nuclear back into the game.

            Solar and wind are heading to 3 c/kWh or less. The target is on the move….

          • windbourne

            Bob, for the moment, forget economics of small Gen IV reactors.
            Let me ask you a couple of questions:

            1) what exactly are we going to do with our nuke waste? Enough of the left has fought against burying it in Yucca mountain, that it is halted.

            2) what happens if YellowStone blows or China learns to fully control clouds and put them over the west?

            3) what happens if wind is shown to cause a great deal of environmental damage, esp. as these get taller and more of them?

            4) why exactly did America get in more trouble with our energy than did Europe considering that in early 1990s, Europe was a bigger polluter esp. with CO2 emissions (in terms of electricity generation)

          • Keanwood

            “…China learns to control the clouds and piputsts them over the west?”

            Was that a serious comment or a joke?

          • Bob_Wallace

            A “Hail Mary”…..

          • Bob_Wallace

            What are we going to do with our nuclear waste? Store it in dry casks and repack it every 100 years or so or encapsulate in in glass and hope we can put the glass far enough underground that we don’t harm future generations.
            Those are some not great options. So the important question is “Why create more radioactive waste?”. When you’re doing the wrong thing the first thing you should do is stop doing it.

            What if Yellowstone blows or China covers us with clouds? We’ll do whatever we have to do. If one finds it necessary to go to extreme, very low probability events to justify their position then they’ve pretty much admitted that they don’t have much of a position.

            ” what happens if wind is shown to cause a great deal of environmental damage, esp. as these get taller and more of them?”

            See my previous paragraph. And ask yourself why building
            huge skyscrapers have not caused a great deal of environmental damage by messing with wind flow. The ask yourself why extracting a very small amount of wind energy would have any impact. That energy is destined to be turned into heat as the wind runs into mountains, trees, buildings, etc. We’re just using it for some work before it turns to heat.

            “why exactly did America get in more trouble with our energy than did Europe ”

            When and how? Are you talking about pollution? Do you not know about the many people who died in London smog? Are you forgetting that France got its teats caught in a wringer by depending on imported oil for electricity and had to engage in a panic build of nuclear? Or how Europe is being jerked around by Russia and its supply of natural gas? Are you forgetting about France’s current electricity cost problem?

  • HollyJohnson

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