South Korea

   

Environmental Policies

#36
Key Findings
Lacking clear direction, South Korea’s environmental policies fall into the bottom ranks (rank 36) in international comparison. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.3 points relative to 2014.

The county remains an unsustainable growth-first and car-first society. Environmental problems are serious, particularly with regard to air quality, though much of this stems from Chinese sources. Public transportation is improving especially in Seoul, but most urban development projects continue to prioritize automobiles.

The country is the fifth-largest producer of nuclear energy in the world. As a candidate, President Moon pledged to phase out coal and nuclear, but has since announced he would resume construction on two nuclear reactors, though promising they would be the last constructed.

The country signed the Paris climate agreement in 2016. It has launched several emissions reductions programs, including an emissions-trading system, incentives for electric vehicles, and support for public transportation. It has nevertheless fallen behind with regard to climate-protection obligations.

Environment

#36

How effectively does environmental policy protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment?

10
 9

Environmental policy effectively protects, preserves and enhances the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
 8
 7
 6


Environmental policy largely protects and preserves the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
 5
 4
 3


Environmental policy insufficiently protects and preserves the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
 2
 1

Environmental policy has largely failed to protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
Environmental Policy
5
South Korea remains an environmentally unsustainable growth-first and car-first society. Environmental policies are currently insufficient to protect the environment or preserve the sustainability of resources. Environmental problems are very serious, particularly with regard to air quality. In the 2016 Yale Environmental Performance Index, Korea was ranked 80th out of 180 countries overall, falling to just 173rd place in terms of air quality. The level of atmospheric PM2.5 – tiny air-pollutant particles small enough to penetrate deep into the respiratory system and can cause a variety of illnesses such as cancer – is 29.1 micrograms per cubic meter, the OECD’s highest level, compared to an OECD average of 14.05 micrograms per cubic meter. By March 2017, there had been 85 fine dust warnings in Korea, more than twice the number of the previous year. While some of this pollution originates in China, most is homegrown, with sources including vehicle emissions, industrial sites and power plants. The share of energy production accounted for by renewables is the second-lowest in the OECD.

South Korea is the fifth-largest producer of nuclear energy in the world, with its 24 reactors generating about 30% of the country’s electricity. During the presidential campaign, Moon Jae-in pledged to phase out coal and nuclear energy due to public concerns over air pollution and nuclear safety, and proposed to increase the share of renewables to 20% of total power generation by 2030. In October 2017, however, President Moon reversed his course and announced that he would resume the construction of two nuclear reactors that had been temporarily halted since mid-July, although he promised that no new plants after these would be constructed.
On a positive note, the quality of public transportation, especially in Seoul, is steadily improving, and the country also has a high recycling rate. Nevertheless, most urban development projects continue to prioritize cars, buildings are poorly insulated and energy use continues to be subsidized.

Citations:
The Diplomat. “South Korea’s Nuclear Energy Debate.” October 26, 2017. https://thediplomat.com/2017/10/south-koreas-nuclear-energy-debate/
World Nuclear News. “South Korean President Accepts Public Decision.” October 23, 2017. http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP-South-Korean-president-accepts-public-decision-2310175.html
Finacial Times. “South Korea Joins Ranks of World’s Most Polluted Countries.” March 29, 2017.

Global Environmental Protection

#36

To what extent does the government actively contribute to the design and advancement of global environmental protection regimes?

10
 9

The government actively contributes to international efforts to design and advance global environmental protection regimes. In most cases, it demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, fosters their advancement and initiates appropriate reforms.
 8
 7
 6


The government contributes to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes. It demonstrates commitment to existing regimes and occasionally fosters their advancement or initiates appropriate reforms.
 5
 4
 3


The government demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, but neither fosters their advancement nor initiates appropriate reforms.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes.
Global Environmental Policy
5
South Korea ratified the Paris Agreement of 2015 on 3 November 2016 and hosts the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF). However, the country has fallen behind with regard to its climate-protection obligations. Korea is the seventh-largest emitter of carbon-dioxide emissions, and twelfth with regard to total greenhouse-gas emissions. It has officially announced that it will cut its emissions by 2030 to a level 37% below the business-as-usual (BAU) level of 851 metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent (MtCO2eq), across all economic sectors. To achieve these goals, the government has launched several emissions-reduction programs such as an emissions-trading system for key sectors, a green building plan, an incentive program supporting electric and hybrid vehicles, and support for environmentally friendly public transportation. Unfortunately, according to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), South Korea is unlikely under current policies to meet its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) target, which the CAT already rates as “highly insufficient.” For example, the government decided to increase the total amount of carbon credits allocated to corporations during the first phase of the greenhouse-gas emissions-trading scheme, which is ending in 2017, by 17.01 million tons. However, to reach the NDC target, emissions need to peak and start declining.

Citations:
Korea Times, Korea to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 37% by 2030, Jun 30, 2015
Climate Action Tracker. South Korea. September 17, 2017. http://climateactiontracker.org/countries/southkorea.html
Hankyoreh. “A step backward for the South Korean government’s goals for greenhouse gas reduction.” January 30, 2017. http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_business/780567.html
NRDC: Paris Climate Conference: South Korea. November 2015.
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