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 0.4 points relative to 2014.

While environmental topics are gaining importance, the government clearly prioritizes economic growth over environmental concerns. As a candidate, President Moon pledged to phase out coal and nuclear energy, but has since backed away from ambitious timelines. Greenhouse gas emissions and air quality remain serious problems.

Current plans are to expand the share of renewables in energy production by 20% by 2030. Under current projections, the country’s emissions will be more than 150% above their 1990 levels by 2030, well above the target of 81%. The government has been quick to cave in to populist demands for low energy and fuel prices.

Problems with fine dust exposure are among the world’s worst. Plans are underway to build new apartments in Seoul’s green belt, and cars are still given the greatest transportation priority in most urban-development projects, despite ever-increasing traffic jams.

Environment

#39

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
4
Environmental policies remain insufficient either to protect the environment or to ensure sustainable resource use. Moreover, Korea has been losing ground to the front runners in the transition to becoming a carbon-neutral and ecologically sustainable country. Environmental problems are very serious, particularly with regard to air quality and greenhouse-gas emissions. In the 2018 Yale Environmental Performance Index, Korea improved to rank 60 out of 180 countries overall, but ranked poorly with regard to climate and energy (110) and biodiversity (144). Problems with fine dust exposure are among the world’s worst, with the country ranking 174th in this area. While some of this pollution originates in China, most of it is homegrown. Korea is the 7th largest emitter of CO2, and the share of energy production accounted for by renewables is the second-lowest in the OECD. The Moon administration plans to expand the share of renewables to 20% by 2030. 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. While Moon Jae-in originally pledged to phase out coal and nuclear energy, he later backed away from some of the more ambitious timelines. Environmental topics are gaining importance in the society, but the government clearly prioritizes economic growth over environmental concerns.
On a positive note, the quality of public transportation, especially in Seoul, is steadily improving, and the country has a high recycling rate. During the hot summer of 2018, President Moon declared air conditioning to be a “basic welfare” good, and temporarily lowered electricity prices. In another populist move, the government temporarily lowered taxes on fuel when oil prices rose in October 2018. Plans to build new apartments in the green belt around Seoul further demonstrate the low priority accorded to environmental policies. Despite the ever-increasing traffic jams, cars are still regarded as holding the greatest transportation priority in most urban-development projects.

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.
OECD. Climate Change Mitigation Policies: Korea. Retrieved October 17, 2018 (http://www.compareyourcountry.org/climate-policies?cr=oecd&lg=en&page=0&visited=)
Climate Action Tracker. 2018. “South Korea: Country Summary.” April 30. Retrieved October 17, 2018 (https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/south-korea/)

Global Environmental Protection

#32

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
6
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) trend, which means an increase of 81% over the levels of 1990. 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.” Indeed, under current projections, Korea’s emissions will be more than 150% above 1990 levels in 2030. The Moon administration – like previous governments – does not place a particularly high priority on its global environmental responsibilities. Instead of articulating a comprehensive strategy for a transition to a carbon-neutral society, the government has been quick to cave in to populist demands for low electricity and fuel prices.

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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