What should South Korea do?


Enhance its NDC to be 1.5 degree aligned by COP26:

  • Strengthen current targets to 66% emissions reductions below 2010 levels by 2030 (excluding LULUCF) (i.e. achieving 222 MtCO2e)○reduce electricity demand per capita and increase energy efficiency○phase out coal power by 2030, increase RE targets to > 31% by 2030, introduce policy that allows market to drive RE demand○improve public transport and end production of ICE cars by 2035
  • Anchor with emissions intensity targets in specific sectors and policies: Green Growth Act, Energy Basic Plan, GHG reduction roadmap & Climate Change Response Plan should be revised to reflect revised NDC
  • End overseas coal financing in 2020 and phase out coal by 2030 (in line with the Paris Agreement, as an OECD country); join the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA)
  • Commit to formulate a long-term strategy for submission in 2020, in line with net-zero commitment and which current and future NDCs would be aligned with; including a roadmap across sectors
  • End internal combustion engines (ICE) sales by 2035

Build a just and resilient recovery plan:

  • Invest in renewable & green transport to boost economy to create jobs
  • Set a net zero timeline and make an official announcement on stopping coal investments; promote shift from ICE to EVs
  • Develop measures or policies for heavy industries and fossil fuel sectors, in line with emissions reduction targets and recovery plans

What you need to know about South Korea?

  • Current NDC: 37% reduction from BAU level by 2030 (32.5% national efforts, 2.9% offsets). Baseline stated as 850.6 MtCO2eq, so understood that 276.5 MtCo2eq and 38.6 MtCO2eq reductions are targets (for national effort and offsets respectively); total emission of 536 MtCo2eq including 4.5% of LULUCF. Recent study suggests Korea must double GHG target to be in line with 1.5C
  • Replaces more ambitious Copenhagen Pledge of 30% reduction by 2020 (543 MtCO2eq) Government affirms that going from BAU to an absolute target would be an improvement
  • In Feb 2020, Environment Ministry presented five scenarios for a long-term emissions reduction strategy, aiming for 40-75% cuts from 2017 levels by 2050, far from net zero emissions, with 50.3-90.2% reduction in power sector (coal still providing 4-12% elec.)
  • Government’s energy transition push: 10 coal power plants older than 30 years shut down & no new coal plant permissions (since May 2017, note 7 units (7.26GW) approved under last government are still under construction); nuclear phase-out declared by 2079; Korean ETS implementation: 5.73Mt by 591 companies participating
  • National Council on Climate and Air Quality launched in May 2019 in effort for democratic process to tackle fine dust and climate change. Led by Ban Ki Moon, it temporarily closed 1/3 coal power plants for 4 months per year during high air pollution season: will consider coal phase-out as long-term policy suggestion & host public debate on coal phase-out date
Recovery Measures to Highlight

  • Positive investment: 37 billion USD investment on green infrastructure, electricity and transportation (EV and hydrogen) by 2025
  • Negative investment: bailout for Doosan Heavy Industry, a coal turbine maker

Recent developments, threats and levers for action

Recent developments

  • In the general election in May 2020, the ruling Democratic Party announced its manifesto to adopt a Green New Deal and deliver net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Following this, the national assembly adopted Climate Crisis declaration to set 2050 net zero target and to make an effort to increase NDC in Sep. This is, however, non-binding. President Moon Jae-In confirmed the commitment to net zero by 2050 in Oct
  • Air pollution is a rising national concern, and a national environmental & health priority in policy and the political sphere. It was the main driver for the Government’s decision to reduce coal and increase RE to 20% by 2030. The National Council on Climate and Air Quality provides an opportunity to set a national coal phase out year and roadmap, to be ratcheted up later to match global ambition (phase-out plan in 2040s considered ambitious within the Government) and the net-zero by 2050 commitment
  • Export centric economic model with 10 major corporations responsible for 80% of national GDP makes the industry sector highly sensitive to market demands; a useful lever for demand for RE procurement policy revision driving RE demand towards 100% RE, especially for electronics sector
  • The 9th Electricity Supply and Demand Plan, due to be revised later this year is a critical last window of opportunity to demand increased climate action, specifically regarding the to-be-confirmed residual reduction potential of 34.1MtCO2. CSOs (KOSIF, WWF, Greenpeace Korea) launched a Business Alliance for Renewable Energy to ask Government for enhanced RE purchase policy and propose their own renewable commitments
  • Current government focus on the hydrogen economy – increasing technological strength in renewables, battery and hydrogen fuel cells provide better options for economic pathways beyond the fossil fuel-based industry. The UK has invited South Korea to be a member of the COP26 ZEV Transition Council; which is an opportunity to push acceleration of end of ICE sales
  • Korea is one of the last 3 financiers for coal plants abroad. The Government recently approved coal power projects (Jawa 9,10 and VungAng2) Government is likely to announce ‘in principle’ stopping coal investment domestically and overseas, but there has been no official announcement yet


  • Global corporates across electronics and automobile sector sensitive to market trends
  • Progressive subnational government actions (e.g. Chungcheon nam do Province, Seoul City and Gyeonggi-do Province joined PPCA)


  • Progressive politicians in national assembly
  • Public discussions to finalize LEDS scenarios opportunity to push for a stronger target
  • Air pollution highly political agenda with public support, Ban KM fronting NCCA
  • ROK invited by UK to join COP26 ZEV Transition Council, could help push acceleration of end of ICE sales
  • ROK willing to host COP28 & P4G Green Growth Summit – moments to make climate & energy related announcements; position ROK as a global climate leader


  • Still low national public awareness and pressure on climate emergency
  • Assessment of new national ambition in 2018, challenging to go back to policy decisions towards a new NDC in 2020
  • Industrial structure still highly carbon intensive and Doosan Heavy industries produce coal turbines, driving overseas coal projects


  • Nuclear energy interests undermining the Administration’s coal & nuclear phase out policies
  • Economic instability resulting in nationalism e.g. Japan–Korea trade war and economy based policy decisions including exporting coal and nuclear energy

About Climate Diplomacy Snapshots

The data is clear. Accelerated and enhanced action is needed now to build resilience and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. As they seek to address the ongoing health, economic and social impacts of COVID-19, governments should seize opportunities to invest in a recovery that will build social, economic and climate resilience on the long-term. The Climate Diplomacy Snapshots aim to provide the climate community with a clear overview of what each country should do, on climate and recovery, to pursue these joint objectives and keep the global average temperature increase to 1.5°C. Each has been prepared with the help of national experts, and will be regularly updated. The snapshots aim to support climate advocacy in the lead up to COP26.

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