Cannot shirk responsibilities

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Cannot shirk responsibilities

The business and industrial sector earlier this month submitted a request to the government to revise the legal target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and defer the introduction of a cap-and-trade scheme that is part of efforts to curb the use of fossil fuels and combat climate change. The manufacturing sector has long campaigned against legislation reducing climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, which inevitably translate into higher production costs.

But industry has overstepped its proper role in demanding fundamental changes to Korea’s national agenda on green growth, which places cutbacks in fossil fuel emissions as the centerpiece. Their self-serving campaign could hurt the country’s long-term economic prospects.

Korea would lose credibility if it backtracked from its pledged commitment to reduce carbon emissions, even if that meant immense savings for companies that currently have to invest heavily to shift to low-carbon industrial systems.

But the problem is what happens next. Countries plan to finalize negotiations by 2015 about reducing greenhouse emissions from 2020. The guidelines are already laid out. The goal is to prevent global warming from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius (3.8 Fahrenheit) relative to the preindustrial level. South Korea is required to have a strong commitment to lower its per capita carbon consumption and emissions. If it sidesteps or drags its heels on its global responsibilities, the country could face a much greater backlash in the future.

The industrial sector opposes the emission reduction goal - 30 percent lower than the original estimates for 2020 - because the country emitted more gas than initially forecast in 2010. Emissions that rose 1.5 percent on average until 2009 surged 9.8 percent in 2010. But the sharp increase owed to a one-time facility expansion by steelmakers due to a surge in global demand. It is entirely the opposite now. The global steelmakers are oversupplied by 500 tons and the glut is unlikely to ease unless China winds down its production. Calls for the downward revision in the emission target are unreasonable because they are based on a one-time surge in emissions.

It is also wrong to claim that South Korea - which is culpable for 1.4 percent global gas emissions - has set an excessive target for its emissions reductions compared to other countries. A country’s commitment to climate change cannot be simply defined by its share of global emissions because of the differences among countries in population and economic scale. What matters is per capita emissions. A South Korean emits 13 metric tons of carbon dioxide, compared with 9.7 tons by a German and 10.4 tons by a Japanese person. The pace of the country’s growth in carbon emissions over the last few years has been faster than its gross domestic product growth. If this keeps up, South Korea will be labeled as a high-cost, low-efficiency polluter.

The United States and China have been moving fast to combat global warming. The Barack Obama government is regulating carbon emissions from power reactors thanks to an executive order that does not require congress approval. That restriction is harsher than the cap-and-trade system. China has expanded the cap-and-trade on emissions in three cities, including Beijing and Shanghai. By next year, China could emerge as the largest carbon trading market following the European Union. A recent climate conference in Warsaw agreed on the timetable to cut greenhouse gas emissions and rein in temperatures from rising above the 2 degrees Celsius threshold, in which all member countries are required to submit action plans by 2015 for their cutbacks on emission from 2020. The race on emission reductions has begun. There is no turning back. The industrial sector would be more wise to prepare for the future instead of vainly trying to turn back time.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is the head of the Institute for Climate Change Action.

By Ahn Byung-ok
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