Dereliction of duty

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Dereliction of duty

The government has tweaked its carbon emission commitment to ensure it won’t get in the way of economic recovery. The carbon emission trading system will start next year as originally planned, but targets for greenhouse emissions will be lowered by 10 percent between 2015-17. In addition, the low-carbon vehicle fund system that accompanies levies on cars with high CO2 emissions will be put off for another three years.

The government, nevertheless, kept national reduction goals intact, which means companies will have to suddenly catch up with stringent emission standards from 2018. The responsibility will be the incoming government’s as President Park Geun-hye’s term ends in February 2018. Environmental groups lambasted the move as “tossing responsibility to the next government.”

The high commitment to greenhouse gas emissions has been controversial from the beginning. Automakers and the industrial sector lobbied hard against the bill pursued by former President Lee Myung-bak. The manufacturers had to accept it when the bill was passed in the National Assembly. The carbon vehicle cooperative fund was scheduled for July 2013 but was put off to 2015. The industry again demanded the tax be deferred, citing the impact on car sales amid a slow economy.

The carbon emission trading system sets a quantitative limit on CO2 emissions and allows them to trade insufficient or surplus amounts with each other in compliance with the Kyoto Protocol. Emission trading has been adopted by 38 countries, including EU member nations. The system could effectively lower emissions, but China - which accounts for 28.6 percent global pollutant emissions - demands it be exempt. The U.S. has also resisted it and Japan is dithering.

The industry has been arguing that the action could hurt competitiveness because the country’s total emissions make up a mere 1 percent of global emissions. It claims the new measure could cost the industry an extra 28 trillion won ($27.5 billion) in the first three years. It also opposed the cooperative fund system, designed to give subsidies on cars with low emissions and tax levies on cars with high emissions, fearing it could work largely in favor of compact European cars.

The Environment Ministry has been championing the low-carbon regulations as the ultimate direction for all economies. It maintained that regulations could prepare the industry in low-carbon innovations. Both the ministry and industry have a point. The government’s dual decision is understandable. But it must not defer its duty.

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