The standards are not tougherThe government’s new carbon agenda announced last month with a higher reduction goal has drawn heavy protests from the corporate sector as well as opposition from environmentalists. Under the plan, Seoul will work to reduce 37 percent of estimated greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 - an increase from earlier proposals that included cuts between 14.7 and 31.3 percent. Industries complain that the new goal will damage their ability to compete, while environmentalists say the government is still falling short on its green agenda pledges.
The outline Seoul finalized to meet the new United Nations-led global agreement on climate control due in December can be broken down into three crucial points.
First, Korea will reduce estimated emissions by 37 percent - or 850 million tons in carbon dioxide - by 2030. Of that, 11.3 percent will be bought through carbon credit from overseas so that the cap on domestic manufacturers will not exceed 12 percent. Some media outlets have raised hype about the increase in the emissions reduction goal from the 2020 outline, but a closer study shows otherwise.
When excluding the international purchase of carbon credits that make up nearly a third of the emission cuts, Korea in actuality would be scaling down emissions by 25.7 percent - which does not deviate from the previous outline. Under the self-imposed cap, Korea is eligible to emit 632 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2030. The emission is 16.4 percent greater than the earlier pledge for reduction by 2020.
The Climate Action Tracker ranks Korea’s climate action plan “inadequate” in its contribution to the universal ultimate goal of containing global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Critics believe that if other countries follow Korea’s approach, global warming would increase the Earth’s temperature 3 to 4 degrees, undermining the global goal of keeping temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees. The fact that Korea relatively adjusted the goal with other countries also came under scrutiny. Korea neglected the fact that it is rising among the world’s heaviest emitters due to its reliance on manufacturing for exports.
On the surface, the local industry vehemently protests the cuts as excessive. But it could be secretly pleased that the government proved to be complying. The government requires the industry to reduce its emissions by 12 percent at the most, compared with the earlier 18.5 percent cap. This means the local manufacturing sector could be able to fume out 8.8 percent more carbon emissions from today’s levels 15 years on. This privilege would come at the expense of cuts in the household, commercial and transportation sectors to meet the national limit.
The government said it drew up the reduction outline in careful consideration of the overall economy. But what it was doing, more or less, was protecting the industrial sector, which is most responsible for carbon emissions. According to that framework, Koreans are entitled to 12.1 tons of carbon emissions per person by 2030, sharply higher than the five tons set by its European Union counterpart. EU states are more committed to greenhouse control because they believe reduced emissions could better serve their businesses in the long run, rather than damage them.
While the combined gross domestic product of EU countries grew 44 percent over the last 22 years, their emissions have fallen 20 percent.
Last month, the Group of Seven proposed to close the era of fossil fuels by 2100. The United States announced to invest $4 billion annually on renewable energy and China pledged to close down over 1,000 coal mines. According to a study by the London School of Economics, China’s greenhouse gas emissions will probably peak in 2025, five years earlier than Beijing’s stated target. While other countries are moving fast to refurbish themselves, we are sticking to our old gray growth.
The industry is screaming about the choking effects of the carbon cap. But there has never been a case where a company had to close down or move overseas because of carbon regulations.
Our energy efficiency level is just a third of Japan’s. We must grow out of this paranoia that climate control actions will hamper growth. Curbing carbon emissions can be our test to retool our economy, which has been running on an outdated model of fuming hazardous waste without meaningful job creation.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff
*The author is the president of the Institute for Climate Change Action, Korea.
by Ahn Byung-ok