Absence of substance

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Absence of substance

The author is the head of the social planning team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

On Earth Day on April 22, environmental activists and local residents gathered around the coal-fueled thermal power plant in Goseong, South Gyeongsang. They staged a performance of putting “seizure tags” on the power plant that is on pilot operation, accusing it of the “crimes” of emitting green house gas and fine particulate matters.

The first and second Goseong Hwai units will operate until 2051 if things go as planned, and it’s the not only power plant. Seven new coal-fueled power plants are under construction in Samcheok, Gangwon, and other locations. Protestors denounced the government for not changing the plan to build and operate coal-fueled plants despite President Moon Jae-in’s 2050 carbon neutrality declaration last year.

That night, a speech by Moon at the climate summit disappointed citizens, environmental groups and the international community. The main points of the speech were to submit a higher greenhouse gas reduction goal to the UN within the year and to suspend new financial assistants for coal-fired power plants abroad.

But both lack substance. The meeting initiated by U.S. President Joe Biden was to confirm the specific emission goal of each participant. But Moon did not present a “number” this time, while the U.S., EU, Britain and Japan, which is passive about carbon neutrality, clarified their enhanced goals. There’s little progress in phasing-out coal that is related to gas emissions and fine particulate matter reduction. He did not mention the overseas investments in coal-fueled power generation and seven coal-fueled plants in Korea under construction.

Instead, Moon repeated the argument from last year’s UN General Assembly that the challenges of developing countries with higher dependency on coal-fueled power generation should be considered. The rhetoric to take into account the gap between developed and developing countries is not wrong, but I am not sure if this helps Korea to lessen the reduction burden. As the president proudly said, Korea is a top ten economy in the world by GDP. If Korea is to hide behind the developing country rhetoric, it will only earn criticism from both developed and developing countries for avoiding responsibility as one of the top ten greenhouse emitting nations.

The double standard of the government after its carbon neutrality and green new deal declaration can give a wrong signal to the people and businesses. Carbon neutrality has already become a matter of economy and employment beyond environment and security issues. I hope the government will give a portion of the interest it gave to a nuclear phaseout to carbon neutrality.

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