South Korea relies on coal for about 40% of its electricity generation, with renewables making up less than 6%.
South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, has declared that the country will go carbon neutral by 2050, bringing it into line with other major economies.
In a policy speech in the national assembly on Wednesday, Moon said South Korea, one of the world’s most fossil fuel-reliant economies, would “actively respond” to the climate emergency “with the international community and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050”.
He vowed to end its dependence on coal and replace it with renewables as part of its Green New Deal, a multibillion-dollar plan to invest in green infrastructure, clean energy and electric vehicles.
South Korea is the latest major economy to commit to zero emissions. The European Union set itself a similar target last year, with Japan following suit this week. China said in September it would achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.
Moon’s announcement is in line with a proposal made by his ruling party before April’s national assembly elections.
Its Green New Deal calls for an end to financing of overseas coal plants, and the introduction of a carbon tax, creating urban forests, recycling, establishing a foundation for new and renewable energy, and creating low-carbon industrial complexes.
Campaigners welcomed Moon’s announcement, but warned that South Korea – the world’s seventh-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in 2017, according to the International Energy Agency – would have to transform its energy policy to stand a chance of reaching the zero-emissions milestone.
“South Korea is finally one step closer to aligning itself with the reduction pathway compatible with Paris climate agreement goals,” Joojin Kim, managing director of the Seoul-based NGO Solutions for Our Climate, said in a statement.
“However, there is much to be done to make this declaration actually meaningful. The most urgent tasks are enhancing its 2030 emissions reduction target, presenting a clear roadmap to phase out coal by 2030, and putting a complete stop to coal financing.”
Jude Lee of Greenpeace East Asia said Moon’s pledge was “another important step forward. We expect that this important pledge leads the Korean industry to swiftly shift from fossil fuels to a 100% renewables-based system.”
South Korea relies on coal for about 40% of its electricity generation, with renewables making up less than 6%. It still has seven coal power units under construction. It is also one of the top three public financers of overseas coal power projects, mostly in Asia, Solutions for Our Climate said.
The country will struggle to achieve net-zero emissions “without fundamental changes in energy policy”, Kim said. “South Korea must immediately stop the construction of new coal power plants, and begin replacing the existing coal fleet with renewables.”