South Korea Needs to Do More to Strengthen Its Emissions Reduction Goals and Implement Its Policies

South Korea Needs to Do More to Strengthen Its Emissions Reduction Goals and Implement Its Policies

This post was submitted by Climate Scorecard South Korea Country Manager Jitae Chang

South Korea’s ambitious goal to be part of global green movements has been widely publicized. In his speech on October 28, 2020, President Moon proclaimed plans for carbon neutrality (net-zero) by 2050.

The 2050 long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategy (LEDS) and the 2030 nationally determined contribution (NDC) were put forward in December 2020. The nation hosted the Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030 (P4G) conference on May 30–31, 2021.

It seems clear that the main goal has been established well, and supporting activities are on their way.

Does this mean, then, that there will be no problems achieving the goal—24.4% cuts in emissions (from 2017 numbers) by 2030, and carbon neutrality by 2050? Unfortunately, some experts think this may not be possible with current policy and the nation’s status. What are the obstacles blocking their way forward, and how can the nation overcome them?

Setting aside the fact that the 24.4% cuts are much lower than what the IPCC recommends (50% cuts by 2030), the plans themselves are not problematic, at least for the moment. The challenge is determining the follow-up action plans, and how Korean ministries will develop strategies to meet the goals.

Experts point out that no basic or detailed action plans are set, and without them, the nation will likely fail to achieve the 2030 goal, let alone the longer-term 2050 goal.

All conceptual blueprints need basic and detailed drawings to construct a real building, and likewise detailed plans must be in place before specific goals can be announced. We must also carefully consider whether the potential plans are focused on the right area.

The nation has a fundamental weakness in its energy mix, not only because it depends on sources from outside of the country for most of its energy, but also because it is still the fourth largest coal importer and the third largest overseas coal project investor.

(mil. TOE)


Figure 1. Primary Energy Consumption of Korea

No tangible compulsory policies have yet been made public, other than some recommendations to private sectors. In contrast to the initial stage, it now seems that the government is losing its internal momentum in this area. Speculations abound, but the most compelling theory is the significant dilemma the government faces between the economy boost plan and the carbon reduction plan, which often occupy opposing ends of the table.

Without the government’s stepping up more proactively to suggest a suitable transitional agreement, the goal will not be achieved, as the following data demonstrate.

(mil. TOE)

1971 2000 2010 2030 Annual

Average Increase

2000–2030 (%)

Coal 8 42 58 79 2.2
Oil 11 104 126 165 1.6
Gas 17 33 61 4.4
Nuclear 28 45 65 2.8
Hydroelectric 0 0 0 1 1.7
Other and Renewable 2 3 7 4
Primary Energy Demand 17 194 264 378 2.3


Table 1. Primary Energy Demand of Korea

In Figure 1 and Table 1, we can easily see the inevitable increase in the emission of carbon from the current energy mix as the economy keeps growing, regardless of its speed. The rate will hit 709.1 MtCO2e carbon emissions in 2030, and there is a gap with the projection of 536 MtCO2e emissions in 2030 leaving Korea short in fulfilling its Paris Agreement NDC.

According to the Korea New Deal, the green energy sector’s solar and wind generation capacity is supposed to grow from 12.7GW in 2020 to 26.3GW by 2022. The goal for 2025 is to install 42.7GW, which will be completed through technical commissioning and grid connections.

With only a year and a half remaining until the end of 2022, the Korea New & Renewable Energy Center (KNREC) states that a total 4.4GW of capacity was installed during 2020 (Table 2). Fulfilling the necessary +13.6GW within the next six quarters seems feasible, but when we also consider the nation’s possible growing energy demands, the renewable energy goal needs to be enlarged.

Solar Wind Total
2020 4,126.2 MW 242.2 MW 4,368.4 MW


Table 2. Total Installed Solar and Wind in 2020

A consideration of potential major offshore wind projects—Shinan offshore wind (8.2GW), Southwest Sea offshore wind (2.4GW), and others (Figure 2)—could provide a good backup to expand the share of renewable energy sources in the nation’s energy mix.

Figure 2. Plan for Large-Scale Offshore and Connection Systems (MOTIE, July 2020)

One area in which the nation is demonstrating its effort to meet renewable energy goals is K-RE100. The system started at the beginning of this year and so is still in its infancy. But it is led by Samsung, and several other Korean enterprises are joining in.

It is early to assess its progress, but with the nation setting its related legislations by the end of 2020, MOTIE is aggressively pushing the industry with a goal to replace the entire energy source for their businesses to 100% renewable energy by 2050.

It is not compulsory, but the government is offering support through KEA, such as global RE100. Hopefully, the ESG wave, in which most corporations are currently invested, can push them to join in the movement.


The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy announced on January 5, 2021 that it will allow domestic electricity consumers to purchase electricity from renewable sources as part of the RE100 initiative, a global campaign for transition to 100% renewable energy.

Both industrial and general consumers of electricity can participate in the K-RE100 system through registration at the state-run Korea Energy Agency. Electricity from renewable sources will be procured through the green premium system, the third-party power purchase agreement (PPA), the purchase of renewable energy certificates (REC), or self-generation.

By participating in the K-RE100 system, the companies will be recognized for their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the Ministry of Environment is in the process of revising relevant guidelines on detailed energy sources and methods of reducing emissions. Moreover, the government will prepare various support measures to promote renewable energy use.

According to MOTIE, at a time when the use of renewable energy is becoming a necessity, the K-RE100 system is expected to further strengthen domestic companies’ global competitiveness and accelerate energy transition.

(MOTIE, January 2021)


Key Personnel

HoSeung Lee

Officer for Government Policy Coordination, CheongWaDae

Moon Sung Wook

Minister of MOTIE,

Chang-seop Kim



Ministry of Environment, Republic of Korea



Ministry of Economy and Finance, Republic of Korea


Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, Republic of Korea








S Korea’s 2050 Carbon Neutrality Goal “Out of Reach” with Current Policy – Study, Renewables Now, May 2021

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