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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on March 23)

All News 06:56 March 23, 2023

Climatic plan's setback
Nation should do its part in resolving global crisis

Korea has grown into one of the world's top 10 economies and is occasionally invited to G7 meetings.

However, the nation seems intent to remain a developing country in some areas of common concern for the international community. Especially so when short-term national interests are concerned.

A case in point is its foot-dragging in efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

On Tuesday, a blue-ribbon panel announced the government's basic plan to reduce carbon emissions and seek green growth. To sum up, the plan, the first action program of the Yoon Suk Yeol administration, calls for lowering the greenhouse gas reduction target for the industrial sector.

More specifically, it will require the industrial sector to cut its emission by 11.4 percent from the 2018 level by 2030. That is a sharp setback from the previous reduction target of 14.5 percent. To maintain the total emissions goal of 40 percent, it instead seeks to carry out afforestation projects overseas and invest in carbon capture and storage technology.

This runs squarely counter to carbon neutrality drives by easing burdens on the industrial sector, the main culprit of the climate crisis. The sector, including steel and petrochemical companies, accounts for 36 percent of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions. When electricity use is included, the share rises to 54 percent. Corporate Korea emits more than half of the total greenhouse gases, but its reduction target is slightly more than a quarter.

The presidential commission cited difficulties in raw material supply and technology prospects as a reason for the downward adjustment. In other words, the previously ambitious goal knelt before the high wall of reality ― once again. Business lobbies have complained about the "unrealistically high" reduction target and realized their dreams under the most pro-business administration in decades. The government will instead raise nuclear power generation, but it is no more than a stopgap measure.

The plan presented a yearly reduction target for the first time. However, it is also problematic, passing most of the burden to the succeeding governments. For instance, it calls for reducing carbon emissions by about 50 million tons in 2023-27, another 50 million tons in 2028-29 and 100 million tons in 2030 alone. That is, the incumbent government will cut emissions by 2 percent on an annual average and drastically reduce it under the next administration. The plan is infeasible and irresponsible, postponing 75 percent of total emission cuts until after its term.

Conscious of criticism about Korea's lukewarm shift to renewable energy, the plan reluctantly raised the reduction target in the sector slightly, from 44.4 percent to 45.9 percent. However, it falls far short of expectations. Most industrial countries are now shifting very rapidly to renewables. This is not only because it helps to prevent climatic aggravation but is economically profitable thanks to technological innovation and resulting cost cuts. That means it can be a new growth engine, too. By lagging in this critical shift, Korea will lose "three rabbits" ― climate action, economic windfall and energy security.

Even more pitiably, the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy took the lead in meeting the industry's demands. The ministry reportedly tried to reduce burdens on the industrial sector by one-third. It should no longer act like a business lobby, but lead recalcitrant companies in a challenging but inevitable direction.

Most lamentably, the government's plan came a day after the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which warned the world has little more than a decade to avoid catastrophic global warming. Under the Yoon government's scheme, Korea will do little to contribute to the global endeavor to save the Earth over the next four years or so.

Instead of criticizing the previous government's slightly overambitious goal, which came under international pressure, the incumbent one must show a modicum of sincerity about doing what it can.

Otherwise, Korea will be unable to shed the stigma of being a "climate villain."

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