Climate Change

South Korea’s leadership did not translate into an ambitious climate plan

A country that has produced many climate leaders has failed to reflect commitment in its actions

By Rakesh Kamal
Published: Tuesday 20 October 2015

No plan B on climate change because there is no planet B: Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations

Support what works... change what needs improvement: Hoesung Lee, Chairman of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Climate scientists have provided us with a firm diagnosis and recommendations for the necessary ‘treatment'… it is up to all who have even the slightest influence to encourage everyone, and particularly those with power, to practise preventive medicine for all life on this planet: World Bank President Jim Yong Kim

One thing that is common among the three above speakers, Hoesung Lee, Ban Ki-Moon and Jim Yong Kim, is that all of them have their roots from South Korea. It is also to be noted that all the three men stress on the importance of fighting climate change, how countries should reduce their emissions and the importance of staying under 2°C.  And it is not just these three international leaders but even the local leaders from South Korea who have been very proactive in talking about climate change. Also, Green Climate Fund, an institution that is supposed to help in in providing climate finance to the vulnerable countries, has its headquarters in South Korea.

Doesn’t all this mean that South Korea, a country with great leaders and great institutions should also adopt an ambitious climate action plan? Unfortunately, it is not so.

When South Korea had submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the UNFCCC earlier this year, it put forward a target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 37 per cent below the business-as-usual (BaU) emissions of 850.6 million metric tons (MT) of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) by 2030. This means that the country aims to double its 1990 emissions of 246 MtCO2e, without any intention of reducing its industry emissions or lifestyle emissions.

With a very high human development index of 0.891, South Korea is one of the few in the Non-Annex 1 countries of UNFCCC that qualify as developed countries. South Koreas per capita emissions that have drastically increased from 5.76 MT in 1990 to 11.49 MT in 2010 are almost twice that of China or about ten times that of India.

Therefore, with such a powerful leadership and momentum that prevails in the country, it would have been great if South Korea was able to produce a climate action plan that would not just focus on industry but also on vulnerable islands nearby. The climate plan, though talks about how the acceptance of nuclear energy has reduced in the country after the Fukushima accident, it doesn’t talk about the country’s affordability to promote a little expensive renewable technology if it is serious about climate change.

To sum it up, in spite of having a great international leadership from its soil, South Korea, just like the United States, has failed to come up with a climate action plan that looks beyond its boundaries and helps remain under the 2°C in temperature.

After all, all power and responsibility doesn’t lie in just delivering a few impressive quotes.

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