OPINION

[Editorial] Emissions mess

By Korea Herald

Road map places emissions burden on industries while government turns to carbon for energy

  • Published : Jul 2, 2018 - 17:57
  • Updated : Jul 2, 2018 - 22:34

The government Thursday announced a revised plan focused on a sharp reduction of domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Under the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, South Korea in 2016 estimated its 2030 business-as-usual carbon emissions level at 851 million metric tons and promised to the international community to cut it by 315 million tons or 37 percent.

The previous government planned to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at home by 25.7 percent or 219 million tons and abroad by 11.3 percent or 96 million tons. Overseas reduction was to be made through carbon emissions certificate trading and participation in international sustainable development mechanisms.

Then, the Ministry of Environment revised the 2030 reduction road map to slash the overseas reduction goal by a whopping 80 million tons from 96 million tons to 16 million tons. As a result, the overseas proportion shrank from 11.3 percent of the 2030 BAU level to 1.9 percent, and instead the domestic share surged.

The government said industries must shoulder the burden of reducing 40 million tons more.

This is another headwind for companies struggling to survive in a wide array of tough business conditions at home and abroad.

Of course, South Korea should cooperate with international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But its reduction goal must be set at a level companies can bear.

The target set by the previous government was criticized for being too high for companies.

The energy efficiency of companies subject to the greenhouse gas road map is already so high that they have little room to reduce carbon emissions further.

Thus, buying tradable carbon credits is the most realistic way to attain their increased reduction goal. An additional burden in terms of going rates of carbon credits is estimated to cost them around 1.1 trillion won ($985 million) annually.In fact, companies are already swamped in unfavorable conditions including protectionism, rising oil prices, a sharp minimum wage hike and a shorter work week.

In a situation like this, the government added an emissions reduction burden. Petrochemical and steel industries, among others, are expressing strong concerns.

The revised road map needs be reviewed.

All this is to a large extent attributable to the policy to shut down all nuclear power plants. It sounds absurd to disuse emission-free nuclear energy on one hand and increase domestic emissions reduction goal on the other.

The government is trying to increase the renewable energy supply rapidly, but experts doubt if it can be generated enough to replace the whole of nuclear energy. The role of coal or liquefied natural gas will inevitably increase in the nation’s energy mix, causing higher emissions.

The revised road map has an issue hard to understand. The previous road map set the greenhouse gas reduction goal in the sector of power generation and transmission at 64.5 million tons. The revised version reduced the goal to 23.7 million tons, about 37 percent of the previous target.

The government announced in December last year that it will spend 100 trillion won on renewable energy by 2030. If such a huge sum is spent on renewable energy, greenhouse gases should be reduced at least by the previous goal. What is renewable energy for?

The government scrapped its plan to build six new nuclear power plants and also decided to close all 11 nuclear power plants whose initial permit life will expire by 2029.

The total capacity of the 11 plants is 9.23GW. If a 1GW power plant is closed and replaced by a coal-fired power plant, 5 million more tons of greenhouse gases will be emitted annually. If coal-fired power plants are used to generate all 9.23GW, the emissions will total about 46 million tons. The nuclear power plants, if their lifespans are extended, can shoulder much of the needed reductions.

The policy to scrap nuclear energy is worsening both greenhouse gas problems and industrial competitiveness.