Welcome to the Earth.Org Global Sustainability Index, where Earth.Org examines the policies and actions regarding the environment of every nation on earth. Combining the most respected global indexes on pollution, climate change, policy, energy, oceans, biodiversity we have produced an overall Global Index, which will be updated annually. This is the Global Sustainability Index scorecard for South Korea.
South Korea’s rapid economic expansion over the past few decades has left it with a significant carbon footprint. In 2015, it was the world’s 13th largest greenhouse gas emitter.
While governments have often spoken about using ‘green growth’ to build the economy while also benefiting the environment, the nation has been criticised for not always matching this green growth rhetoric with meaningful action.
A report by Seoul-based NGO Solutions For Our Climate found that the government has so aggressively supported the growth of biomass-fuelled energy production that it has become one of the most subsidised renewable energy sources in South Korea. However, these subsidies are causing severe disruptions and uncertainties in the renewable energy market in the country, including steep declines in the price of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), which is discouraging utilities from investing in renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind. Further, these subsidies are meant to help offset the operating and construction costs of converting coal-fired power plants into biomass plants, but these costs are overestimated, in some cases by as much as 15 times the actual cost.
The citizens of South Korea place the climate crisis highest in their list of potential national threats. Of those surveyed, 86% agreed it is a ‘major threat to our country’, higher than even North Korea’s nuclear program, which 67% viewed as a major threat.
In its Paris commitments, the nation pledged to reduce its emissions in 2030 to 37% below business-as-usual levels, however this target would amount to emissions levels 78% higher than in 1990 by 2030.
- As the 13th largest global emitter of GHGs, South Korea has recently set itself a 2050 net-zero carbon target as part of its “Green New Deal” plan. The plan includes an end to coal financing and subsidies along with the introduction of a carbon tax.
- South Korea’s target of 20% renewable energy by 2030 and 30-35% by 2040 have been called unrealistic by various organisations. This is because the nation relies heavily on coal, and renewables have yet to make a dent in the energy sector (currently standing at 8% of the total share).
- The only meaningful clean energy in South Korea comes from nuclear reactors. The Fukushima disaster stirred anti-nuclear sentiment, ultimately driving president Moon Jai-in to pledge a phase out of nuclear energy. This would mean a transition to either fossil fuels or renewables to maintain power supply, but their energy grid is not prepared for renewables.
You might also like: Global Emissions (2016)
Biodiversity, Policy: Sachs, J., Schmidt-Traub, G., Kroll, C., Lafortune, G., Fuller, G. (2019): Sustainable Development Report 2019. New York: Bertelsmann Stiftung and Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN).
Oceans: Halpern, Benjamin S., et al. “An index to assess the health and benefits of the global ocean.” Nature 488.7413 (2012): 615-620.
Pollution: Wendling, Z. A., Emerson, J. W., Esty, D. C., Levy, M. A., de Sherbinin, A., et al. (2018). 2018 Environmental Performance Index. New Haven, CT: Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy. https://epi.yale.edu/
Climate Change: Climate Change Performance Index; Jan Burck, Ursula Hagen, Niklas Höhne, Leonardo Nascimento, Christoph Bals, ISBN 978-3-943704-75-4, 2019
Energy: Enerdata –World Energy Statistics – Yearbook.