In October 2020, South Korea president Moon Jae-in pledged to have the country achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. However, the country’s carbon-intensive power sector, with coal power accounting for approximately 40% of total electricity generation and a quarter of national emissions, remains a major obstacle to achieve this goal. A report by Carbon Tracker finds that renewable energy can be accelerated beyond government plans to reach 40% by 2028, phasing out coal earlier than planned in South Korea. 

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Valeria Ehrenheim, CTI analyst and co-author of the report, says, “Phasing out coal power by 2028 is the most cost-effective choice for South Korea right now given its pursuit of carbon neutrality by 2050. And without quickly phasing out coal power, the country would struggle to raise its currently ‘highly insufficient’ NDC, which is aligned with catastrophic warming scenarios. If South Korea sticks with current coal power plans, it will struggle to contain system costs as it falls behind other countries in the global trend of transitioning to clean energy and economic growth.”

Solutions for Our Climate researcher Gahee Han, a contributor to the report, says, “Coal plants take a lot of time to shut down and turn back on, which prevents them from being used with a greater uptake of renewables. Even if Korea does not enhance its ‘highly insufficient’ NDC, due to reduced utilisation needed to meet Korea’s generation sector emissions target of 193 million tons CO2e by 2030, the majority of old coal power plants will be running at a loss by 2030.1 Coal has already become uncompetitive here in South Korea. If Korea’s NDC is enhanced, coal power will become unviable even sooner.”

Han adds, “With increasing demands on Korea from the international community to raise its climate and energy transition ambition, and now with findings showing that a 2028 coal phase-out is the most cost-effective choice for consumers, too, the Korean government needs to embrace a much earlier coal phase-out than what is being entertained right now.”