WASHINGTON – The United States is calling on South Korea to set more ambitious climate targets, an issue that will be part of the discussions when President Moon Jae-in meets President Biden in the White House on Friday.
Last month, Mr. Biden’s international climate envoy, John Kerry, traveled to South Korea and, according to officials from both countries, surprised the members of Mr. Moon’s government by suggesting that the country make “appropriate efforts” in the United States, to reduce the warming of the planet emissions. That would nearly double South Korea’s current target of reducing carbon 24.4 percent below 2017 levels by the end of the decade.
South Korea, the seventh largest emitter of carbon dioxide that warms the planet, is South Korea important to the efforts of the Biden government to show that other developed countries are taking vigorous action against climate change.
“South Korea is one of the most important countries that can say, ‘Look, we’re doing this with America’ so that Biden doesn’t stand alone on the podium,” said Chung Min Lee, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The biggest consideration is of course China, whose greenhouse gas emissions now exceed all industrialized nations combined. China has vowed to hit its emissions by 2030 at the latest and hit net zero by 2060 – but so far it has been reluctant to commit to new targets.
Ambitious new goals from South Korea alone shouldn’t put China under pressure, Lee said. However, if the government joins the Quadrangular Security Dialogue – a coalition of the United States, Japan, India and Australia designed to counterbalance China – to work on climate change and other issues, it will show China we speak with one voice, like we did with the Soviet Union in the Cold War. “
May 21, 2021, 6:50 p.m. ET
The United States, under Mr. Biden, has pledged to cut emissions by 50 to 52 percent from 2005 by the end of this decade, with the goal of becoming carbon neutral by mid-century. That is where most of the nations need to be to keep the global temperature rise 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and avoid the worst effects of warming, scientists say.
South Korea has made the environment a central pillar of its economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and has launched a billion dollar program to invest in electric vehicles, battery storage, smart grids and offshore wind farms. The country has also pledged to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and promised to stop funding overseas coal-fired power plants at an international climate summit that Mr Biden hosted last month.
At the same time, Korea has seven coal-fired power plants under construction, according to Global Energy Monitor, a San Francisco-based group that tracks fossil fuel projects. And a new study by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology found that the country would “embarrassingly miss” its current goals if the government did not adopt aggressive new guidelines.
In a letter to Mr. Moon last week, former Vice President Al Gore asked him to set a target of at least 50 percent to “help protect the future of our planet.” More ambitious goals, Gore said, “would affect the climate policies of countries around the world.”
As a highly industrialized country heavily dependent on coal and importing virtually all of its oil and gas, South Korea faces major challenges when it comes to meeting the expectations of the US and environmental groups.
South Korea’s Jeju Province governor Won Hee-ryong said he believed the government needed to improve its target, but called reaching 50 percent “challenging”. Mr Won spoke on Wednesday at a forum sponsored by the World Resources Institute that a more reasonable target might be 37 percent.
“It can be difficult for Korea to commit to an emissions target as ambitious as the US because our emissions only peaked three years ago,” he said.
A senior administration official, speaking for reporters at a background briefing, said Mr Biden intends to discuss with Mr Moon how both nations could eliminate carbon emissions from their energy sectors and other parts of the economy and said there was “more to” the report “After the Friday meeting.