• 2 out of 3 roadmaps fail to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
  • All plans lack intermediate steps and rely on unproven technologies.
  • All assume we can keep producing and consuming like there is no climate crisis.

On August 5, the Presidential Carbon Neutrality Committee set out three scenarios whereby South Korea could achieve its goal of 2050 carbon neutrality. Scenario one envisions a country that will still be using coal power in 2050, with 24.5 million tons of residual GHG emissions each year. Scenario two will maintain the use of backup LNG plants, leaving 18.7 million tons per year of emissions in 2050. Scenario three is the only roadmap that will fully shut down coal and LNG power plants, and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

However, all scenarios are based on optimistic forecasts for the removal of carbon. Under scenario one, Korea will still be producing 153.9 million tons of GHG per year in 2050. But the scenario projects that 95 million tons of this will be captured by as yet unproven carbon capture and storage technologies. Another 24.1 million tons will be absorbed by forests, despite the Korea Forest Service admitting there is almost nowhere to plant more trees. Their plan is to cut down and replant existing forests, and use those to count down emissions.

In the power sector up to 21.4% of electricity is to be produced from hydrogen and ammonia power plants. Such plants are yet to be commercialized, will rely almost entirely on difficult-to-transport imported, and at present 99% of the world’s hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels. While the government promises hydrogen will eventually be produced by renewable sources it is not at all clear when this will happen.

In the industrial sector, all three scenarios project a 79.6% reduction in emissions; to be achieved through hydrogen-based steel production, and the conversion of all blast furnaces in the steel industry to electric. The first goal is unproven, the latter would be unlikely for anything but scrap steel. All scenarios see the continuing production of 53 million tons of industrial emissions per year in 2050.

The question of when these changes will happen looms large over all these scenarios. Even in scenario three’s ambitious goal of 70.8% renewable power, and 97% eco-friendly vehicles by 2050, the roadmap does not lay out a timeline for how this will happen. We cannot simply keep pumping out emissions like business as usual, and then hope that future tech will allow us to change course as 2050 nears.

All scenarios are shaped by the fact the Carbon Neutrality Committee was only established in May this year, with limited budget and personnel. The committee was confined to a limited range of inquiry, failing to address the question of whether society can justify current levels of consumption, or continue to support polluting industries.

The committee will launch a “Carbon Neutral Citizens’ Meeting” on August 7 to include the public and major stakeholders in deliberation on the scenarios. But they will only be discussing these three scenarios. KFEM is deeply concerned that this process will be used to justify these insufficient roadmaps. What we need is a truly deliberative and democratic process that can enable citizens to map out a clear path in the battle against climate change.

Please note: This is an edited summary. The original Korean version can be easily read in full on goggle translate. It can be found here: http://kfem.or.kr/?p=217922

For more information contact:
Hye Lyn Kim
International Solidarity Team
Friends of The Earth Korea/Korea Federation for Environmental Movements, KFEM
Email: naserian@kfem.or.kr