Korea Climate Crisis Emergency Action Network
[Public Statement] On South Korean government’s participation in the Leaders Summit on Climate
21. 04. 2021
New 2030 emission target compatible with 1.5℃ goal. Climate Justice. Act Now!
The climate crisis is threatening life on Earth, including human beings. The global temperature is expected to rise above 1.5℃ in less than seven years if greenhouse gases are emitted at the current rate. We are not talking about mere numbers; the fabric of life that has conditioned this planet will change past the point of no return. It is critical that we understand the Leaders Summit on Climate is being held in this critical juncture. Nations across the globe have pledged carbon neutrality in recent years. South Korea also vowed to go carbon neutral by 2050. However, we are in a sad situation to express concern about whether such a goal can be achieved. Will the summit provide an opportunity for major GHG emitter countries to commit to real change or will it simply be another venue to immerse in a gala of empty words?
South Korea’s GHG reduction plan remains ridiculously unambitious. Last year, South Korea submitted its 2030 Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) target to the United Nations without improving on its already low and outdated target from 5 years ago. Citing violation of Article 4(3) of the Paris Agreement that requires to present a progression beyond the Party’s past NDC target to reflect a Party’s highest possible ambition, the United Nations de facto rejected South Korea’s target. While the U.S. has publicized its plan to cut emissions by 50% by 2030 from its 2005 levels and Japan pledged to a higher ambition of a 50% emissions cut by 2030 compared to 2013, South Korea continues to lag far behind in its ambition to match global trends.
Despite declaring carbon neutrality by 2050, the South Korean government plans to cut emissions by 24.4% from its 2017 emissions level, which is a far cry from the 45% cut recommended by the international community. This only suggests that South Korea has given up on any meaningful plan that requires action now. Given the massive amount of GHG emissions for which South Korea has been responsible, the government needs to strengthen its 2030 emissions target by at least half the 2010 levels.
To achieve this goal, it is necessary for the government to act immediately. Instead of empty words and the promise to cease coal investment “in the future,” South Korea needs to commit to the disinvestment from coal immediately. Not only does this include ongoing domestic coal projects, such as the construction of a massive coal power plant headed by POSCO, but also overseas coal investments in Vietnam and Indonesia. It is also essential that the government set up a road map for the phase out of coal power plants, which currently account for 25% of South Korea’s carbon emission.
Equally important is to revoke plans for the construction of new airports such as the Kadŏkto Airport, which the government is promoting through a Special Law that exempts it from feasibility studies and environmental assessment. We are appalled that the government, with all its talks on carbon neutrality, continues to stick to the strategy of unimpeded development and construction work that has contributed to the climate crisis in the first place. We also call for the government to depart from unproven, risky projects such as carbon capture and sequestration technology and nuclear power. That these approaches are considered viable options by the government only highlights the continuing dominance of growth-only policy driven by profit-seeking capitalist interests.
We stress that emissions reduction goes beyond simple numbers and requires comprehensive change in the way our society is structured and operates. The change we need is a just transition that calls on hitherto excluded and suppressed social groups and individuals to be the drivers of change. The government and corporations that have monopolized power must be held accountable for the climate crisis they helped bring about. We will not accept a government that keeps assisting corporations to continue to maximize profits by touting them the “the next-generation industrial growth engine” under the banner of climate action while pushing the vulnerable into a permanent state of crisis and collapse. Climate action must be grounded in the principles of justice and human rights and new legislations, such as the Framework Act on Climate Justice, are indispensable to uphold these principles.
The Summit will be held marking the 51st anniversary of the Earth Day, with “Restore our Earth” as its main theme. The paradox is that there is no way we can go back to the past. Restoration is impossible. That the current system can be sustainable is also an illusion. The only option we have in front of us is whether or not we could implement a just transition that can ensure equality and freedom for all. The pledge that the government should make at the summit is crystal clear: It is a renewed pledge to cut emissions by 2030 consistent with the 1.5℃ target (goal) and a concrete roadmap to achieve the new target (plan) in a way that ensures a citizen-led transition (process).
Korea Climate Crisis Emergency Action Network