Rhein on Energy and Climate

For the first time ever, Korea has announced green house emission targets. On November 17th President Lee has proudly announced that his country is willing to reduce its emissions by 4 percent below 2005 levels. He has called this a historic decision and a paradigm shift for Korea becoming an advanced country. From a European and a global perspective these targets are totally unacceptable. It would be scandalous if Korea got away with them.

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Korea has long ceased to be a “developing country” as which it successfully managed to be categorised during the negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. Today, Korea is one of the leading developed countries in the world. Its 2008 per capita GDP of $ 28 000 exceeds that of half EU of the member states.

Korea is a high- tech country with one of the highest educational levels globally. It sends satellites into the orbit, is the worlds number one producer of ships, one of the leading manufacturer of steel, electronic products and machinery.

It has just completed negotiations with the EU on a bilateral free trade agreement which is sending shivers to the European automobile industry.

Since 1996 Korea is an OECD member and classified as a high-income country by the World Bank.

It is therefore not surprising that Korea has become the 9th biggest green house gas emitter, with per capita emissions comparable to those of Germany or UK (about 10 tons!)

Despite these changes, the government has done practically nothing during the past 10 years to seriously address climate change. Lacking the pressure of international commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, successive governments have preferred to bow to pressure from powerful industrial groups hostile to any reductions of their green house gas emissions.

Recently its industry has discovered that renewable energy technologies offer promising export opportunities. Under its national PV plan the country hopes to become a leading supplier of PV cells and modules for solar installations, aiming at a world market share of 10 percent by 2012. In the same line, major engineering companies have also decided to diversify into wind power manufacturing.

Korea must not be allowed a free ride. As a highly developed country it must commit to reduce its green house emissions at comparable rates to those of all other OECD countries. These reductions must be calculated over 1990, the agreed reference year of the Kyoto Protocol and not 2005, which would recompense it for having boosted emissions during the last 10 years. The minimum Korea must commit to is a 5 percent reduction over 1990, comparable to what is likely to become the US commitment. Both Korea and the USA might, indeed, find it hard to agree much higher commitments because of the difficulties to make up for the time lost in inaction.

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But they should be asked to offer compensation by taking a higher share of the financial transfer developed countries will have to offer developing countries to fight climate change.

The EU should not proceed with the signature and ratification of the free trade agreement, until Korea has put more acceptable climate commitments on the table. Indeed, trade and climate will become increasingly intertwined. It is time for everybody to acknowledge these links and for the EU to wield its leverage to induce other countries to be more forthcoming in their climate policy.

Brussels, 18.11. 09 Eberhard Rhein

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  1. Korea’s decision is a positive sign among the developing countries. Korea can achive this milestone since korea is a high- tech country with one of the highest educational levels globally.

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