South Korea, Japan promise to become zero carbon by 2050

The governments of Japan and South Korea have set a target of making their countries carbon neutral by 2050, guaranteeing a booming market for renewable energy, electric vehicles and hydrogen power for the next 30 years.

The pledges, made by Japan’s new prime minister Yoshihide Suga on Monday and South Korean president Moon Jae-in earlier today, signals a more aggressive approach to energy transition measures that were already in place in both countries.

South Korea’s Democratic Party was returned to power by a landslide in April. Among its policies was a "Green New Deal" to decarbonise the economy and end coal financing.

The country presently derives 40% of its electricity from coal and has recently financed coal plants abroad, most recently the Vung Ang 2 plant in Vietnam, which drew national protests and international criticism (see further reading).

President Moon said in a speech to the National Assembly: "The government has pushed for strong policy to shift energy sources, but we still need to improve many things. We will go toward carbon neutral by 2050, taking action on climate change. We will replace coal power with renewable energy, creating new markets and industries as well as jobs."

He added that $7.1bn would be spent on building charging stations for electric and hydrogen vehicles. The government plans to add 116,000 electric and hydrogen vehicles to Korea’s roads next year.

Japan is the world’s fifth-largest emitter of carbon and relies on coal for a third of its electricity generation. The net zero target will require an overhaul of the country’s energy strategy, which focuses heavily on coal power to supplement its problematic nuclear sector.

In his first address to the Japanese diet, Prime Minister Suga said: "Responding to climate change is no longer a constraint on economic growth. We need to change our thinking to the view that taking assertive measures against climate change will lead to changes in industrial structure and the economy that will bring about growth."

The moves by Japan and South Korea follow Chinese president Xi Jinping’s declaration that China would become carbon neutral by 2060.

Other governments that have set a 2050 zero net carbon deadline include the EU, Canada and South Africa. The most ambitious target was set by Finland, which said it would achieve zero net emissions by 2035.

President Moon’s announcement was welcomed by investors.

Nikkei Asia quotes Rebecca Mikula-Wright, executive director at Asia Investor Group in Climate Change, who said: "The three largest economies in East Asia now have clear commitments to net zero emissions by or near mid-century. This is a powerful market signal that should help encourage other Asian nations to follow suit and send a strong message to carbon-intensive trade partners further afield that the region is moving to decarbonise."

Over the past month, KB Financial Group, Samsung C&T and national power utility Kepco have announced their exit from coal power projects.

Image: Moon Jae-in with President Trump in 2017 ( BY-SA 2.0)

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