Going carbon-neutral is a business opportunity, says South Korean minister

Moon Sung-wook urged advanced and developing economies to work closely together 'to find creative and innovative solutions' to curb climate change.

south korean minister moon sung-wook
South Korean Minister of Trade, Industry, and Energy Moon Sung-wook speaks during a CEO meeting at the Department of Commerce in Washington, US, May 21, 2021. Image: Joshua Roberts/Reuters.

The path to carbon neutrality should be seen as creating opportunities rather than threatening business, a South Korean minister told a climate forum on Monday, as he called for a change in perceptions and stronger global cooperation.

The fossil fuel industry has come under increasing pressure to slash its planet-heating emissions from coal, oil and gas.

Energy production and use account for two-thirds of total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

“Carbon neutrality would be difficult to achieve if it is seen negatively as detrimental to traditional industries,” said South Korea’s Trade, Industry and Energy Minister Moon Sung-wook.

“We should approach it from positive and future-oriented perspectives because it could create new opportunities for growth and job creation,” he told the P4G climate summit.

South Korea hosted the two-day virtual conference which focused on public-private partnerships for green growth, especially in developing nations.

Carbon neutrality is the way to go for us but it is also an uncharted territory.

Moon Sung-wook, minister of trade, industry and energy, South Korea

Seoul last year unveiled a Green New Deal, which includes billions of dollars in investment - from electric vehicles to a smart grid to manage electricity - as a way to create jobs and help the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Carbon neutrality is the way to go for us but it is also an uncharted territory,” said minister Moon, adding that efforts by individual businesses or countries alone are insufficient.

He urged advanced and developing economies to work closely together “to find creative and innovative solutions”.

Green enough?

The summit, which gathered a dozen countries, international organisations and private companies, is seen as part of South Korea’s ambitions to show its leadership on climate change.

Opening the summit on Sunday, President Moon Jae-in pledged to raise the country’s 2030 emissions reduction target and unveil it at November’s COP26 UN climate talks in Glasgow.

Seoul has set a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 and committed to reduce national emissions by 24.4 per cent from 2017 levels by 2030 as part of its commitment under the Paris Agreement.

Under Moon, South Korea has also stopped issuing permits for new domestic coal-fired power plants and last month announced it would end funding of overseas coal plants.

But as one of the world’s most fossil fuel-reliant economies, it has faced questions at home about its credentials to lead global discussions on green growth and sustainable development.

Teenage climate activist Kim Do-hyun told the Thomson Reuters Foundation it was “a shame (the) South Korean government (is) not doing enough” to end coal use at home and abroad.

Kim, 18, is one of a group of teenagers who last year took the South Korean government to court over its climate change policies, demanding bigger emissions cuts.

A coalition of 11 environmental groups, including Greenpeace, in an open letter to President Moon last week also said carbon neutrality by 2050 would be impossible if existing planned coal-powered plants were completed.

While praising South Korea’s announcement to stop overseas coal funding, in comments to the P4G summit on Sunday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres encouraged the country “to follow through with a coal phase-out plan”.

The head of the IEA, meanwhile, said there needed to be a “total transformation” of the global energy system, despite a proliferation of net-zero pledges from countries and companies.

“There is still a huge gap between rhetoric and reality,” executive director Fatih Birol told the P4G summit on Monday.

“This year, instead of a sustainable recovery, we are heading for the second-largest increase in global emissions in history, according to our numbers.”

This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate.

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