South Korea Checkup

South Korea—Moving Forward

The Korean Energy Economics Institute (KEEI) conducted a study to evaluate the effectiveness of  Korea’s Target Management System, using a Greenhouse-gas Reduction Efficiency (GRE) index. The policies are The Target Management System and the Emissions Trading Scheme.

South Korea’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) and Energy Target Management System, known as “Target Management System,” was implemented between 2012 and 2015. According to this policy, 1,107 companies were under obligations to reduce their GHG emissions as of December 2015. After 2015 firms participating in the Target Management System were asked to participate in Korea’s new Emission Trading Scheme (KETS). KETS is one of the world’s largest cap-and-trade systems.
For its study, KEEI collected a dataset of 251 firms that were under the Target Management System. The data set included each firm’s GHG emissions, energy consumption, sales, tangible assets, and number of workers between 2011 and 2015. Also, KEEI looked at changes in emissions by participating firms in the following sectors: semiconductors, displays, electronics, petrochemicals, iron and steel, shipbuilding, textiles, paper, ceramics, automobiles, power generation, cement, machinery, nonferrous metals, refining, telecommunications, and mining.

After the analysis, KEEI found that the average GRE index was improved in the first year of 2012, and then deteriorated from 2013 to 2014. However, in 2015 when the Emission Trading Scheme was initially implemented, the average GRE index was greatly improved.  Some sectors, such as the refining sectors showed marked improvement, and the average emission levels of the fifteen major industries of South Korea improved compared to 2011. This data suggests that South Korea is moving forward in its efforts to support the Paris Agreement.  Some criticize that South Korea’s target is inadequate, but this study’s findings show that South Korea is doing a good job to comply with its pledge at COP21

Learn More

Korea Energy Economics Institute, “A Positive Research on Greenhouse-gas Reduction Efficiency after Target Management System Implemented” (December 2016)

South Korea Emission Reduction Policy

First Basic Plan for Climate Change Response

On December 6, 2016, the South Korean government confirmed the country’s “ First Basic Plan for Climate Change Response,” after approval by the National Green Growth Committee’s and at a cabinet meeting led by Prime Minister (Acting President) Hwang Kyo-Ahn. The Basic Plan incorporates the goal of reducing the national greenhouse gas emission level by 37% (BAU) by 2030 in line with South Korea’s pledge to the Paris Agreement.

The Basic Plan is the first comprehensive policy that has medium and long-term strategies and specific action plans to combat climate change. The Basic Plan puts the focus for emission reduction on new market-and-technology-oriented efforts. It seeks to encourage the role and contribution of the private sector in reducing emissions. The Basic Plan also promotes the active participation of the public in climate change efforts. It establishes mechanisms that facilitate collaboration in combatting climate change between the central and local governments and public and private sectors. The Basic Plan provides consulting services to small and medium enterprises regarding the adoption of energy-saving technologies.

The Plan further states that the South Korean government will invest more in the development and utilization of clean energy across the country. It calls for the government and public enterprises to cooperate in doubling the investment of R&D for utilizing clean energy. Private enterprises will concentrate on their own businesses and the government will focus on R&D for the public sector. The Basic Plan states that the prime investment fields for clean energy technology will be in renewable energy, efficiency improvements, demand management, carbon capture, use and storage, nuclear energy, and thermoelectric power transmission and distribution.


The National Green Growth Committee is a special committee that is part of the Prime Minister’s office for the purpose of deliberating and coordinating the government’s green growth policies and collecting diverse opinions in the society. It is composed of 38 committee members, 21 civilian members from relevant fields and 17 government officers including minister of Finance and minister of Science, ICT and Future Planning.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-Ahn has been serving as Acting President as the process of impeachment of President Park Geun-hye was ongoing during this period of time.

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South Korea Extreme Weather Event

2016 Extreme Heat Wave

The recent extreme heat wave in 2016 caused extensive damage to people, the environment and to the country as a whole. The damage can be seen in the agricultural sector, the maritime-fisheries sector, the environment/energy sector and on people’s health.

Damage to the agricultural sector included death of livestock and plants because of the high temperatures that were above 32 degrees Celsius. The repair costs for these damages were over 2,000 million KRW. The government tried to deal with these agricultural sector problems by introducing policies and actions such as providing information on the analysis of agricultural climate characteristics, climate damage by agro-climatic zones, and forecasting each region’s soil moisture status (167 cities and counties).

The most significant damage to the maritime-fisheries sector was that aquaculture species died as a result of the high-water temperatures that cost 50 billion KRW. The government issued warnings and breaking news on low/high water temperatures to help the aquaculture industry prevent the massive death of fish (this was also a reaction from the cold waves in 2015 and 2016).

Due to these heat waves in Seoul, which lasted for 24 days, including 32 days of tropical nights, national ozone warnings were issued on a regular basis. During this period, electricity consumption reached its peak, 8,370,000 kW. This high demand for electricity resulted in the rapid increase of sales of air conditioners (160% increase), dehumidifiers (245% increase), and electric fans (92% increase). As a policy response, the National Institute of Environmental Research and NASA developed a joint air quality investigation.

The heat waves also affected people’s health. In 2016, the number of patients with thermal problems (heat stroke) doubled. In order to monitor such health issues, the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now provides the current status of health damages and releases news on the rapid increase in the number of patients with thermal conditions/problems.

South Korea Media Organizations

Broadcast Media

Korea Broadcasting System (KBS) is the national public broadcaster of South Korea. It is a public corporation which is funded by the South Korean government and license fees collected from the South Korean people, but managed independently. It is one of the largest TV networks as well as one of the major presses that provides radio, television, and online services. It started as Kyeongseong (Seoul’s old name) Broadcasting Corporation in February 1927 with broadcasting radio programs and started TV broadcasting in December 1961.

Since it is a public enterprise and a major broadcaster in South Korea, it does not take a specific position towards climate change. Instead, KBS shows the trends in world climate issues, South Korea’s environment policies, and the global climate agreement. So far, the South Korean government supports and took an active role in the Paris Agreement. KBS appears to the government climate change policies because of the concerns about abnormal climate issues and environmental problems in S. Korea.

Content Sample:

‘Disappearing Grasslands in Baekdu-daegan area due to Climate Change’
Due to unique climate conditions, grasslands have been developed in Baekdu-daegan mountains area which is 1,300 meters above sea level. Baekdu-daegan area is called as the subalpine zone and has the right conditions for grass to grow rather than trees. The area is habitat to a number of endangered plants. Because of abnormal climate change, however, the grasslands have become much smaller than they use to be and several lowland trees have begun to grow there. Basically, climate change is destroying the area’s eco-system.

Contact: 3rd floor, 31, Eonnam-gil, Seocho-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea, 06779.

Online Media

Energy News, established in August 2010, is an on-line daily newspaper focused on energy and environmental issues including petroleum, natural resources, electricity, renewable energy, and nuclear energy. Energy News publishes its off-line newspaper weekly. Energy News tries to act as a guide for the public to follow whether or not the government is properly implementing its ‘low carbon green growth project.’ It organizes some conferences regarding energy issues, including the Asia Pacific Gas Conference (APGC).

As Energy News is a major energy newspaper, it does not take a specific point of view towards climate change. Energy News tries to follow the role of the press by checking if the government properly designs and implements its energy and environmental policies. Therefore, Energy News supports the Paris Agreement, but it sometimes criticizes government policies that slow down achieving the stated goals set by the government.

Contact: Mailing address: 13, Yeouigongwon-ro, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea, 07235.

Print Media

The Korea Energy Newspaper began as the Monthly Gasoline Journal in 1994, which was the first magazine focused on the oil industry. It aims to provide energy and environmental news related to various industries and economic impacts. It has organized the International Green Energy Expo annually since 2004.

The Korea Energy Newspaper aims to provide news and data concerning environment and energy issues which are highly related to several industries and economic outcomes. The Korea Energy Newspaper has put forth opinions that the Paris Agreement would hurt several industries, but it largely supports the Paris Agreement and environmental improvement.

Content Samples:
‘The New Regime for Climate Change, Expanding LNG Power Plants Desperately Needed’
Initially, the South Korean government announced that it would increase the development of eco-friendly alternative energy such as LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) in order for it to meet its greenhouse gas reductions goal. However, this voice has been weakened recently. The article points out the importance of power generation by LNG because of the electricity market systems in South Korea.

The current system does not reflect the greenhouse gas emission costs in the generation costs. Thus, the increase in the price of emission rights would not lead to the reduction in greenhouse gas emission, unless the price of emission rights equals fuel conversion costs (even when the emission costs are included in the generation costs). Therefore, the article introduces alternative methods such as the establishment of emission credits in the power generation sector and LNG portfolio standard obligation. As such, the government should regulate the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the power generation sector as a whole, instead of distributing the emission permits to each individual power generation company. This strategy would eventually minimize the power generation costs and optimize the operation system.

Content Samples:
The article suggests the South Korean government should create leading cities that use hydrological cycle technologies. The article explains that “rainwater’ can be a solution for environmental challenges and help South Korea meet its commitment to the Paris Agreement. Rainwater should permeate into the soil properly so that it can prevent the underground water to be drained and can purify the water. The Ministry of Environment has designed “Low Impact Development (LID)” for its urban development plan, which is a more environment-friendly development method that is expected to reduce pollution and slow down water flow speed in order to improve the water cycle system in cities.

Contact: Mailing address: 1213 ho, 19, Seoun-ro, Seocho-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea, 06732.

South Korea Subnational Best Practices


Incheon City—Incheon City received a commendation for reduction of greenhouse gas emission from the Korean Ministry of Environment. On October 26, the Ministry of Environment held a conference for awarding public sectors in the recognition of greenhouse gas emission reduction and efficient energy management. Incheon won the first place in reduction of greenhouse gas emission among 243 local governments. Compared to the emission in 2015, which was 30,397tCO2eq, Incheon emitted only 19,665tCO2eq greenhouse gas, which resulted in the reduction of its greenhouse gas emission by 39.6%. Incheon City developed and managed renewable energy facilities, replaced existing lighting equipment to LED lights, strengthened supervision on the CO2 emissions in waste water-disposal plants. In April 2016, Incheon City declared that the year of 2016 is ‘the First Year of Greenhouse Gas Reduction’. Incheon City presented a target strategy to maintain the greenhouse gas emission level below the emission level of 2016. Also, Incheon City developed ‘Comprehensive Plans for Climate Change Response (2016-2035)’, which is a five-year plan for enhancing green environment in Incheon City. The city will focus on practicing green life habits, green transportation, green construction, green resources, green businesses, R&D and outreach system. According to its announcement, Incheon presented its target greenhouse gas reduction rate as 25.9% (3,000 thousand tons) by 2030 based on Business As Usual (BAU) levels.
Mr. Sang-bum Lee, Incheon City Director of the Department of Green Environment
Mail: 9, Jeonggak-ro, Namdong-gu, Incheon, Republic of Korea 21554
Telephone: +82-32-440-2085

Gimhae City—Gimhae City also won an award provided by the Minister of Environment for its reduction in  greenhouse gas emissions and its energy target management system. According to Gimhae in News, Gimhae City won first place among primary local governments ranked 9th among 814 public institutions in the greenhouse gas reduction by reducing its emission amount by 36.2%.
Gimhae City achieved the reduction in greenhouse gas emission by enhancing the cogeneration in Jangyu incineration plant, promoting green roof gardens, and replacing lighting equipment, and changing A/C and heating systems in Gimhae City’s offices to highly efficient ones.

Mr. Sung-sul Bang, Head of the Department of the Ecological Environment
Mail: 2406 Gimhae-daero, Gimhae-si, Gyeongsangnam-do, Gimhae City, Republic of Korea 50935
Telephone: +82-55-330-2440

Suwon City—Suwon City took tenth place in the same conference hosted by the Ministry of Environment following Gimhae City. The major projects in reducing their greenhouse gas emission were replacing lighting in government offices to LED lights, enhancing photovoltaic systems and facilities, establishing smart-grid systems, increasing the use of green-touch computers, and regulating indoor temperatures. As a result, Suwon City reduced the greenhouse emission by 36.2% (reduced more than the national target rate of 20%) and was awarded as ‘high-performing authority’ in greenhouse gas reduction for two years.

Mr. Byung-gu Min, Director of the Department of Environment, Suwon City
Mail: 241, Hyowon-ro, Paldal-gu, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do, Republic of Korea 16490
Telephone: +82-31-228-2029

South Korea Leaders and Opponents

Government Official
Kyung-Kyu Cho
Minister of Environment

Cho was appointed as the Minister of Environment on September 13, 2016. After he came into the office, he put extensive effort into implementing new aggressive climate change policies. For instance, at his first press conference on October 18, he stated that the government was considering introducing a quota system for expanding the supply of electronic vehicles.

Minister Cho participated in the UNFCCC COP 22, the Climate Change Policy & Practice Conference held in Morocco between November 7 and 18 as the head of the delegation. (His predecessor, YOON Sung-Kyu (March 2013 – September 2016), attended COP21.) The National Assembly ratified the Paris Agreement on November 3 and it went into effect on November 4.

Contact: Public Relations Team: Ms. KANG Yu-Ri Office Phone Number: +82-44-201-6063 Website:

Climate Program Advocate
Department of Green Energy, the Seoul Metropolitan Government

The Department of Green Energy of the Seoul Metropolitan Government received a plaque of appreciation from four renewable energy organizations on November 3, 2016. Since 2012, the Department of Green Energy has supported ‘Reduce One Nuclear Power Plant & Sunshine Seoul Policy’, ‘Feed-in Tariffs (FIT) Policy’, and the ‘Climate Change Fund Small Solar Generation Loan System’ to support the number of small-scale sunlight plants. Also, they supported the ‘Mini Sunlight Generation Business’ that can be installed in apartments and houses in Seoul. These efforts designed by the Department of Green Energy have been highly appreciated and provided guidance for the central and other local governments.

Contact: Director, Department of Green Energy: KWON Min Tel: +82-2-2133-3550 Website:

Climate Program Advocate
Jieon Lee
The Korean Federation for Environmental Movement

Jieon Lee, who is the director of Energy Climate Department in Federation of Environmental Movement, has persistently encouraged the Korean government to construct renewable energy power plant and criticized the expansion of coal-fired thermal power plants.


Climate Opponent
Various Organizations Opposed to Renewable Energy

Overall, in Korea, public opinion about climate change issues and renewable energy is pretty much supportive. However, a number of local environmental organizations opposed the construction of the renewable energy plants including the wind generation complex in Muju and the Tidal Power Plant in Ganghwa Island. They argued that the development of renewable energy plants will hurt clean environmental zones. For example, the Jeonbuk Green Federation opposed construction of wind power generation plants, and the Incheon Federation for Environmental Movement opposed construction of tidal power plants.


The Jeonbuk Green Federation
President: LEE  Se-Woo   Tel: +82-63-282-0117
Email:   Address: Jeonju Gaeksa-Gil 59 Wansan-gu, Jeonju City, North Jeolla Province, Republic of Korea (postal code. 54999)     Website:

The Incheon Federation for Environmental Movement
President: CHOI Joong-Ki Choi, JIN Dae-Hyun Jin, CHO Kang-Hee
Tel: +82-32-426-2767  Fax: +82-32-426-2768   Email:
Address: 747 Kyungwondae-Ro, Nam-Gu, Incheon-Si, Republic of Korea (postal code. 22228)

Learn More
The quota system for expanding supply of electronic vehicles:

South Korea Leading Research Study

Research Study:  “A study on institutional obstacles against the New Energy Industry in Korea,” Korea Energy Economics Institute, YS lee and JH Kim, December, 2015

In September 1986, the Korea Energy Economics Institute (KEEI) was launched as South Korea’s principal energy policy research organization. Since then, it has published on national energy and resource policy and made proposals for the country’s mid- and long-term energy policy visions. After the Paris Climate Conference (COP21) was held in December 2015, KEEI released the results of some meaningful studies that are relevant to the country’s post-COP21 policies; for example, it published an analysis on the economic effects of Boarder Carbon Adjustments (BCAs) and a study on price prediction model for Renewable Energy Certificate (REC).

Among KEEI’s recent publications, “A study on institutional barrier factors of the New Energy Industry in Korea” made important contributions. The South Korean government announced the ‘Primary Eight Models for the New Energy Industry’ in April 2015 and the ‘Proliferation Strategy of the New Energy Industry’ in November 2015; it is now promoting the New Energy Industry (NEI) mainly through smart grid technology and linkage between Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and energy industry. However, existing business models for NEI in South Korea are still focusing on changes in supply sides instead of analyzing demand sides and consumers’ behavior, which ultimately limits diversity of new business models.  Based on this criticism, the above study reviews South Korea’s energy system, which has traditionally prioritized the production-side as the major institutional barrier that disturbs fundamental and necessary reforms for fostering NEI in the country.

South Korea used to regard producing and selling energy by using large-scale energy facilities and vertically integrated monopolistic public corporations as the most efficient and smartest strategy to ensure the country’s energy security. However, the country’s state-owned energy monopoly spun its electricity generation business into six companies in April 2001. Since then, the electricity wholesale market has become open and competitive but the transmission and distribution sectors still remain under government monopolistic control which means Korean consumers cannot choose their utilities.

Conventional regulation of the energy system also has not changed. The study highlights how current energy prices and entry regulations work as barriers to the development of new businesses. For example, the majority of new business models for NEI discussed now in South Korea are about changes in supply infrastructures lead by the government. Each model is individual, which limits expansion of private investment. This trend is, again, originated from the structural problems. In the Korean electricity market, the price has been maintained at a relatively low level through the monopolistic system, which resulted in the regulation of new entry of alternative utilities. Furthermore, the issues of what changes can be made in demand side and how consumers behavior can be changed have not been addressed. Therefore, the study notes that it is difficult to construct a profitable model for NEI in South Korea because of the low and inflexible energy tariffs.

In conclusion, the study suggests the following three points:

1) South Korea needs to set up an energy price system determined by real energy supply and demand in order to develop NEI.
2) South Korea should encourage new businesses by loosening separations between different energy resources and/or the abolition of other barriers to market entry. In South Korea, each energy market, i.e. electricity, heat, and city gas, is separated and each sector has its own utility and the business cannot encroach one and another.
3) Third, South Korea should institutionally support new businesses by opening up the monopolized nature of energy information sharing in the industry. For example, information about consumers’ behaviors is not open to the market and monopolistically used by the selective utilities. As long as information is not open to the market, it is hard to expect that new business people can reflect the reality fully in their new technologies or business models.

This study contributed to the first step of reforms in the Korean energy market: the South Korean deputy prime minister for economic affairs, Il-ho Yu, announced an initiative titled “Adjustment Method for Function of Energy, Environment, and Education Field” on June 14, 2016. According to this plan, the government will deregulate the current system and help NEI businessmen sell electricity directly to consumers without involving the government.

Learn More

Oh, KS et al. “A study on the economic effects of Boarder Carbon Adjustments under the new climate agreement,” (KEEI, December 2015)
Lee, CY et al. “A study on price prediction model for Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) and its operation,” (KEEI, December 2015)
Lee, YS, and JH Kim, “A study on institutional obstacles against the New Energy Industry in Korea,” (KEEI, December 2015)
The Primary Eight Models for the New Energy Industry include: 1. Market for Demand Response Resource (DRS); 2. Energy Storage System (ESS) · Electronic Manufacturing Service (EMS) Integration Service; 3. Energy Self-sufficient Island; 4. Electronic Vehicle; 5. Heat energy potential of hot waste water from domestic thermal power; 6. Lease of solar power panels; 7. Zero-energy buildings; and 8. Eco-friendly energy towns.

South Korea Emissions Reduction Policy

South Korea: Second National Energy Principles and the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) System

South Korea’s pledge at COP21 in Paris is to reduce 37% of its GHG emissions from the business-as-usual (BAU, 850.6 MtCO2e) levels by 2030 in all economic sectors. Out of 37%, 25.7% is supposed to be reduced domestically, and 11.3% is to be through International Market Mechanism (IMM). According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the industrial sector continues to account for the largest share of global energy consumption, and is expected to consume over half of global delivered energy in 2040.1 In South Korea, on the other hand, the energy sector accounts for 87.7% of carbon generation due to a relatively high efficiency in the manufacturing industry. Thus, reducing carbon emission in the energy sector is regarded as crucial, and electricity generation is evaluated as the main culprit of GHG emissions: 45% of the energy sector’s GHG emissions in 2013 was from electricity generation; 30% was from the energy industry; 15% was from transportation; and 9% was from the commercial sector.2

Electricity generated in South Korea was approximately 522 terawatt hours (TWh) in 2015, and the composition of electricity generation by source was as follows: 206 TWh from coal, 164 TWh from nuclear, 104 TWh from gas, 24 TWh from oil, and 23 TWh from renewable sources (including hydroelectricity).3 In terms of facility capacity, the nuclear capacity of 24 reactors occupied approximately 22% of the total capacity in 2014.4 According to the Second National Energy Principles released by the South Korean government in 2014, South Korea aims to increase the portion of nuclear facility capacity from the current level of 22% to 29% by 2035. Furthermore, South Korea aims to increase the portion of electricity generation by nuclear power from 34.9% (as of 2007) to 41.3% (as of 2020) and the portion of renewable sources from 1.0% (2007) to 4.8% (2020).5 Besides the government, South Korean power and utility companies including the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) justify the increase in nuclear power use with the South Korea’s pledge at COP21 in Pars.

In order to increase nuclear power capacity, four reactors are currently under construction or in preparation for construction on two sites, Uljin County and Ulsan City, but these are not enough to accomplish the nuclear energy objective. In December 2011, Samcheok City and Youngdeok County were selected as the candidate sites for new nuclear power plants, and then-Ministry of Knowledge Economy (now known as Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy) selected these two as the candidate sites after environmental investigation and deliberation with the relevant authorities.

However, implementing this plan faces a multitude of challenges. Both towns above vetoed the government’s decision through local referendums: Samcheok people held their voluntary referendum on October 8, 2014, with 84.97% opposing the government’s decision (67.94% turnout); Youngdeok held a referendum on November 12, 2015 with a voter turnout of 32.53%, in which 91.7% voted in opposition to the nuclear plan. The South Korean government’s stance is that these referendums are legally ineffective but local opposition is very strong. No further progress has been made to decide on new candidate sites as of September 2016.

Furthermore, after the largest-recorded earthquake (5.8-magnitude by Richter scale) that occurred in Gyeongju City (close to existing nuclear power plants and the site of low and intermediate radioactive waste disposal facility) on September 12, 2016, the South Korean public is becoming increasingly concerned about nuclear safety issues. In the political realm, there are more opposition voices at the National Assembly (the legislative body) after progressive parties won majority seats after the general election held on April 13, 2016. If the existing plan of increasing nuclear power capacity does not go well because of this sociopolitical opposition, South Korea’s policies to accomplish the target pledged in Paris may need revision.

Meanwhile, South Korea changed its renewable energy policy from Feed-in Tariff (FIT) to Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) Systems on January 1, 2012, which mandates that power producers which have power generating facilities with installed capacity over 500MW produce a minimum proportion of their power using new and renewable energy sources. This policy change was essential to lowering the government’s energy-related financial burden and expanding the supply of renewable energy; according to South Korea’s aims, renewable energy would account for more than 10% of electricity generation after 2022. Some significant changes have been made since South Korea adopted RPS. Between 2001 and 2011 when FIT was implemented, the newly built renewable power plants capacity was only 0.9GW, but for the first 30 months since RPS was implemented, the newly built renewable power plants capacity reached 3.2GW.6 However, problems still remain; renewable energy production after RPS was adopted is mostly dependent on low-cost renewable energy, and it is too demanding for medium and small firms to participate in. As a result, the percentage of solar power that is relatively more accessible for smaller firms dropped from 50.7% (between 2001 and 2011 while FIT implemented) to 29.3% (between 2012 and 2014 Q2). Meanwhile, the percentage of bio energy increased sharply from 7.6% to 31.6%.

1    U.S. Energy Information Administration, Chapter 7. “Industrial sector energy consumption” <>
2     Ryu, Jae-hyun and Choong-hyun Kim, “The Era of Energy 2℃ is coming.” Mirae Asset Daewoo Research (May 2016). pp.3-9.
3    Korea Atomic Industrial Forum, <>
4     Korea Energy Economics Institute, Monthly Energy Statistics, September  2016, pp.68-69.
5     Yang, Maeng-ho, Jonghee Lee, and Su-eun Kim, “New (Post-2020) System for Climate Change and Nuclear.” Nuclear Policy Brief Report (Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, January 2016). pp.11-12.
6     Lee, Yong-beom, “Adopting RPS and Changes in Business Environment.” Korea Investors Service PF Research (October 2014). pp.2-3.

South Korea Energy Production Trends

How The Energy System Is Structured

South Korea’s electricity sector is not fully privatized as is the case in many other countries. The Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) is the monopoly that controls electricity retail sales, transmission, and distribution. Its shareholder composition is as follows: Korea Finance Corporation holds 32.90%, the Korean government 18.20%, foreigners 31.32%, the National Pension Service 7.07%, and others 10.51%. This means that KEPCO is de facto state-owned.[1]

The power generation industry in Korea is liberalized. In order to increase electricity production through renewable energy, the Korean government encourages private investment and seeks to make the investment environment more market-friendly. However, as long as the electricity market is monopolized, the entrance of new renewable energy producers will be limited.

Minister Yoo Il-ho, Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs and Finance, reported a governmental plan for the reform of major public institutions related to energy and the environment at the 2016 workshop for the heads of state-run enterprises on June 14, 2016. According to his briefing, the electricity sales market and the gas import and sales market, which have been monopolized by state-run companies, i.e. KEPCO and KOGAS, will be gradually privatized.

Sources of Energy

In terms of energy consumption, Korea spent $214.9 million total in 2014; 48.2% of the total energy consumption was from oil, 19.2% from electricity, 17.1% from coal, 10.8% from city gas, and 4.6% from miscellaneous sources including renewable energy.[2]

Due to heavy dependence on hydrocarbon energy sources, Korea marked itself as the thirteenth largest GHG emitter in the world; Korea’s overall GHG emissions (excluding Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry, or LULUCF) were 688.4 MtCO2e in 2012, representing a 1.4% share in global GHG emissions.[3] According to the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) submitted by Korea to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), [4] Korea aims to reduce its GHG emissions by 37% from the business-as-usual (BAU, 850.6 MtCO2e) levels by 2030 in all economic sectors, which is equivalent to a 22% reduction from its emissions level in 2012.

This objective poses significant challenges, mainly due to the following reasons as indicated by the Korean governments in its INDC submission. First, Korea’s economy is heavily dependent on manufacturing that requires oil or coal as input materials. Energy consumption by the industrial sector occupies approximately 64% of the country’s total energy consumption, which results in significant GHG emissions. Second, the level of energy efficiency in major industries is already very high in Korea, limiting the country’s potential to further mitigate its GHG emissions. The Korean government assigned less than 12% of GHG reduction from the current BAU level to the industrial sector,[5] which implies that the reduction burden on the electricity sector will be greater. In order to meet the goal, the reductions should be made mainly in the electricity sector, which is the leading energy producer in Korea.

Total energy production in Korea was 4.5 million tons in 2014. 72.6% of the total energy production was from nuclear energy whereas 21.3% was from renewable energy, 3.6% from hydropower, 1.7% from coal, and 0.7% from LNG in the same year.[6]

Nuclear energy represents a major part of energy produced in Korea and is regarded as the most reliable alternative energy to better deal with Korea’s pledge at the Paris Agreement.

Profiles of Leading Energy Companies

KEPCO split its generation business into six separate subsidiary power generation companies in 2001, including Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP), Korea South-East Power, Korea Midland Power, Korea Southern Power, Korea Western Power, and Korea East-West Power, while maintaining a monopoly in electricity retail sales, transmission, and distribution.

KHNP is the nuclear operator in Korea, fielding 24 nuclear reactors in the country (the total installed capacity equals 21,716 MW), while the other five power utilities are in charge of operating coal-burning and gas-burning thermal power plants. Therefore, KHNP, together with the Korean government, intends to increase nuclear power capacity even further; currently six more reactors are under construction and four more reactors are under preparation. However, as the level of public acceptance significantly decreases, especially after the Fukushima nuclear accidents, some efforts to site new nuclear power plants encountered strong local resistance and ended in failure. Interestingly, KHNP is the largest renewable energy producer as well.  It runs 35 hydro power units (the total installed capacity equals 606.7 MW), 16 pumped-storage power units (4,700 MW), five solar power plants (56.25 MW), one fuel cell plant (58.8 MW), and one wind power plant (0.75 MW).[7]

[1] KEPCO homepage
[2] Korea Energy Management Corporation (KEMC), “2015 Korea Energy Handbook”
[3] International Carbon Action Partnership ETS Detailed Information, “Korea Emissions Trading Scheme” (Last Update: 12 August 2016)
[4] Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) Submission by the Republic of Korea (Submitted on June 30, 2015)
[5] Won, Dong-kyu, “Special Report – Paris Agreement and Major Issues for Electricity Sector,” KEMRI Electricity Economy Review
[6] KEMC, “2015 Korea Energy Handbook”
[7] KHNP homepage


Submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager Eunjung Lim

South Korea Ratification Status

Possibility of Ratification by 2018: High

South Korea has not yet ratified the Paris Agreement but has been making commitments to green practices since signing the agreement in April. The South Korean government is in the process of finalizing its 2030 Roadmap for Reducing Greenhouse Gases. By 2030, Korea plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 37% from its business-as-usual level. The Korean Adaptation Center for Climate Change (KACCC) is developing a climate adaptation policy based on vulnerability and impact assessments.

South Korea’s Minister for the Environment, Yoon Seong-kyu stated that South Korea will push for early domestic ratification of the Paris Agreement. There was no timeline stated further than this but the South Korean government has begun to prepare for the ratification in the National Assembly. In the 2016 National Assembly election, the Saenuri Party obtained 122 seats and lost the majority. The Minjoo Party obtained the most seats in the election with 123. No party was able to obtain a majority due to the increased support of the People’s Party, which obtained 38 seats. This new dynamic could have an impact on the ratification of the Paris Agreement due to the loss of the Saenuri Party to support legislation proposed by President Park Geun-hye. Elected in 2012, President Park is a member of the Saenuri Party and her term ends in 2017. Due to the structure of the Korea government, the President is limited to one, nonrenewable 5 year term. Both the Saenuri and Minjoo parties recognize the importance of sustainable energy sector in their platforms and will hopefully come together to ratify the Paris Agreement in the National Assembly.

During COP21, President Park Geun-hye stated that Korea will take an active part in the new climate regime by cutting carbon emissions through new green industries, sharing new technologies and business models with developing countries, and joining discussions to set up a global carbon market.

There is support for the Paris Agreement in Korea but there is no definite timeframe for its ratification.

Submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager Katrina Pellegrino

Learn more: Korea signs Paris Climate Agreement Saenuri Party loses Assembly majority President Park Geun-hye Remarks at the Climate Summit