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The Peninsula

No Political Drivers in Korea’s Energy Transition

Published May 30, 2022

Speaking at the World Gas Conference in Daegu, President Yoon Suk Yeol outlined his vision for South Korea to achieve the global carbon neutrality goal through a “reasonable mix of nuclear power, renewable energy, and natural gas.” He also called on the private sector to make investments overseas to help meet Korea’s energy security needs.

The government’s reluctance to make a bolder push to reduce carbon emissions may be a reflection of its deference to the country’s flagship corporations that have also hesitated to make public commitments to adopt renewable energy. In particular, Korean chipmakers SK Hynix and Samsung have not followed Apple or TSMC’s lead in committing to 100 percent renewable electricity use in its supply chain. This may reflect the economy’s broader dependence on fossil fuels for energy – Korea is the world’s 7th largest emitter of greenhouse gases, only about 5% of its energy makeup comes from renewables including hydro and bioenergy.

International observers point out that flagship exporters like Samsung could do more to shape public policy on energy makeup given their outsized role in exports and procurements. However, corporations with the most intensive carbon footprint have yet to take a lead in accountability. Simultaneously, the government appears hesitant to push flagship exporters that play a central role in the country’s economy.

South Korean firms are not alone in their hesitation. But this comes as increased global electricity demand in 2021 was most predominantly fulfilled by greater coal generation in China despite increased investment in solar and wind generation.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of  David Lee, Sarah Marshall, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the flickr account of Sung-hoon Ryu.

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