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Climate Hero: South Korea

Four years after being labelled one of the planet’s worst carbon villains, South Korea is now aiming to be one of the heroes. This year it has pledged a $61bn Green New Deal and committed to be carbon neutral by 2050.

President Moon Jae-in, during his successful April campaign for re-election, promised to end South Korea’s dependence on coal and create green jobs. By 2025, the Green New Deal expects about 230,000 more energy-saving buildings, 1.13m electric and hydrogen-powered cars, and a near quadrupling in renewable energy capacity.

Funds will also be made available to upgrade public rental housing and schools to make them zero-energy, and to expand green areas in cities. To improve energy efficiency, smart meters will be fitted in an additional 5 million apartments and communities will be given incentives to connect to micro-grids supplied with decentralised, low-carbon energy.

Since this is South Korea, where a handful of giant industrial conglomerates - such as Hyundai, Kia, Samsung and EM Korea - drive the economy and have a huge amount of influence, they will be among the biggest beneficiaries of plans to build 45,000 new electric vehicle charging points and 450 hydrogen refuelling units.

Tempering the euphoria is South Korea’s past record of high emissions and false hopes. However, a new generation of campaigners believe South Korea has turned a new page. They want to see an early halt to overseas coal financing and a strong 2030 target to reduce domestic emissions.

They are encouraged by signs of a climate race-to-the-top in east Asia, where the opposite has long been true. China and Japan are also major users and funders of coal, but both countries have committed this year to carbon neutral goals. Japan is targeting 2050, whilst China - the biggest regional climate villain - has recently promised to be carbon neutral by 2060.

More from this week's Climate Hero series:


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