South Korea aims to further clean up climate act with global summit

A special session of the P4G Seoul Summit being held at Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul on May 24, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korea aims to use a global climate summit it is hosting virtually next week to burnish its leadership credentials on environmental issues, despite its patchy record at home.

Diplomats say they expect few major announcements at the event on Sunday (May 30) and Monday in Seoul, but organisers are looking for participating countries to take steps to implement sweeping emissions goals made at other climate summits.

The 2021 Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030, or P4G, summit is the second of three major international conferences on the environment this year, and brings together a dozen partner countries, global organisations and private companies.

Some non-member countries, including the United States and China, are expected to participate, including in the form of video speeches by national leaders or senior officials.

Established in 2018, P4G focuses on public-private partnerships, especially in developing countries, in contrast to the more inter-governmental pledges and commitments featured at the Leaders Summit on Climate hosted by US President Joe Biden in April.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is expected to conclude several pacts to protect wildlife, call for cooperation regarding marine pollution, and discuss aspects of his country's "Green New Deal" including hydrogen fuel and batteries.

A general session on ways to become carbon neutral will feature South Korean conglomerates such as Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Motor and LG Electronics, as well as Apple and Coca-Cola, a South Korean official said.

"South Korea will demonstrate an inclusive leadership, encompassing both advanced and vulnerable countries... and join the ranks of advanced nations in climate response in the international community," the official at the presidential Blue House told a briefing on Thursday.

Mr Moon has set goals for South Korea of net-zero emissions by 2050, an end to funding of overseas coal plants and introduction of a carbon tax.

A coalition of 11 environmental groups said that despite the new promises, if existing planned coal-powered plants were completed, they would likely be in operation well after 2050, and would make carbon neutrality by then impossible.

"Against this backdrop, we are left in serious doubt as to whether the country will be able to lead a worthwhile discussion on green growth and sustainable development," the coalition including Greenpeace said in an open letter to Mr Moon.

Ahead of the summit, some countries had hoped South Korea would set the pace with a more ambitious national emissions target or more commitments around coal, but this was now unlikely, one diplomatic source said.

Seoul appeared to have decided to make smaller announcements at each competing climate conference this year, rather than a grand commitment all at once, the source added.

"That said, I'm sure that Korea will judge the event to be a success based on high-level participation alone - numbering around 40 heads of state," the source said, requesting anonymity in order to speak frankly.

"The good news is that Korea appears to be heading on a green trajectory even if it may not be turning green as quickly as we would like."

Mr Ian de Cruz, P4G's global director, said South Korea was well positioned to be a leader in public-private efforts because of its many heavy industries like shipbuilding and automotive manufacturing.

He added that he was expecting more near-term steps from the country towards a green transformation of its heavy industries.

Overseas coal financing, for example, was not only about ending funding, but also reallocating resources for developing countries to boost investment in renewables, smart technology, battery swops and electric vehicles, he said.

"If that happens tangibly, then that positions Korea as a leader," Mr de Cruz noted.

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