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South Korea's draft carbon-free roadmaps face industry backlash

South Korea's draft roadmaps for reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 are facing criticism from the country's energy-intensive industries, creating some uncertainty about the government's final climate change commitments for the COP26 summit in Glasgow later this year.

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The Federation of Korean Industries, or FKI, which represents the country's conglomerates such as SK Group and GS Group that run oil refineries and power utilities, said in a statement the proposed scenarios are "unrealistic" and "threatening" to the country's industries.

"We are worried about the roadmaps that call for industries to reduce emission in a too drastic manner, which would damage the country's manufacture-centered economy and undermine competitiveness of Korean companies," a senior official at the FKI said Aug. 11.

The Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the government needs to come up with more realistic and feasible measures to reduce carbon emissions.

Environmental groups including the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements also said the blueprints were "far-fetched and ambiguous in the means of execution."

The Presidential Committee on Carbon Neutrality announced in the week ended Aug. 7 three potential roadmaps to achieve South Korea's goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, focusing on restricting consumption of coal and LNG for power generation.

The first scenario aims to reduce the country's carbon emission by 96.3% to 25.4 million mt in 2025 from 686.3 million mt in 2018, by slashing the demand for coal, oil and LNG while boosting renewable sources and hydrogen.

Under the roadmap, the country will lower its share of LNG in power generation to 8% in 2050 from 26.8% in 2018, and slash coal's share to 1.5% from 41.9% in 2018. South Korea will still run seven coal-fired power plants in 2050, whose lifespans do not expire by the year.

The second scenario is designed to eliminate carbon emissions by 97.3% to 18.7 million mt through the shutdown of all coal-fired power plants, but maintaining several LNG-fired power generators.

Under this proposal, the portion of LNG in power production will be lowered to 7.6% in 2050 while the share of renewable sources would jump 58.8% from 6.2% in 2018.

The most ambitious third plan calls for 100% elimination of carbon emission through scrapping of all coal-fired and LNG-based power plants, which are expected to be replaced by renewable sources and hydrogen.

Under the third scenario, renewable sources will account for 70.8% of the country's power mix, nuclear power will be responsible for 6.1%, while carbon-neutral sources like green hydrogen will account for the rest.

"The government will gather feedback from the parties interested, including industries and the public, ahead of finalizing its roadmap in October on the basis of the three scenarios," said Lee Jin-won, an official at the Presidential Committee on Carbon Neutrality.

The final roadmap would come to mark the first anniversary of President Moon Jae-in's official declaration that South Korea will achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

But the government plan is facing criticism that the scenarios were made hurriedly -- just two months after the 97-member presidential committee was launched on May 29.

"The roadmaps were made so hurriedly as we did not have enough time," a member of the committee said on condition of anonymity, raising doubts that the government can finalize the policy in October.