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South Korea Faces Hard Decision to Make

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In recent years, South Korea has entered the ranks of the industrialised world and joined the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on the back of tremendous industrial flotation cell success. Its economy has grown 30-fold since 1980 with GDP per capita now well over US$20,000.

However, this success was based on a high-energy and high-carbon model: its per-capita energy use continues to rise and is above its regional peers, China and Japan. Carbon emissions have more than doubled since 1990 on the back of industrial growth and now rank ninth in the world. South Korea’s carbon intensity is now the second highest of the G20 developed economies.

Another problem is that South Korea relies on imports – over 96% – for its primary energy needs. In 2011, energy imports cost over US$173 billion, more than the nation’s total exports of ships, semiconductors, mobile phones, LCDs and computers together. Primary energy in South Korea is also highly reliant on fossil fuels, mainly petroleum but also coal and liquid natural gas (LNG), which continues to supply over 80% of primary energy.

Oil now accounts for one-quarter of imports by value, and the reality of high crude prices poses a strategic risk for the economy, especially as energy costs remain controlled to underpin industrial competitiveness.

High energy usage, compounded by the rising cost of energy, the extreme reliance on imports, the doubling of carbon emissions since 1990 and South Korea’s emergence as a developed country called for a change in the structure of its economic growth – from economic to sustainable development. During the build-up to the UN climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009, and as the clean-tech sector boomed, the newly elected president Lee Myung-bak made green growth a cornerstone of his administration, introducing the green growth plan in 2008. stone crusher:
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President Lee also outlined a non-binding political target to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 30% from 2020 business-as-usual levels, which translates into around a 4% reduction on its 2005 emissions – quite a break with historical trends.

South Korea’s existing strength in batteries, LEDs, smart grid and nuclear provide the foundation for the green-growth plan. The government defined new growth industries and new technologies as the engines to drive green growth and is keen to nurture them with research and development (R&D). In 2009, two trillion won (US$1.8 billion) was invested in green R&D, and this increased to 2.3 trillion won (US$2.1 billion) in 2010.

New technologies, such as technology for enhancing the efficiency of appliances and fuel cells, are the major recipients of this investment, receiving an estimated one-quarter of the total government R&D budget.

South Korea is also a strong trading nation; in 2011, its external trade (value of exports plus imports) reached US$1 trillion, equivalent to 83% of GDP. In reaching this milestone, South Korea has become a leader in technology exports. For example, Samsung televisions now account for one in five sets sold throughout the world, with LG televisions one in 10, displacing Japanese television makers who have traditionally held the largest market shares.

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  • Posted On July 2, 2012
  • Published articles 10

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