South Korea today became the first country in Asia to pass climate change legislation that limits the country's carbon emissions, joining the host of countries around the world that also have passed climate laws. (Only weeks ago Mexico passed a climate bill that aims to increase renewable energy use, set ambitious goals to curb domestic emissions and establish a high-level climate commission authorized to create a domestic carbon market.)
The South Korean bill, approved today in a near-unanimous vote in Korea's National Assembly, establishes a cap-and-trade system for limiting the country’s growing carbon emissions. Specifically, the law:
- limits emissions from top polluters across the economy through a cap-and-trade system that is slated to start in 2015.
- covers about 60 percent of South Korea’s greenhouse gas emissions, which puts the government on track to fulfill its international pledge to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent from projected levels by 2020.
- allows Korea’s system eventually to link internationally with other emissions trading systems. The government and Australia have already announced plans to initiate such talks later this year.
South Korea’s bold move is evidence that fast growing economies can put a limit on dangerous carbon emissions with broad support from elected leaders, and of the mounting desire and momentum to curb climate change across both the developed and developing world.
Such visionary actions by countries is how the global climate race will be won.
Cap-and-trade systems like Korea's have a successful track record of curbing carbon emissions. The cap-and-trade system for sulfur dioxide in the U.S. Clean Air Act, for example, reduced emissions faster and at lower cost than predicted. In Europe, the world's first and largest Emissions Trading System has played a significant and successful role in reducing the EU's emissions.
Next for Korea, the Presidential Commission on Green Growth and related ministries will work on the final details of the law; those will be released in a Presidential Decree in the next few months.