A project in South Korea to eliminate coal-fired electricity emissions to zero by the year 2050 illustrates both the promises of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving sustainability and the difficulty of doing it quickly.
The project is in Chungnam, also known as South Chungcheong Province, and the site of 31 of the country's 61 coal-fired electricity plants. The province has 2 million people – 4% of South Korea's population – yet generates 13 gigawatts of steady-state power, or 20% of the country’s total output. Located just south of the Seoul metropolitan area, it serves as the national gateway to the sprawling capital city and is a transportation and energy hub.
Chungnam relied on coal to generate 88% of its electricity in 2015. Its goal is to eliminate it by 2050. The province has joined The Climate Group's Under 2 Coalition, committing with 260 other state, provincial, regional, and city governments worldwide to do what they can to keep the global rise in temperature to less than 2 degrees C.
Governor Appears at Climate Week
Yang Seung-Jo, Chungnam's governor, appeared on a panel during Climate Week NYC in New York September 20-26, 2021 to discuss the project. He cited the province's leadership in phasing out fossil-fuel assets and moving toward renewable energy in a “pre-emptive” way, according to a report from the Climate Week NYC event.
For those who are hopeful that society can collectively transition fully to renewable power sooner rather than later, and build a sustainable economy that eliminates (or at least ameliorates) the existential crisis of climate change, the year 2050 may sound like it's years and years too late.
Tough Reality for Optimists
But this is the reality of where we are. Even the most fluid investing can't replace 31 power plants overnight, and this project by itself represents far less than 1% of the world's energy grid.
Furthermore, South Korea is ranked 98thin the world and faces an overall “red-level” (very difficult) task in eliminating its CO2 and related emissions, according to our project at Tau Global Research called The Emissions Reduction Challenge (ERC) Index.
To the country's credit, South Korea has been one of the most dynamic nations in the world over the past decade in building up its IT and related digital infrastructure, ranking among the leaders in our tech-focused Tau Index. If the Chungnam project truly illustrates a dynamic, pro-active, “pre-emptive” approach toward energy sustainability and climate change, there is hope that it is able to set an example for the rest of the country, for the large nations of Asia, and for the world.