Per Capita CO Emissions By Country

98% of South Korean local governments declare a climate emergency

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To some, South Korea is a climate villain. It has one of the highest per capita GHG emissions in the world and what many believe are underwhelming, insufficient climate goals and action plans. The local governments of the East Asian nation are now making it clear the status quo is unacceptable: 226 of South Korea’s 228 local government declared a climate emergency earlier this month.

The South Korean towns, cities, and districts join local governments from more than 30 countries around the world in doing so. Thus far, the national government of South Korea, while a member of the Paris Agreement, has stopped short of declaring a climate emergency.

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“We acknowledge that the climate change is at emergency levels and publicly declare that the local governments will play a leading role in responding to the global climate crisis,” said Hongjang Kim, Chairman of the Local Government Association for Climate & Energy Transition.

As part of the declaration, they have committed to meaningful action to curb the global average temperature rise to 1.5 °C by 2100. Specifically, they will:

  • Set greenhouse gas emission reduction target to meet the global 1.5°C goal and act to achieve it     
  • Demand the central government and the National Assembly of South Korea to declare a country-level climate emergency and a 2050 carbon net-zero vision as soon as possible
  • Expand renewable energy to address the climate crisis and establish local energy plans to achieve regional energy independence
  • Collaborate with people to establish institutions to address the sustainability crisis

South Korea proved among the world’s most nimble and effective in addressing COVID-19 and preventing the types of deaths and long-term economic disruption seen in the United States, Brazil, Italy, and elsewhere. Their general bent toward collectivism perhaps allowed them to sacrifice individual needs and respond in a coordinated, unified manner, while other more individualistic nations resisted and fractured.

Imagine what South Korea could accomplish if it harnessed that same sense of shared identity, cooperation, and service were in support of building a climate-resilient society, as these local government have called on them to do. Perhaps, long thought of as a climate villain, South Korea will soon be seen as a climate leader.


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Peter Schulte

Peter Schulte is the founder and editor of Kindling. Peter is also Senior Digital Engagement Associate for the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate, connecting businesses to sustainable water practices. Peter holds a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies and a B.A. in Comparative Literature from University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. in Sustainable Systems from Pinchot University. He lives in Bellingham, WA, USA with his wife, son, and cat.

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