The World This Year

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The World This Year
South Korea in 2023: Addressing Climate Change and the Global Supply Chains

  Yogeshwari S
Yogeswari S is a postgraduate student at the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies at the University of Madras, Chennai.

Major developments in 2023

Focus on Clean Energy
President Yoon Suk-yeol's emphasis on clean energy marks a significant shift in South Korea's climate policy, with ambitious goals and a nuanced approach to achieving them. Yoon has pledged to make South Korea carbon neutral by 2050, aligning the country with the Paris Agreement goals. This ambitious target necessitates a rapid and significant shift away from fossil fuels. He is also working towards increasing the percentage of renewable energy in the power blend to reach 70 per cent by 2050. This requires significant investment in solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources, alongside grid modernization, to integrate them effectively.

Materials, Parts, Equipment 2.0 Strategy
The "Materials, Parts, Equipment 2.0 Strategy" is a bold initiative by South Korea to address its vulnerabilities in the global supply chain and emerge as a leader in the green economy of the future. South Korea relies heavily on imports of critical materials and components, particularly in the semiconductor and renewable energy sectors. This dependence exposes them to disruptions due to geopolitical tensions, trade wars, and resource scarcity.

The strategy's objective is to diminish reliance by directing investments into the domestic production of essential materials such as lithium, cobalt, and rare earth elements. This also includes producing components like solar panels, wind turbine blades, and batteries for electric vehicles. This will enhance South Korea's self-sufficiency, create new jobs, and boost its technological prowess in green technologies.

Bolstering domestic production of Green Technologies
The strategy recognizes the immense potential of green technologies like renewable energy, hydrogen fuel cells, and advanced materials for the future global economy. By investing in research and development, talent acquisition, and infrastructure development, South Korea aims to become a significant producer and exporter of these technologies. This contributes to global climate action and positions South Korea as a critical player in the emerging green markets, securing its economic future.

Strengthening South Korea's position in the Global Supply Chain
South Korea aims to gain greater control and resilience in disruptions by developing its supply chain for critical materials and green technologies. This will make it a more reliable and trusted partner in the global supply chain, attracting investments and partnerships from other countries.
Additionally, by setting high standards for sustainable and ethical production practices, South Korea can become a leader in responsible supply chain management, further solidifying its position in the global market.

Investment in green infrastructure
South Korea is pouring green into its future, with hefty investments in infrastructure poised to propel its transition to a clean economy.

Renewable Energy Powerhouse: Solar panels are sprouting across rooftops, and wind turbines are taking root in coastal lands. Government funding fuels large-scale renewable energy projects, aiming to push their share of the power mix to 70 per cent by 2050. This aspiration leads to a more pristine atmosphere, diminished dependence on fossil fuels, and the possibility of a significant export opportunity in renewable energy.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are buzzing around, and to keep them rolling, South Korea is building an extensive network of charging stations. Chargers from highways to parking lots will be readily available, encouraging EV adoption and reducing emissions from the transportation sector. This investment fosters cleaner air and positions South Korea as a leader in the booming EV market.

The voices leading the change
Inspired by Greta Thunberg and other youth activists, a generation of young Koreans is taking to the streets demanding action. Groups like "Fridays for Future Korea" and "Green School Network" are mobilizing through protests, social media campaigns, and educational initiatives, raising awareness and demanding accountability.

Established green organizations like the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM) and Green Korea amplify public concerns, provide expert analysis, and push for more robust climate policies. They collaborate with communities, conduct research, and engage in legal advocacy, ensuring environmental issues remain at the forefront of public discourse.

From farmers worried about climate-induced droughts to parents concerned about children's health, the pressure for action comes from all corners of society. Petitions circulate, lawsuits are filed, and public consultations attract record participation, making it impossible for policymakers to ignore the public's desire for a greener future.

Major issues in 2023
First, South Korea's aspirations for clean air face obstacles posed by fossil fuels. The dominance of coal and imported LNG in the energy landscape (accounting for 80 per cent) complicates efforts for swift emission reductions, creating a challenging scenario akin to a dance, where burning these fuels exacerbates climate change, conflicting with their target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. The limitations in sunlight and wind hinder the progress of green energy initiatives, while reliance on imported LNG introduces uncertainties due to price fluctuations and political complexities.

Transitioning to renewables requires costly manoeuvres in infrastructure and technology, necessitating innovative financing strategies to avert potential economic setbacks. Concerns from the public regarding land use and economic impacts are also part of this intricate dance, requiring careful communication to navigate smoothly.

Second, South Korea faces a challenge in pursuing renewable energy due to limited natural resources such as wind and solar. Compared to some nations blessed with abundant renewable sources, South Korea's landscape does not inherently provide extensive access to these forms of energy. This scarcity necessitates a proactive approach, urging the country to seek innovative solutions and technological advancements. To overcome this limitation, South Korea must invest in cutting-edge technologies that maximize energy efficiency and explore alternative renewable energy sources. Collaborative research and development initiatives can play a crucial role in identifying sustainable solutions, while advancements in energy storage technologies can mitigate the intermittent nature of renewable sources. Embracing a holistic approach that integrates innovation, research, and strategic planning is imperative for South Korea to navigate its way successfully toward a more sustainable and resilient energy future.

Third, the cost of transitioning to a green economy involves substantial investments in renewable energy and green technologies, demanding considerable government and private support. Financial commitment is necessary for developing, implementing, and scaling up sustainable practices that reduce environmental impact. Investments are directed towards research and development of innovative technologies, establishing green infrastructure, and integrating eco-friendly solutions into various industries. While the initial costs may be high, the long-term benefits include reduced dependence on non-renewable resources, lowered greenhouse gas emissions, and new job opportunities in the green sector. Governments play a pivotal role by providing incentives, subsidies, and regulatory frameworks to encourage sustainable practices, fostering a collaborative effort between public and private entities to drive the transition towards a greener and more sustainable economy.

Fourth, the global supply chain disruptions, exacerbated by the pandemic and geopolitical tensions, have laid bare vulnerabilities in South Korea's dependence on foreign suppliers for crucial materials and components. The intricate web of interconnected economies, disruptions in transportation, and geopolitical uncertainties have highlighted the risks associated with relying extensively on external sources. From semiconductors to raw materials, South Korea's industrial landscape faces challenges in ensuring a seamless flow of essential inputs. As the nation grapples with these vulnerabilities, there is an increasing emphasis on bolstering domestic production capacities, diversifying supply sources, and fostering resilience against external shocks. The lessons learned from these disruptions underscore the importance of creating a robust and adaptable supply chain strategy to navigate the complexities of an interconnected global economy while safeguarding national interests and industrial continuity.

About the author
Yogeswari S is a postgraduate student at the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies at the University of Madras, Chennai.

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