August 23, 2008 / 2:06 PM / 11 years ago

INTERVIEW-S.Korea seeks wider climate role with 2020 goals

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

ACCRA, Aug 23 (Reuters) - South Korea hopes to be a bridge between rich and poor countries in fighting global warming by setting itself 2020 goals for greenhouse gas emissions, the nation's climate change ambassador said on Saturday.

South Korea is one of very few countries outside the 37 industrialised nations in the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol talking of national goals for emissions under a new U.N. climate treaty due to be agreed by the end of 2009.

"We would like to play a bridging role between developing countries and developed countries," Rae-Kwon Chung told Reuters during a 160-nation U.N. climate conference in Accra. South Korea wanted to move to low-carbon growth in coming decades.

"We will announce our 2020 target for greenhouse gases next year," he said. He said President Lee Myung-bak told leaders at a summit of major emitters in Japan last month of the plan.

Chung said the new target would at least slow a surge in greenhouse gases, mainly from burning fossil fuels in power plants, factories and cars in recent years.

"The target will reduce our emissions from business as usual," he said. "Whether it's an absolute reduction by 2020 or just a decline in the rise is still to be decided."

The Kyoto Protocol obliges 37 industrialised nations to cut emissions by at least an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12. South Korea's rapid industrialisation means it is under pressure to do more.

Almost all non-Kyoto countries say they should not be expected to set national goals yet and that the rich should take the lead in curbing climate change that could bring more floods, droughts, rising seas and heatwaves.

Among Kyoto outsiders, South Africa said last month that it would seek to stabilise its rising emissions by 2020-25.


South Korea's emissions are now up about 97 percent since 1990 to 590 million tonnes but lag gains in per capita incomes to about $20,000 from $6,000 in the same period, he said.

On some projections, he said South Korea's emissions were likely to peak between 2020 and 2030.

South Korea wanted to use market mechanisms to help achieve the goals, for instance to encourage reductions in carbon emissions by industry. But the overall 2020 goal would be largely based on voluntary mechanisms, with regular reviews.

Among Kyoto countries, the European Union has said it will cut emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. "We want to find a middle ground," Chung said.

He said South Korea could not be expected to take on Kyoto-style cuts because it did not have the same long-term responsibility for global warming as the United States, the EU or Japan.

"We began our industrialisation only in the 1970s," he said.

-- For Reuters latest environment blogs click on: (Editing by Mary Gabriel)

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