The South Korean parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of adopting a national carbon trading scheme. The bill received the support of 148 out of 151 lawmakers and establishes South Korea as the fourth nation in Asia to adopt carbon trading, joining China, Australia and New Zealand. South Korea’s plan covers roughly 60 percent of the nation’s carbon pollution and will start putting a price on carbon starting in 2015. The carbon trading scheme will cap pollution across the entire economy, ranging from steelmakers and power generators to large universities, to encourage them to become more energy efficient.
In adopting carbon trading, the country takes a big step towards curbing their greenhouse gas emissions, which are increasing faster than any other OECD country. South Korea’s greenhouse gas emissions nearly doubled between 1990 and 2005. Moreover, parliament was able to pass the legislation despite heavy opposition from industry groups, who said the program could add billions of dollars in costs. Regardless, as detailed by Reuters, politicians were not swayed by the industry opposition, due to ongoing talks on reigning in big corporations and a commitment to developing green technologies, decreasing energy consumption and supporting markets for green businesses ahead of other countries.
There are several lessons that the U.S. can learn from the South Korean carbon trading example. One, when the government firmly believes in investing in the future green economy, it can overcome industry opposition and implement forward-thinking environmental policy. Second, putting a price on carbon encourages energy conservation that will lead to significant savings. South Korea is the world’s fifth-largest oil importer so decreasing their energy use, which in turns decreases the need for energy imports, will equal substantial cost savings. Third, the government recognizes the emerging market for green businesses and actively decided to help businesses get ahead of the curve, instead of hindering their expansion and development.
The last point is one that really hits home. As we’ve detailed many times, the current political climate is not only hostile to developing the green economy, the current Congress seems determined to do all it can to squash the existing successes by removing much-needed tax credits and other incentives. And, despite all the negativity, renewable energy continues to grow. A new report from the consulting firm, McKinsey, details that the yearly economic potential of solar PV could reach one million megawatts by 2020. ThinkProgress highlights three charts that explain the expansive solar potential, including the fact that solar is competitive in many markets already.
In a recent interview, President Obama seemed to double down on his support for fighting climate change and investing in the green economy. Time will tell if he follows through on his promises, but one thing is for sure, at this point, we are not only behind in the clean energy race, we are at risk of being completely excluded from it.