South Korea - Climate

Climate change has become a top policy priority for South Korea; funding to climate action more than tripled in five years

In 2019, South Korea committed US$1.0 billion of its bilateral allocable official development assistance (ODA) to projects which targeted action against climate change as a principal or significant objective, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD’s) Development Assistance Committee (DAC). This represented 30% of its bilateral allocable ODA in 2019, above the DAC average of 23%. This ranks South Korea in seventh place in absolute terms compared to other OECD DAC members and 10th in relative terms of ODA as a share of gross national income (GNI).

Climate finance: funding for projects tagged in the OECD’s Creditor Reporting System (CRS) database with the Rio markers for climate change mitigation and/or climate change adaptation. Projects can be tagged with either or both markers.

Each marker has three possible scores:

  1. Principal, for projects in which climate change mitigation or adaptation is a fundamental and explicitly stated goal;
  2. Significant, for projects in which climate change mitigation or adaptation is not a key driver but still an explicitly stated goal; or
  3. Not targeted, meaning the project does not address climate change mitigation or adaptation.

Not all projects are screened against the Rio markers; this funding falls into the ‘not screened’ category.

This is a considerable change to previous years (2015-2018). South Korea’s ODA for climate has fluctuated over those years, ranging from a high of US$304 million (or 14% of bilateral ODA) in 2015 to a low of US$171 million (or 7% of bilateral ODA) in 2014.

The dramatic increase in funding to climate action has been greatly influenced by South Korea’s ‘Green New Deal’, a key climate change policy that focuses on renewable energy, green infrastructure and industrial sector. South Korea’s Ministry of Environment (MOE) will expand the scale of green new deal ODA projects and diversify environmental ODA into multiple sectors. In particular, MOE aims to increase the proportion of ODA in the climate and environment sector from 19.6% as of 2015-2019 to 28.1% - the average of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC). President Elect Yoon Suk-yeol (of the main opposition People Power Party) has committed to continue South Korea’s climate leadership after his inauguration on on May 10, 2022.  

South Korea’s ‘Framework Act on International Development Cooperation’ does not explicitly mention climate as one of its overarching principles, however, it is implicitly mentioned through the commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  ‘The Framework Act on International Development Cooperation’, first published in 2010 and amended in 2018, outlines the overarching principles of South Korean development cooperation and clarifies the responsibilities of different actors. Climate change is included as a cross-cutting sector, critical to maximizing South Korea’s contributions to the SDGs in the Korea International Cooperation Agency’s ‘Mid-term Sectoral Strategy 2021-2025’ and is mentioned in the context of South Korea’s priorities in agriculture and rural development, water, transportation, and energy. The Korea International Cooperation Agency’s ‘Climate Change Response Mid-Term Strategy (2021-2025)’ sets out three objectives: achieving carbon neutrality by 2050; supporting green recovery and climate change adaptation; and expanding green climate partnerships. The strategy emphasizes the importance of supporting resilience in climate in the lowest-income and small island states. Both strategies apply solely to Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).

South Korea’s Mid-term Strategy for Development Cooperation (2021-2025) states that the government will define a roadmap to increase the share of ODA financing from the ‘Green New Deal’ fund and strengthen partnerships with international organizations on climate and environment, such as the Green Climate Fund. These objectives are affirmed in the ‘2022 Annual Implementation Plan’, an annual spending review. The ‘Annual Implementation Plan’ also states that the government will increase ODA to the thematic areas of climate change, environment, and renewable energy.

South Korea significantly increased funding to climate action; focus is on climate change mitigation

In 2019, 79% or US$813 million of South Korea’s bilateral ODA related to climate action was tagged with the mitigation marker (see box). 26% or US$268 million was marked with the adaptation marker, while 5% or US$54 was marked with both mitigation and adaptation markers. This is a considerable change from the previous year in terms of financing volume and focus. In 2018, 87% or US$158 million of South Korea’s bilateral ODA related to climate action was tagged with the adaptation marker. This is a considerable change from the previous year in terms of financing volume and focus.

In 2019, 26% of South Korea’s bilateral allocable ODA was directed toward projects with a significant climate change component, above the DAC average of 16%. Only 4% of funding targeted climate change as a principal goal, below the DAC average of 7%. 70% of South Korea’s bilateral allocable ODA did not target climate change or was not screened against the Rio markers in 2019 (DAC average: 77%).

Environmental protection received the largest share (38%) of South Korea’s climate commitments in 2019. Infrastructure received 29%, followed by energy (19%).

South Korea engages in multilateral initiatives to support climate action

South Korea has demonstrated international leadership on climate, including through hosting the headquarters of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and proposing the creation of the ‘International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies’, adopted by the United Nations in 2019. Linked to this, it established the ‘National Council on Climate and Air Quality’ and is partnering with China and Japan to reduce air pollution. As part of the government’s endeavors to establish itself as a middle power country, South Korea hosted a scaled-down version of the ‘Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals (P4G) Summit’ in May of 2021 in which it highlighted the importance of public-private partnerships in various areas including climate action. South Korea will be chairing the P4G until 2023. In 2022, South Korea made a new contribution of US$4 million for P4G to achieve carbon neutrality of international society. At the United Nations’ 'High-Level Event on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond', South Korea reiterated its commitments to support an environmentally and economically sustainable recovery, including through the Korean Green New Deal.   

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is based in Incheon, South Korea. In September 2014, South Korea committed US$100 million to support its successful operationalization. At the United Nations Climate Action Summit in 2019, President Moon Jae-in committed to doubling South Korea’s contribution to the GCF. According to the ‘2022 Implementation Plan’, the Ministry of Economy and Finance will provide KRW37.5 billion (US$31 million) in 2022. Since 2016, the Korea Development Bank has been an accredited GCF implementation body, allowing it to implement projects in partnership.

The Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), an intergovernmental organization that promotes green growth, is based in Seoul, South Korea, and is led by Ban Ki-moon, South Korean Foreign Minister and former United Nations (UN) Secretary-General. The South Korean government works closely with the GGGI to promote "strong, inclusive and sustainable economic growth in developing countries and emerging countries", including the Global Green Growth Week 2019 which was run in partnership by the GGGI, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea (MOFA) and others including the Korea International Renewable Energy Conference. In 2022, the government pledged to establish a US$5 million Green New Deal Trust Fund in GGGI to support the development of climate response projects in low- and middle-income countries in connection with the Korean version of Green New Deal.  In 2022, South Korea made a voluntary contribution to the GGGI of KRW11.3 billion (US$9.3 million). South Korea has also contributed to the Global Environment Facility since 1995, contributing KRW2.2 billion (US$2 million) in 2021.

South Korea’s Committee for International Development Cooperation overseas climate-related ODA

Given that it is a cross-cutting sector within South Korea’s development portfolio, South Korea’s Committee for International Development Cooperation (CIDC) overseas climate-related ODA. KOICA led the development of the KOICA’s Climate Change Response Mid-Term Strategy (2021-2025).