South Korea - Climate

Climate change has decreased in priority for South Korea due to the COVID-19 pandemic

In 2020, South Korea committed US$203 million 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 9% of its bilateral allocable ODA in 2020, well below the DAC average of 23%. This puts South Korea in 16th place in absolute terms compared to other OECD DAC members and 24th 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 drop from 2019, in which more than US$1 billion (30%) of South Korea’s bilateral allocable ODA targeted action against climate change as a principal or significant objective. South Korea’s climate ODA in 2020 returned to levels like those before 2019, in which climate ODA nearly tripled (2016: US$241 million, or 10%; 2017: US$237 million, or 10%; 2018: US$270 million, or 7%). South Korea’s ODA for climate ranged from a high of US$1 billion (30% of bilateral ODA) in 2019 to a low of US$170 million (7%) in 2018 in the past five years. 

The dramatic increase in funding to climate action in 2019 was greatly influenced by South Korea’s ‘Green New Deal,’ a key climate change policy that focuses on renewable energy, green infrastructure, and making the industrial sector more resilient. However, in 2020, South Korea, like many other donors, reallocated ODA to COVID-19 pandemic response and directed significantly more ODA to global health initiatives. South Korea’s Ministry of Environment (MOE) hopes to expand the scale of 'Green New Deal’ ODA projects and diversify environmental ODA into multiple sectors. MOE aims to increase the proportion of ODA in the climate and environment sector from 19.6% as of 2015-2019 to 28.1%. President Yoon Suk-yeol committed to continuing South Korea’s climate leadership.  

South Korea’s ‘Framework Act on International Development Cooperation’ does not explicitly mention climate as one of its overarching principles, but 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 (KOICA)’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, with both strategies applying solely to 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 decreased funding to climate action

In 2020, 35%, or US$72 million, of South Korea’s bilateral ODA related to climate action was tagged with the mitigation marker (see box). 79%, or US$161 million, was tagged with the adaptation marker, while 14% or US$29 million was tagged with both mitigation and adaptation markers. This is a considerable change from the previous year in terms of financing volume and focus. In 2019, 79%, or US$813 million, of South Korea’s bilateral ODA related to climate action was tagged with the mitigation marker; 26%, or US$268 million, was marked with the adaptation marker; while 5%, or US$54 million, was marked with both mitigation and adaptation markers. 

In 2020, 4% (US$78 million) of South Korea’s bilateral allocable ODA was directed toward projects with a significant climate change component, well below the DAC average of 14%. 6% (US$125 million) of funding targeted climate change as a principal goal, below the DAC average of 9%. 91% of South Korea’s bilateral allocable ODA did not target climate change or was not screened against the Rio markers in 2020 (DAC average: 77%). 

Agriculture received the largest share (20%) of South Korea’s climate commitments in 2020. Water and sanitation, energy, and humanitarian aid received 16% each, followed by environmental protection (14%).

South Korea engages in multilateral initiatives to support climate action

South Korea has demonstrated international leadership on climate, including by 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. It also 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 to ‘P4G’ for carbon neutrality. 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, former 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, former South Korean Foreign Minister and 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 through events such as the ‘Global Green Growth Week 2019,’ which was run in partnership between 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 the ‘Green New Deal.’ 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’ oversees 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) oversees climate-related ODA. KOICA led the development of the KOICA’s ‘Climate Change Response Mid-Term Strategy 2021-2025.’