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[Editorial] Adroit compromise

Good and bad aspects of carbon emissions policy

Sept. 5, 2014 - 20:17 By Korea Herald
The government announced this week two major policy programs on carbon emissions regulation. In sum, the government will launch a carbon emissions trading scheme next January as scheduled, with some modifications to lessen the burden on industries, but it will delay a system that will reward buyers of low-emission cars and penalize those who buy high-emission ones.

It seems that the government tried to find a compromise, considering both the nation’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the interests of industries.

Under the carbon trading system, businesses are given a cap on carbon emissions and those that exceed the limit must buy permits for more emissions. The cap-and-trade system had been put on hold for two years in the face of opposition from the industrial sector.

Industry officials still claim that it is premature for Korea to start a carbon trading system, which they argue would hurt the nation’s industrial competitiveness.

Taking the position of businesses into consideration, the government lowered the targeted emission cuts by 10 percent. Officials also said the emission projection for 2020 will be raised to a higher level than the original forecast.

Industry officials who have been demanding an outright delay of the scheme may not be happy over the modifications, but as was noted in this page previously, the time has come for Korea to take the initiative.

Korea needs to begin making its economy eco-friendly and pursue sustainable development, especially by fighting industrial pollutants. Introducing a carbon emissions trading system is one of the shortcuts to reaching this goal. Moreover, Korea has already made a strong commitment to the international community to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

It seems that Deputy Prime Minister Choi Kyung-hwan was behind the modifications of the carbon emissions trading system. He certainly tried to kill two birds with one stone ― fulfilling the commitment to start the scheme and heeding the industries’ call.

The pro-business policymaker, however, breached the middle line by delaying the new car emissions regulation scheme, which was to start next May, until after 2020.

The program calls for providing cash subsidies to purchasers of low-emission cars while collecting levies from buyers of high-emission vehicles. The bonus-malus scheme has brought about strong protests from local automakers, who claim that it will give them a handicap vis-a-vis their Japanese and European rivals.

Admittedly, Korean automakers lag far behind their Japanese and European counterparts in producing eco-friendly and fuel-efficient vehicles. They, however, cannot rely on government protection for ever.

In some respects, one can agree with the industry’s argument that it is too early to introduce the incentive-penalty system, yet a six-year wait is too long. One cannot help but think that the Park administration passed the buck to the next administration. This is simply irresponsible.