By Na Jeong-ju
President Lee Myung-bak urged firms Tuesday to step up preparations for an era of low carbon and green growth, saying the government will introduce diverse programs to help the world fight climate change.
He made the remark after the Cabinet approved a bold plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 4 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, making South Korea the first emerging nation to set up a carbon reduction goal.
The figure represents a 30-percent fall from the level predicted for 2020 if carbon emissions grow at their current pace.
"Today's decision will help improve Korea's reputation globally as well as make Korean products more popular," President Lee said at a Cabinet meeting at Cheong Wa Dae.
"The government as well as the private sector should work together to brace for the shift toward a green economy. It is a historic opportunity for the country to become an advanced nation."
As the host country of the G20 Summit in November next year, Korea wants to play an active role in reducing global dependence on fossil fuels.
The country will urge other developing countries to set emission targets at the U.N. Climate Change Conference slated for next month in Copenhagen, Denmark, officials said.
At the conference, countries are expected to discuss new targets for global carbon emission control. Under the Kyoto Protocol climate change treaty, governments that signed the treaty are divided into two general categories: Developed countries, referred to as Annex 1 countries, which have accepted greenhouse gas emission reduction obligations; and developing countries, categorized as Non-Annex 1 countries, which have no emission reduction obligations.
By 2012, Annex 1 countries have to slash their emissions by an average of 5 percent below their 1990 levels. South Korea is currently a Non-Annex 1 country.
According to the International Energy Agency, Korea was the 16th largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world in 2005, producing 538 million tons of CO2.
Countries will discuss a new deal on global warming in Copenhagen to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
However, the world is unlikely to see a breakthrough due to wide differences between developed nations and the rest of the world.
Despite the negative outlook, the country's move to cut carbon emissions will set an example for other developing countries to follow, President Lee said.
Korea has set up a five-year roadmap to nurture energy-saving and environmentally-friendly technologies. The administration plans to invest 2 percent of gross domestic product in promoting green industries.
Business associations, however, are protesting the government's plan over fears about additional costs required to meet the target.