Skip Navigation

Ministry of Environment Announces Its Plans for 2021


With Korean society’s increasing concern over environmental issues, environmental regulations have continued to develop.  Below is a brief introduction of the Ministry of Environment’s (the “MOE”) key initiatives for 2021.  We hope you find this helpful in navigating the changing regulatory landscape in Korea. 

1.   Groundwork to Accomplish Carbon Neutrality 

(1)  Establish implementation system for transition to carbon neutrality 

As the main agency in charge of developing countermeasures to climate change, the MOE announced its plan to establish an action plan to implement the South Korean government’s pledge for 2050 Carbon Neutrality declared on October 28, 2020. 

With the “2050 Carbon Neutrality Committee” to be established as a key taskforce, the action plan entails the following initiatives: (i) establish “Strategies to Achieve 2050 Carbon Neutrality 2.0” by April 2021, (ii) establish scenarios and roadmaps for decreasing emissions in seven areas for 2050 Carbon Neutrality (agricultural, livestock and fishing, carbon sinks, and waste are added to the existing list of industries/areas: energy, industrial structure, transportation, and building) reflecting how these areas would look like in the future, (iii) establish 20-year-based national implementation plan for carbon neutrality that conforms to the scenarios and roadmaps and (iv) update the 2030 roadmap for emissions reduction.  To enhance monitoring and evaluation of implementing the 2030 roadmap for emissions reduction in practice, the MOE will also prepare an evaluation report on implementation of the roadmap, review implementation status in each area, and announce areas of improvement.

As an institutional support for carbon neutrality, the MOE will also form a new “Fund for Climate Change” and establish “Information and Research Center for Carbon Neutrality (tentative name),” a think tank dedicated to climate and air-related issues.   

(2)  Take lead in reducing emissions in targeted areas including waste management and vehicles

To accomplish 2050 Carbon Neutrality, the MOE will spend a large amount of effort in reducing emissions in the following areas: (i) waste, (ii) vehicles and (iii) public sectors. 

  • Waste: In terms of waste management, the MOE is aiming to (i) reduce use of plastics through regulations of single-use items and excessive/multiple packaging, (ii) increase use of recycled materials by, for example, introducing requirement to use recycled materials in making plastics and (iii) reduce landfill gas emissions through prohibition of direct landfill of general waste.  

  • Vehicles: In the long-run, the MOE plans to propose a vision for 100% zero-emissions vehicles by 2050 through prohibiting sales of vehicles running on combustion engines in the Korean market.  On the other hand, in the short-run (through 2022), the MOE aims to provide 500,000 so-called “future vehicles” such as electric vehicles and hydrogen vehicles and to promote early-scrapping of old diesel vehicles, among others.  

  • Public sectors: The MOE plans to (i) set a target for greenhouse gas emissions reduction in public sectors (from 2017 through 2030, reduce emissions by 37.5%) (ii) pledge for carbon neutrality in public/government institutions, (iii) develop and expand new carbon sinks (e.g., forests) and (iv) develop new projects to reduce emissions overseas.  

(3)  Enhance climate resilience across society

As climate change materializes — for example, via natural floods and increases in certain animal population — the MOE plans to establish a system to enhance climate resilience and to take preemptive measures for climate change.

Specifically, the plan entails: (i) establishing a system for adaptation to climate change through an evaluation process for national budget, plans and public projects regarding their responsiveness to climate change and building action plans and compliance monitoring system for each local government, and (ii) establishing a prevention and relief system for floods by, among others, conducting root cause analysis on flood damages and implementing prompt relief package for the damages, establishing an AI-based flood prediction system based on big data, and designing/managing dams and rivers in consideration of the increase in frequency of floods.

2.   Create Real Outcome of Green New Deal Project

(1)  Bring era of future-vehicles early into place

To achieve carbon neutrality and enhance national competitiveness, the MOE established plans to move toward so-called “an era of future vehicles.”  The key goals for year 2021 include reaching an era of 300,000 future vehicles and installing more than 100 new hydrogen charging stations in Korea. 

To achieve these goals, the MOE plans to promote the following:

  • Requiring public institutions that at least 80% of their newly purchased vehicles for the institutions are future vehicles, and promoting “K-EV100 project” which encourages private companies to voluntarily transition into future vehicles (e.g., provide support for infrastructure for charging the vehicles if the private companies switch their existing vehicles to future vehicles by 2030);

  • Upward adjustment of vehicle manufacturers’ supply target for low emissions vehicles (electric, hydrogen, or hybrid cars) from 15% in 2020 to 18% in 2021 and setting a separate supply target for zero emissions vehicles (electric or hydrogen cars) as 10% in 2021; and

  • Building charging infrastructure at optimal locations, installing 30,000 new electric charging stations by December 2021, and installing more than 100 new hydrogen charging stations (to have more than 180 hydrogen charging stations in total by the end of 2021) so vehicle owners can conveniently charge their vehicles. 

(2)  Create jobs through green industry and technological innovation

Based on the observation that the environment-related industry in Korea has been stagnant in terms of revenue and is still lagging behind other countries from the aspect of technological development, the MOE announced that it would create 30,000 new jobs by supporting environment-related industry and technologies. 

Specifically, the MOE will:

  • designate “green industry” companies which possess technologies for carbon neutrality and provide them preferential support, and establish strategies for five clusters of core development areas for the green industry (clean air, biological materials, hydrothermal energy, battery waste and resource circulation);

  • establish “Strategies for Carbon Neutrality and Green Technology Development” and promote ten projects for technology development in five major areas (energy transition, reduction, absorption, substitution and basic technologies); and

  • promote water and sewage management based on smart technologies such as ICT and AI. 

(3)  Extend Green New Deal project to initiatives in local and international society

In order to enhance efficacy of the Green New Deal policy, the MOE plans to promote Green New Deal driven by local society and take steps to assume a leading role in international society in terms of Green New Deal projects. 

The MOE will launch a demonstration project for “Smart Green City” (25 cities) which is an interdisciplinary project to improve the environment in a way that is customized to local society.  The project covers various environment-related initiatives including water, air and resource circulation based on diagnosis of climate change and environmental issues encountered by the cities.  The MOE will also expand the local governments pledging for carbon neutrality to all local governments (81 local governments in 2020 to 243 in 2021). 

Further, to become a leader in Green New Deal in international society, the MOE will take the lead in international collaboration for Green New Deal and carbon neutrality by adopting “Seoul Declaration (tentative name)” at P4G (Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030) which will be held in Korea in May 2021.  The MOE will also bolster the Green Official Development Assistance (ODA), which primarily focuses on supporting third world countries’ implementation of so-called green recovery and carbon neutrality.  

3.   Build Safety Net for Environment

(1)  Solidify trend of decrease in fine particulate matters

The MOE will continue to implement key initiatives in four major areas to reduce fine particulate matters (or so-called “fine dust”):

  • (Industry) Operation of the Total PM Emission Limit system and provision of support for small-size businesses to install fine dust preventative facilities

  • (Energy) Closure of old power plants operating on coal-fired power (aiming to close ten plants in 2021) 

  • (Transportation) Supply of future vehicles, construction of facilities for scrapping old diesel vehicles, and installation of emission reduction facilities

  • (Life style) Supply of eco-friendly boilers

Especially in connection with the “Total PM Emission Limit system,” the next five years’ annual quota for air pollutants emissions (nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and particulate matters) has been allocated to 799 companies since the Special Act on Air Quality Improvement in Air Control Area took effect on April 3, 2020.  The companies must keep their emissions level under the allocated quota and install an automated detection system in their smokestacks within one year from receipt of a permit for the installation.  Those companies who have an emissions level lower than their quota can then sell the remainder to another company and those who exceeded their quota can purchase a right to emissions from other companies within the same “emissions area.”  Companies whose final emissions level for the year exceeded the quota will be levied with administrative surcharges and reduction in their quota for next year. 

(2)  Establish comprehensive water management plan 

The MOE will establish a ten-year plan for the “National Water Management Plan” within the first half of this year.  The National Water Management Plan will be the government’s first master plan authorized under the law since the Framework Act on Water Management (the “Act”) was enacted in June 2019 and all initiatives relating to water management came under the purview of the Act.  The National Water Management Plan will provide a master plan for each area including water environment, water usage, disaster prevention, and groundwater management as well as the basic direction of the nation’s water management policy. 

(3)  Establish a safe waste management system

By 2030, the MOE aims to ban importation of waste in principle, except for certain enumerated categories (e.g., metal waste).  To this end, the MOE announced its implementation roadmap for import ban and restrictions on ten most imported waste.  The roadmap suggests (i) ban on importation of plastic waste, mixed papers and fiber waste starting from 2022, and (ii) starting from 2023, ban on importation of carbon ashes and waste tires to be added and restriction (by way of imposing a certain quality standard) on importation of corrugated cardboards, dusts and sludge.  Under the roadmap, it would be permissible to import waste batteries, metal waste and waste electronics; however, an “import/export safety control center” will be designated to conduct inspection of these types of waste before customs to prevent improper importation of the waste. 

To prevent illegal disposal of waste, the MOE will make it mandatory for recycling businesses to install surveillance cameras on their workplaces and GPS on the waste transportation vehicles.  The MOE will also extend the scope of entities who are subject to the requirement to register “waste generator’s certificate confirming delivery of waste” to include entities who handle intermediately processed waste.  

Meanwhile, in response to the sudden increase in use of packaging materials for shipping products due to COVID-19 pandemic, the MOE plans to establish a packaging standard for shipping products and then, in the longer term, will endeavor to introduce evaluation and reporting system for excessive packaging cases. 

(4)  Build Korea-specific safety net for environment and public health 

The MOE will bolster safe management of chemical materials by, among others, promoting full disclosure of ingredients for chemical products in consumer goods category.  The MOE will also consider expanding the scope of materials that are prohibited, restricted, or subject to pre-approval under the regulation, and consider establishing a new index called “GC-factor.”  The GC-factor takes into account the amount of carbon emissions to promote management of chemical materials in a way that reduces carbon emissions (so-called, “green chemical management system”). 

With the amended Chemical Control Act (effective as of April 1, 2021), the “offsite impact assessment report” and the “risk management plan” will be consolidated into one “management plan for prevention of chemical accidents.”  Thus, under the amended law, before building or operating a facility that processes hazardous chemical substances, one must submit the management plan for prevention of chemical accidents.  Further, for those businesses that install or operate facilities handling hazardous chemical substances that exceed a certain threshold, they must update the plan and submit it every five years. 


[Korean version]