The increasing frequency of extreme climate events globally serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for carbon neutrality. This necessitates a transition away from fossil fuels, which have been the primary driver of human progress, towards more sustainable energy sources. Of particular importance is the phasing out of coal-fired power generation, which is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Developed nations are at the forefront of this effort, taking steps to phase out coal-fired power plants in order to achieve carbon neutrality.
Despite the acknowledged environmental drawbacks, coal-fired power plants have played a significant role in catalyzing the modernization, industrialization, and economic growth of nations globally since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. As nations look to phase-out coal usage, it is anticipated that various challenges and expenses will arise, including the decline of associated industries, loss of employment for workers, and ramifications on local economies. To address these social issues, developed nations and international entities are prioritizing a “just transition” as a means of mitigating these challenges.
Korea has pledged to the international community to undertake a comprehensive coal phase-out by 2050 at the COP26 summit in 2021. However, in order to effectively implement such a plan, it will be crucial to establish practical policies and regulations that take into account the significant dependence of the country on coal-fired energy, as well as the potential social and economic consequences of transitioning away from this energy source. In particular, given that a majority of the nation's 57 power plants are concentrated in a few key regions, it is likely that the negative impacts of plant closures will disproportionately affect certain communities, including workers and local residents. Furthermore, the potential for stranded assets and legal disputes arising from the construction of new coal power plants must also be considered and addressed through a comprehensive and inclusive societal dialogue. Without sufficiently addressing these issues, the pursuit of a carbon-neutral policy and coal phase-out may become hindered, potentially leading to increased societal conflicts and polarization.
The National Assembly Futures Institute (NAFI) conducted a comprehensive examination of the potential social ramifications and conflicts that may arise during the domestic coal phase-out process. Through the analysis of international case studies and consultation with key stakeholders, particularly those who may be impacted and disadvantaged by the closure of coal-fired power plants, NAFI sought to proactively identify and propose policy and legislative measures aimed at mitigating these conflicts and ensuring a just transition.