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Korea Climate Resilience Policy Indicator

Part of Climate Resilience Policy Indicator
  • Korea’s average temperature is expected to trend upwards, with summers becoming longer and starting earlier, and extremely hot days increasing in number. By the mid-2020s, electricity demand for summer cooling will probably surpass demand for winter heating.
  • Annual precipitation has increased in the long term, and Korea is also projected to experience higher annual rainfall with more extreme precipitation events. Heavy rainfall and tropical cyclones could threaten energy supply reliability, particularly in the summer.
  • While Korea has made progress incorporating energy system climate resilience into its climate change adaptation plans, energy sector plans do not address it sufficiently. Recognising and capitalising on the co-benefits of adaptation and mitigation actions in national energy plans will help create synergies in policy implementation.


Level of floods, drought and tropical cyclones in Korea, 2000-2020

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Level of warming in Korea, 2000-2020

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Temperature

Korea’s average annual temperature has been trending upwards with the rate of increase accelerating. The change rate was 0.41°C per decade during 1981-2010, but it increased to 0.5°C in 2001-2010 – a much higher warming speed than 0.23°C per decade in 1954-1999. According to a Korea Meteorological Administration report, the average temperature is projected to be 1.7-4.4°C higher in 2071-2100 than in 1981-2010, depending on greenhouse gas concentrations. If greenhouse gas emissions stay at the current level (RCP 8.5), the number of heatwave days and summer days could increase by 25.4 and 66.2 respectively, while cold-wave days could decrease by 6.2 at the end of the century (2071-2100)

Temperature changes are already affecting energy demand for heating and cooling. In the last two decades, the number of heating degree days (HDDs) has decreased while cooling degree days (CDDs) have followed an upward trend. This change is likely to raise energy demand for cooling and reduce consumption for heating. In the mid-2020s, electricity demand for summer cooling is expected to be higher than for winter heating.

Rising temperatures are also expected to boost peak electricity demand. Korea’s demand generally used to peak during the warm, humid months of summer, but in 2009 it shifted to the winter as electric heating gained popularity. However, a warmer climate due to climate change could return peak electricity demand to the summer months and put greater pressure on the power grid.

Temperature in Korea, 2000-2020

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Cooling degree days in Korea, 2000-2020

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Heating degree days in Korea, 2000-2020

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Precipitation

With climate change, Korea’s annual precipitation is likely to increase. If global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise without mitigation, average precipitation in Korea could be 172.5 mm higher in 2071-2100 than it was in 1981-2010.

Although the distribution of annual precipitation in Korea varies greatly by season and year, Korea is projected to have higher annual rainfall overall and more extreme precipitation events, particularly in the summer. Furthermore, flooding associated with more frequent heavy rainfalls could disrupt electricity supply services. For instance, torrential rains on 8 August 2020 forced the Yongdam hydropower dam to open its gates for emergency water discharge, leading to downstream flooding that damaged electricity supply equipment and prompted power outages.

Tropical cyclones and storms1

Tropical cyclones, often called as typhoon, also pose a great threat for Korea. Many typhoons originating in the north-western Pacific move northwards to Korea and strike the peninsula from July to September, their strong winds and heavy rains often compromising energy supply security. For instance, three successive tropical cyclones during two weeks in August and September 2020 caused 676 power outages in southern Korea that affected more than 300 000 households. Recovery from these power outages took ten hours on average.

Of the three cyclones, Typhoon Maysak caused the largest damage by breaking power poles and high-voltage lines, leaving 290 000 households without electricity and paralysing schools, public offices and companies. It even created a flashover (a high-voltage electrical short-circuit caused by high winds) that halted the operation of six nuclear power reactors. Typhoon Haishen, which struck Korea four days after Typhoon Maysak, also caused power outages and temporarily shut down two nuclear power reactors. Electricity generation from renewable sources was also impaired by reduced solar irradiation and wind speeds exceeding the limit for wind power generation during the 2020 tropical cyclone season.

Korea has made progress incorporating energy system climate resilience into its climate change adaptation plans. Although its previous national adaptation plans of 2010 and 2015 addressed energy sector climate resilience only briefly, the third National Climate Change Adaptation Plan 2021-2025 (2020) lists “industries and energy” as key policy areas for adaptation actions.

The third National Climate Change Adaptation Plan 2021-2025 has three policy objectives: to enhance adaptive capacity to climate risks; to strengthen monitoring, forecasting and evaluation systems; and to mainstream climate change adaptation. It highlights improving the energy sector’s adaptive capacity as a means to enhance overall capacity to adapt to climate risks.

The action plan aims to raise design and construction standards for power system facilities, establish a better management system (with smart grids, real-time monitoring and massive public energy storage) and improve facility maintenance. It also proposes measures to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and to diversify energy sources to make energy systems more climate-resilient. To realise its objectives, the action plan outlines specific targets, establishes an implementation mechanism, defines timelines and financing sources, and assigns roles to relevant ministries and offices.

Korea has also made efforts to establish a scientific climate change risk management system. The Korea Adaptation Centre for Climate Change (KACCC) was established in 2009 and has developed a climate change vulnerability assessment tool (VESTAP) and a Climate change Risk Assessment System (CRAS) to help local governments and companies conduct vulnerability assessments and establish their own adaptation plans. Additionally, in July 2020 the Ministry of Environment issued the Korean Climate Change Assessment Report based on a comprehensive survey of climate change impacts and the vulnerabilities of key sectors, including energy.

Despite Korea’s significant progress in the past decade, a gap between the national climate change adaptation plan and the energy sector plans persists. The third Energy Basic Plan 2019-2040 and the ninth Basic Plan for Electricity Supply and Demand do not propose climate change adaptation measures, though they do take climate change scenarios into account in their energy demand modelling. Most of the climate-related discussions in these plans focus on mitigation efforts, such as decarbonisation and efficiency improvements, while the necessity of adapting to greater climate change impacts (such as from increasingly variable precipitation and intensification of extreme weather events) is less discussed. Recognising and capitalising on the adaptation benefits of proposed projects in energy sector plans (e.g. smart grids, energy storage, advanced metering and distributed energy systems) will help establish clear links between climate change adaptation and energy plans, and create synergies for policy implementation.

References
  1. Storm indicates any disturbed state of the atmosphere, strongly implying destructive and unpleasant weather. Storms range in scale. Tropical cyclone is the general term for a strong, cyclonic-scale disturbance that originates over tropical oceans. In this article, we used these general terms, tropical cyclones and storms, but those can be divided into different categories in detail. A tropical storm is a tropical cyclone with one-minute average surface winds between 18 and 32 m/s. Beyond 32 m/s, a tropical cyclone is called hurricane, typhoon, or cyclone depending on the geographic location. Hurricanes refer to the high intensity cyclones that form in the south Atlantic, central North Pacific, and eastern North Pacific; typhoons in the northwest Pacific; and the more general term cyclone in the South Pacific and Indian ocean.