Working Paper

Working Paper

[EAI Working Paper] Prospects for Korea-US Cooperation on Energy and Environment: From an Oil-Natural Gas Alliance to Global Green New Deal

  • 2020-12-07
  • Wang Hwi Lee

ISBN  979-11-6617-071-3 95340

Editor's Note

On November 13, 2020, the EAI and Brookings institution jointly held the 2nd online seminar of the <After Trump> series titled "Prospects for U.S.-South Korea Cooperation in an Era of U.S.-China Strategic Competition". In session 2: economy, energy, and environment, Samantha Gross addressed that cooperation between South Korea and the U.S. on energy or environment has been almost “absent.” South Korean government will have to align its energy policy in line with that of the U.S., which means joining the Global Green New Deal initiative if Biden Administration sets in. The form of carbon cooperation between the U.S. and China also matters; if the U.S. and China opt for the high carbon cooperation, Korea will increase import of oil and LNG from the U.S., and if they turn to a low carbon cooperation, Korea will be under pressure to reduce carbon emission as soon as possible.



Quotes from the Paper



In June 2020, President-elect Joe Biden pledged that the US would be carbon neutral by 2050. In the UN General Assembly in September, President Xi Jinping promised that net carbon emission would be zero in China by 2060. On October 26, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that Japan would achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Two days later, President Moon Jae-in announced that Korea would go carbon neutral by 2050. The EU, which had already declared the European Green Deal in 2019, is seeking cooperation with the US. As a result, a hope has emerged for a Global Green New Deal.


The Development of Clean Energy Cooperation under the Obama Administration

Energy cooperation between the US and China began when diplomatic relations were established in the late 1970s. During the late twentieth century, the scope of bilateral cooperation was limited. Amid the Oil crises of the 1970s and 1980s, both countries set their energy policy goals to procure energy sources. Besides, there was little discussion on international cooperation because awareness about global warming was low.


Shift to the Fossil Fuel Energy Cooperation under the Trump Administration

Unlike the Obama administration, the Trump administration does not deal with energy policies in tandem with environmental policies. The goal of energy policy is energy dominance (or energy independence / self-sufficiency). Although insisting "energy production and environmental stewardship are not mutually exclusive," President Trump made the country officially withdraw from the Paris Agreement in 2019. Since the outbreak of the trade war, President Trump has pushed ahead with decoupling – or even a new Cold War – through maximum pressure on China. Thus, almost all cooperation with China promoted by the Obama administration has ceased.


Return to a Clean Energy Cooperation?

China is the world’s largest producer of CO₂, accounting for 29.34% of global emissions in 2017. The US was the second-largest CO₂ emitting country (13.77%). The two countries produced nearly one-third of CO₂ in the world. In this respect, the Sino-US energy cooperation would be able to make an unprecedented contribution to the global environment. Since the trade war took place in 2018, the US and China have exchanged blame for global warming not to shoulder the burden of CO₂ emission reduction.



The decades-long energy cooperation between the US and China gives two lessons. First, energy cooperation has been influenced by security and economic relations. When the US pursued an engagement policy with China, energy cooperation was among the key agendas of summit meetings and the Strategic Economic Dialogues. Second, disagreement on energy policy in the US matters. Democrats call for a Green New Deal, whereas Republicans deny climate change. This is why US energy policy has swung extensively.



Author’s Biography

Wang Hwi Lee is a Professor of Political Science and Dean of the Division of International Studies at Ajou University, Suwon, South Korea, where he has taught international political economy since 2006. He is the author of “The Politics of Economic Reform in South Korea: Crony Capitalism after Ten Years”, “Pulling South Korea away from China’s Orbit: The Strategic Implications of the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement” and “Crisis Management of the COVID-19 Pandemic in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore.” His research interests have been focused on issues of the political economy of economic policy and institutions in East Asian countries. Lee received his Ph.D. from London School of Economics and Political Science.