South Korea’s new light-duty vehicle efficiency standards

The Republic of Korea’s national strategy for green growth aims to make that country the world’s seventh largest green economic power by 2020. New light-vehicle fuel efficiency standards are one of the pillars of the South Korean strategy to achieve this target. On September 11, 2014, the Ministry of Environment proposed standards for model years (MY) 2016 to 2020. A few months later, on December 30, 2014, the Ministry of Environment (ME) and Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) adopted average GHG emissions and fuel economy standards for light-duty vehicles for MY 2020.

South Korea is the fifth largest automobile manufacturer in the world and the seventh largest emitter of CO2. Vehicles are the one of the largest sources of both CO2 and conventional pollutant emissions; in 2009 they accounted for approximately 21% of air pollutants and 13% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in South Korea.

In 2009, South Korea announced its first Five-Year Plan for Green Growth. The Green Growth agenda included a new car CO2 emission target of 140 gCO2/km equivalent by MY 2015. The standard was phased in over a four-year period from 2012 to 2015: 30 percent of cars sold by automakers were required to meet the targets by 2012, 60 percent by 2013, 80 percent by 2014, and 100 percent by 2015.

New passenger car CO2 emissions decreased by 12% in South Korea from 2009 to 2013. While the 2014 data is not yet available, it is likely that new Korean passenger cars will meet the 2015 target a year early. Note that Korea did not adopt a fuel efficiency regulation for new light commercial vehicles (LCV), but new LCV CO2 emissions decreased by nearly 10% over this period as well.


The 2020 standards require light-duty vehicles to meet a target of 97 gCO2/km for passenger cars and 166 gCO2/km for LCVs. In comparison to 2013, the 2020 targets are equivalent to a 29.7% reduction for passenger cars and a 19.3% reduction for LCVs.

What will the impact of adopted standards on well-to-wheel CO2 emissions of light-duty vehicles in Korea be? As shown in the figure below, by our estimates the first phase of the Korean passenger car CO2 standards will result in well-to-wheel CO2 emission reductions of 5.1 million tons in 2030. The recently adopted passenger car and light-commercial vehicle standards will have an even bigger impact. If implemented successfully, these standards should halt any further increase in light-vehicle CO2 emissions in South Korea until 2030.

Source: ICCT Roadmap model

Of course, there is no reason for Korea to stop at the 2020 standards. The United States has already adopted a 2025 light-vehicle CO2 standard, and the EU is currently considering a post-2020 target. If Korea sets light-vehicle standards for 2021–2025 with the goal of achieving a 5% annual reduction (total 23% reduction) in new vehicle CO2 emissions, then CO2 emissions from the light-vehicle fleet in Korea could peak in the early 2020s, and then begin to gradually decline. With more fuel-efficient vehicles, consumers could save on gas and instead put money into local goods and services to help the economy further expand. Since Korea is already on track, let’s hope that the progress continues!