The Health and Economic Cost of Coal Dependence in South Korea’s Power Mix

Public outcry over air pollution in South Korea has led to national commitments of phasing out coal by 2054. Despite South Korea having strong emissions standards in place, the country’s air pollution is and has been worsening. In 2019, PM2.5 levels in the country were among the worst of OECD member states.

This report evaluates the full impact of coal use in the country, as well as the health and economic impacts of coal-based power.

We found that South Korea’s coal-fired power plants have caused approximately 9,500 premature deaths since 1983, coming at a cost of $16 billion due to healthcare and welfare expenditures.

Coal power generation between today and the country’s committed phaseout in 2054 would cause an estimated 16,000 premature deaths within the country. The associated costs are estimated at USD 21 billion, most of which could be avoided with an expedited phaseout and re-evaluation of additional projects.

In this report:

  • The state of coal power and air pollution in South Korea
  • Comprehensive plant-by-plant emissions and toxic deposition modelling
  • Historic and future health impacts, including estimated premature deaths from diseases like lung cancer, stroke, and other cardiovascular and respiratory diseases; cases of preterm births, and asthma-related emergency room visits
  • Cumulative economic cost as a result of additional healthcare costs, and loss in economic productivity

Download in Korean (한국어)

Lauri Myllyvirta, Lead Analyst; Isabella Suarez, Analyst

Partners: Global Strategic Communications Council

South Korea