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From oil-rich UAE, South Korea president vows climate action

South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week at Dubai Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Jan. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- The president of South Korea on Monday vowed to world leaders that his fossil fuel-dependent country and the oil-rich United Arab Emirates would jointly expand their investments in renewable energy to tackle climate change.

    During his visit to the UAE, President Moon Jae-in reiterated Seoul's commitment to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, slash methane emissions and boost renewables as the nation known as one of Asia's biggest greenhouse gas emitters comes under growing pressure to combat climate change.

    "Climate change is becoming a stern reality before our eyes," he told officials and business leaders gathered at a sustainable conference in Dubai. "I hope that UAE and South Korea's hydrogen cooperation will bring forward carbon-neutral, sustainable futures."

    South Korea imports fossil fuels from the Persian Gulf, including from Abu Dhabi, to power its manufacturing-dependent economy. But in public remarks during his trip to Dubai this week, President Moon has largely avoided discussing the nations' deep cooperation in the oil and gas industry, instead stressing their advances in hydrogen technologies and renewables.

    South Korean contractors built the UAE's Barakah nuclear power plant, the first on the Arabian Peninsula and Seoul's first attempt to build an atomic reactor abroad. The first of four reactors went online in the summer of 2020.

    As part of Seoul's pivot to greater environmental investments, President Moon said on Monday that South Korea and Abu Dhabi were jointly planning to construct a massive plant that produces hydrogen in the form of ammonia.

    South Korea is striving to meet its obligations under the Paris climate agreement despite its outsized reliance on coal for electricity generation. The UAE became the first nation in the region to promise to have net zero carbon emissions by 2050 -- one of many pledges ahead of the U.N. climate summit last year that remains difficult to assess. Abu Dhabi has not announced plans to reduce its oil production or fossil fuel exports -- a critical source of revenue.

    Before his speech, President Moon was greeted by Emirati Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The leaders reportedly reached a preliminary multibillion-dollar deal to sell South Korean surface-to-air missiles to the UAE during their meeting on Sunday.

    President Moon is set to travel on to Saudi Arabia and Egypt as part of his Mideast tour.

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