Breaking News
revolutionizing climate finance south korea pioneers carbon market with novel etfs and etns 146

Market Trends

Revolutionizing Climate Finance: South Korea Pioneers Carbon Market with Novel ETFs and ETNs


Benjamin Hughes

March 7, 2024 - 00:24 am


Pioneering Carbon Markets: South Korea to Introduce ETFs and ETNs

In an unprecedented move in Asia, South Korea is gearing up to extend its carbon emission trading to retail investors through the introduction of exchange-traded notes (ETNs). This initiative, which is slated to launch later this year, aims to boost a sluggish emissions market and engage a wider audience in the fight against climate change.

A woman is silhouetted as she looks at a city skyline from an observation deck of Woomyeon mountain at dusk in Seoul, South Korea.

Embracing the Green Transition

As part of its dedication to environmental stewardship and green policies, the South Korean government has been diligently working towards rolling out new regulations focused on curbing excessive rises in housing prices. This is largely due to the fact that such increases have led to significant public dissatisfaction with the current socio-economic imbalance and rampant real estate speculation. To address these pressing issues, the government has taken a proactive stance by looking into the implementation and enforcement of new guidelines.

The Ministry of Environment, with Lee Young Seok as a director general at the helm of the climate change and international cooperation bureau, is collaborating closely with the Korea Exchange and various local securities firms. Together, they hope to make ETNs available by August, marking a significant stride towards inclusive market participation.

ETNs, which have characteristics resembling those of exchange-traded funds (ETFs), track an underlying index. ETFs are known for holding a diverse mix of assets, yet an ETN represents a sole security. When an investor buys into an ETN, the payout they receive is contingent upon the performance of that benchmark.

Lee shared insights into the overarching strategy during an interview, emphasizing that the impending rollout of ETNs stands as a pivotal test for the market's capabilities. The end goal is to enhance market liquidity by inviting a broader group of market players to engage in trading, drawing on the operational model of the European market.

Catalyzing Market Efficiency through Liquidity

The motivation to expand market access is deeply rooted in South Korea's intention to rejuvenate its languishing carbon market. Launched in 2015, the country's cap-and-trade scheme encompasses nearly 700 companies. However, the program has stumbled in its mission to prompt industrial polluters to reduce their carbon footprint. An excessive number of permits – with a staggering 90% issued gratuitously – has hampered the desired effect.

The Ministry of Environment is not merely stopping with ETNs. Plans are afoot to introduce ETFs as early as 2025, with Lee hinting at a futures market set to emerge thereafter. The Korea Exchange is in the midst of creating an index to effectively monitor the carbon market, meanwhile, ongoing dialogues with securities firms focus on the design and trading mechanisms of these novel financial offerings.

For Asian retail investors harboring interests in carbon-related financial products, the existing landscape offered little choice but to observe prices in the more mature European markets, where emissions trading has taken on a predominantly futures-based orientation. By allowing price volatility management through hedging, the European Union's cap-and-trade setup provides a stark contrast to Asian equivalents that have only ever presented spot contract options.

Restructuring the Cap-and-Trade Architecture

The South Korean government is acutely aware of the issues stemming from permit oversupply within its cap-and-trade framework. Officials are mapping out a course to rectify this imbalance, forging plans to slash the total volume of permits and consequently to escalate the proportion of those that constitute a paid issuance. These reforms are poised to take effect from 2026 onwards, and meticulous details regarding the rollout are expected to be published before this year's end.

For more information on carbon pricing and its acceleration in Asia, please visit the link provided: Carbon Pricing Efforts Accelerate in Asia on Green Push.

Fostering a Green Economy Through Regulatory Innovation

South Korea's foray into granting retail investors access to trade in carbon allowances via ETNs is an illustration of its commitment to fostering a green economy. By injecting new life into the emissions trading ecosystem, the government hopes not only to correct the market shortcomings but also to establish a precedent for other Asian nations to follow suit. This could potentially lead to a harmonized Asian market where emissions reductions are incentivized through financial instruments, thereby aligning economic activities with environmental objectives.


The South Korean government is poised at the crux of a transformational phase in the Asia-Pacific region's approach to environmental finance. By introducing exchange-traded notes tied to carbon allowances – a regional first – and laying the groundwork for future exchange-traded funds and futures contracts, South Korea is leading the charge to enhance liquidity and participation in the emissions trading sector. This bold move is indicative of a broader trend where nations are increasingly looking to markets to drive ecological sustainability. If the anticipated reforms are successful, they will signify a significant step towards a more robust, transparent, and dynamic market for carbon trading, not just in South Korea but potentially across Asia.

Please note that this news content was provided by Bloomberg L.P. ©2024, which may be accessed here: Bloomberg - Source Article.

(End of the news article)