SEOUL - South Korea, the OECD's fastest-growing carbon polluter, has ditched its weakest voluntary 2020 emissions target and will choose one of two stricter options ahead of a global meeting in Copenhagen.

In a statement on Thursday, the government said it had dropped an option for an 8 percent increase from 2005 emissions levels by 2020. It would finalize the 2020 target on Nov 17 at between unchanged from and 4 percent below 2005 levels.

The industrial powerhouse is one of Asia's richest nations and among the region's top greenhouse gas polluters on a per-capita basis.

While not obliged under the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol climate pact to announce binding cuts, South Korea has come under pressure to put the brakes on the rapid growth of its planet-warming emissions from industry and transport.

In response, the country took the lead among newly industrialized nations by announcing the three emissions targets in August.

President Lee Myung-bak said on Thursday a weak target would make it tougher for South Koreans to understand the need to curb greenhouse gas emissions, local media outlet eDaily quoted him as telling the presidential green growth committee.

But it needed to be set at just the right level to give powerful business groups enough of an incentive to cut emissions while not harming economic growth.

The committee said it had narrowed the target options after holding more than 70 public hearings and discussions in the past few months.

The second option (of unchanging the level) is relatively less burdensome and the third option (at below 4 percent) will probably show our definite willingness for green growth, Hyung-kook Kim, chairman of the presidential committee on green growth, said in the statement.

The country's green investment plans already rank near the top in Asia. The government said earlier the year it would invest 107 trillion won ($90.9 billion), or 2 percent of its annual GDP, in environment-related industries over the next five years, pushing stricter fuel efficiency and emission requirements.

Lee hosts a G20 summit next year, an event that will help him showcase the country's green policies. The president will also be eyeing emissions cuts pledged by trade rival Japan.

Newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has vowed to forge ahead with a tough 25 percent cut in emissions from 1990 levels by 2020, despite growing opposition from industry, which says the target will hurt the world's No. 2 economy.

($1=1,176.8 Won)

(Editing by David Fogarty)