Deathly Levels of Fine Dust Pollution: Immediate Dilemma for New President of South Korea

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The worst case of fine dust of 2017 blanketed much of South Korea on Saturday. The huge dust storm was first from Mongolia and then China. The National Institute of Environmental Research (NIER) strongly suggested people avoid outdoor activities and for children and the elderly to stay indoors throughout the weekend. Consequently, the retail sector was, in turn, affected by this phenomenon. Retailers such as Lotte Department Store said sales dropped 5 percent Saturday when the fine dust warning was issued. It said that from Monday through Saturday of last week, sales were off by 2.8 percent vis-a-vis the year before (Yonhap News).

South Korea has joined the ranks of the world’s most polluted countries, with air pollution in the first months of this year soaring to record levels. In order to help people check the level of air pollution, South Korea’s internet giant, Naver, on May 4 introduced a new visual mapping service that tracks the movement of fine dust in Korea, Japan and China.

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The South Korean Ministry of environment attributes almost 70 to 80 percent of the fine dust to overseas sources during periods of marked pollution. However, according to Financial Times, China is to blame for only 20 percent of South Korea’s fine dust. Environmental group, Greenpeace, puts the figure at 30 percent. “The reality is that much of the fine particulate matter, or ‘fine dust’ as it is colloquially known, is generated at home, including by coal plants” (Korea Expose). Main causes of air pollution in South Korea are emissions from vehicles and power plants. Many people are upset that the country continues to build coal plants when places such as Europe and even China are investing more actively on renewable energy. In fact, newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron has called on U.S. scientists, academics and entrepreneurs at odds with Donald Trump’s administration to move to France. His position about climate change is very clear and serious: “We will preserve our budget, we will reinforce our public and private investing to do more and accelerate our initiatives to deliver in line with COP-21 (the Paris summit on climate change)”.

The European Union has always been concerned with climate change. It is time for South Korea to start building a plan to reduce air pollution as well. Even if MOTIE (Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy) announced a plan last December to reduce air pollution from coal-powered electricity, the next President will play an important role in increasing efforts to further reducing pollution. During a recent television debate, Moon Jae-in and Sim Sang-jung declared their full support of policies that will reduce dust levels, while Ahn Cheol-soo and Yoo Seung-min took a moderate stance. Hong Jun-pyo was the only one among the five candidates who did not reveal any particular stance in regard to the high dust levels being a health hazard.

By the end of this day, Korea will have as its leader one who has the power to significantly change the current dilemma of fine dust.

-By Alessandra Bonanomi, reporter for The AsiaN

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