National Assembly Declares Fine Dust to be a Social Disaster in South Korea

National Assembly Declares Fine Dust to be a Social Disaster in South Korea

Nothing is more important than breathing for survival. But even breathing is threatened in Korea. The South Korean National Assembly officially declared the fine dust issue as a ‘social disaster’ in March 2019. And in December 2019, fine dust was selected as the most important environmental issue of 2019 in a vote of citizens.

According to a poll by Seoul National University and ACCEH (Asian Citizen’s Center for Environment and Health), 59% of respondents answered “air pollution caused by fine dust and ozone problem” as the most important environmental issue in 2019. In particular, ‘fine dust’ was ranked as the most important environmental news for three consecutive years, following 37% in 2017 and 57% in 2018.

Controversial views continue over the cause of increasingly fine dust. Some studies explain that China has a big impact, while others explained that the fine dust generated in Korea has a greater impact on the current disaster situation.

According to the Long-range Transboundary air Pollution research Project (LTP), China’s factor in high concentration of fine dust increases to 70%. However, apart from the foreign factors, it was suggested that substantial reduction will require measures for domestic emission sources, which account for 51% of the annual fine dust. The report is meaningful in that it’s the first time that scientists from China, Japan, and South Korea have jointly analyzed the impact of fine dust on their partner countries based on their latest data. In particular, it quantifies that the influence of China has not been clearly identified.

Some experts argue that attention should be paid to atmospheric effects. In 2019, the national average temperature was 14.2 degrees, 0.5 degrees higher than the previous year. Annual precipitation was 1182 mm, which is 235 mm lower than the previous year. Average wind speeds were also lowered. The reason for this is that the amount of rain that washes out fine dust is low, and the air flow is weakened.

Some point out that there is a need to increase the intensity of response to climate change, such as the shutdown of coal power plants. At the end of September 2019, the National Climate and Environment Conference, which is directly under the President, proposed to limit the operation of coal-fired power plants as one of its seasonal management systems. In December, the nation is suspending unit 9~16 generations out of 60 power plants.

Seoul, where one-fifth of the population lives, implemented the ‘fine dust seasonal management system’ for the first time among local governments since late last year. From December to March, when the finest dust is most severe, strong reduction measures were implemented for transportation and business sites, which are the major pollution sources. In particular, when an old vehicle entered the ‘green transportation area’ (the four main gates of old Seoul), a large fine of 250,000 won is imposed. After the implementation, the number of old cars entering the four gates was cut in half, but some pointed out that it was too early to judge the reduction effect.

Last December 10th, the Ministry of Environment’s budget for 2020 was set at 9539.4billion won and the rate of increase was the highest at 21.5%. Among them, the budget for fine dust reduction measures as 2.26 trillion won, 23.7%, which is the highest proportion of total project costs. It is expected that the effect of fine dust reduction policy will be expanded as much as the increased budget.

Activity rating: *** Moving Forward

The South Korean government proposed countermeasures in the industry, power generation, transportation and living sectors to reduce fine dust emission. However, as there is no clear dust reduction effect yet,  people are still suffering from fine dust and it is necessary to observe the future policy direction and effects.

Take Action

Alert Message: 

Dear Policy Officer, Hanseung Keum

Thank you for your hard work to reduce fine dust. Rather than expecting foreign reductions that take time and are opaque, it is necessary to focus first on domestic emissions reductions that can be implemented immediately. In particular, the efficiency of abatement measures should be increased by continuously accumulating research and analysis data on fine dust emission sources. Also, it is necessary to encourage and promote participation in policies that allow citizens to voluntarily participate, such as shortening the operation of old diesel vehicles. Please create a country where you can breathe without worry.

Contact Information:

Ministry of Environment, Air Quality Policy Bureau

Policy Officer, Hanseung Keum

+82 (0)44-201-6850

Government Complex-Sejong, 11,

Doum 6-Ro, Sejong-si, 30103, Republic of Korea


ACCEH (Asian Citizen’s Center for Environment and Health)

NEWS: Joint Study on Origin of Ultra-Fine Dust

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard South Korea Country Manager Ellie Jimin Kim

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