Seoul passes emergency Bills to fight haze

A view of Seoul shrouded by fine dust as parts of South Korea have been choking in high levels of concentrated pollutants caused by coal-fired power generators and high-emission vehicles. Seoul has passed Bills designating the pollution a "disaster",
A view of Seoul shrouded by fine dust as parts of South Korea have been choking in high levels of concentrated pollutants caused by coal-fired power generators and high-emission vehicles. Seoul has passed Bills designating the pollution a "disaster", which allows the government to tap reserve funds to help respond to any damage or emergency caused by polluted air.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL • South Korea has ramped up its firepower as it battles pollution, passing a set of Bills that designate the problem as a "social disaster" that could unlock emergency funds to tackle the issue.

Pollution in Asia's fourth-largest economy has been driven by factors including coal-fired power generation and high-emission vehicles, sparking widespread concern among the public and weighing on President Moon Jae-in's approval ratings.

Designating the issue a "disaster" allows the government to use parts of its reserve funds to help respond to any damage or emergency caused by polluted air.

The country's reserve funds stand at up to 3 trillion won (S$4 billion) this year.

Other Bills that were passed yesterday included those mandating that every school classroom should have an air purifier, and removing a limit on sales of liquefied petroleum gas vehicles, which typically produce less emissions than gasoline and diesel vehicles.

The latest Bills follow previous steps to battle pollution, such as capping operations at coal-fired power plants.

South Korea's air quality was the worst among its peers in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as of 2017, according to data from the group.

Its average annual exposure to fine particulate matter (PM) of less than 2.5 micrometres was 25.1 mcg per cubic metre, slightly more than double the OECD average of 12.5.

The World Health Organisation recommends that air quality standard should be no more than 10mcg in terms of PM 2.5 levels.

For six consecutive days this month, high levels of concentrated pollutants enveloped most parts of South Korea.

According to a weekly poll by Gallup Korea released on March 8, Mr Moon's approval rating was down by 3 percentage points from 46 per cent a week earlier.

Unless objections are raised, it should take around 15 days for the Bills to become law.

South Korea's regional neighbour China has also been fighting pollution as it tries to reverse damage from over three decades of untrammelled economic growth.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2019, with the headline 'Seoul passes emergency Bills to fight haze'. Print Edition | Subscribe