China Should Not Be the Scapegoat for South Korea’s Inclusion Among Most Polluted Nations

Yicai

2017-03-30

(Yicai Global) March 30 -- South Korea has become one of the most polluted countries in the world since its smog surged to record severe levels in the first few months of this year.

Hazardous smog has shrouded Seoul in the past few weeks, making the South Korean capital’s pollution level similar to that of Beijing and New Delhi, the Financial Times reported yesterday. Though many South Koreans blame China, experts think the pollution is “made domestically.”  

 More and more people worry that the root causes of the harmful smog lie in the country, rather than in China, as the South Korean government has insisted.

“The government does nothing, and passes the buck to China. Only by dealing with our own pollution can we see how bad the situation from polluted air or dust from China and the Mongolian desert is,” said Kim Shin-do, professor of environmental engineering at Seoul National University.

 South Korea environment ministry said 80 percent of the dust originates overseas, but Kim believes only 20 percent comes from China. Greenpeace holds it is 30 percent.

 AirVisual, a pollution tracking website, found that three South Korean cities listed in the top 10 most polluted cities in the world this week, while no Chinese cities did. Car emissions and construction or industrial activities mainly cause South Korea’s smog. Power plants also contribute their share. The country’s energy officials are promoting establishment of more coal-fired power plants.

 The South Korean government now runs 53 coal-fired power plants and plans to build another 20 in the next five years, while older ones will shut down by 2025. From 2005 to 2016, South Korea's coal-fired power generation capacity rose nearly 95 percent, meaning 40 percent of the country's energy comes from fossil fuels. Safety concerns have meanwhile driven nuclear power’s share down from 40 percent in 2005 to 30 percent today.

 Since year’s start, the South Korean government has issued 85 alerts against ultrafine dust, more than double last years’ 41 warnings. These stealth nanoparticles, known as PM 2.5 particles, can penetrate deep into the human respiratory system, and induce many diseases, cancer included.

 A report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predicts that by 2060 the current level of air pollution may prematurely kill nine million people in South Korea -- the worst forecast for any OECD member. Estimates hold that air pollution costs South Korea up to USD9 billion per year.

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