Fighting smog in South Korea: Interview with top air pollution scientist
Updated: 2021-03-25 05:04:05 KST
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 last year, we've never been so conscious of the air we breathe as our daily lives are ruled by measures to prevent transmission of the respiratory disease.
But here in South Korea, there's been all the more reason to keep our masks on.
For years, the country has been grappling with intense air pollution, which tends to worsen in winter months, recording high levels of ultra-fine dust for days on end.
Exposure to ultrafine dust can increase the risk of stroke and heart problems, as well as respiratory diseases. In fact, a Harvard University study last year found people in areas with high levels of pollution are 15 percent more likely to die from the coronavirus.
There are also economic costs. Fine dust is estimated to have lost the South Korean economy US$3.56 billion in 2018, 0.2 percent of annual GDP, due to constraints in production and business activities.
Today, we discuss what efforts there have been to reduce air pollutants, why they haven't been working and what we need to do.
There's no better person to turn to than Dr. Moon Kil-choo, who is the country's top scientist and highest policy authority on tackling air pollution.
He is the chairman of South Korea's Special Committee on Fine Dust Pollution
He was previously the President of the University of Science and Technology and the Korea Institute of Science and Technology.
1. First of all, why is there so much air pollution in Korea? How severe is our situation compared to other countries in the OECD?
2. South Korea's been expanding its budget to mitigate air pollution by 30 to 50 percent every year since 2016, surpassing 2.2 trillion won last year. However, It seems like the fine dust situation in Korea has been getting worse and worse. Is this actually the case? Why hasn't there been noticeable improvement? (What are the primary causes of fine dust generated within South Korea that need to be tackled fundamentally?)
3. We know that ultra-fine dust can bring about many health implications. In South Korea, fine dust has been categorised as a social disaster. What are the social consequences of air pollution worsening in societies?
4. There are also great amounts of fine dust sweeping in from overseas every year. The Korean government has been conducting joint research and making efforts with China to help mitigate the situation. But why hasn't there been significant improvement? What further cooperation or innovation is needed?
5. The government so far has spent much of its energy promoting electric vehicles and cutting down emissions generated by automobiles. That takes up about 35 percent of the total budget for tackling air pollution.
What are the limitations of simply making cars more eco-friendly and promoting the use of public bikes and mobility scooters?
6. As the chair of the special policy commission on fine dust, what are measures that you think are vital to tackling fine dust in Korea? What do you hope to achieve?
7. There's a great deal of public awareness about fine dust and many people wear masks and avoid going outdoors but is there enough individual action to prevent it?
8. As a scientist, what kind of innovative technologies that tackle fine dust interest you the most? What do you hope to see more of?
9. Is there anything the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us about air pollution?
10. With the UN's Climate Change Conference taking place in Glasgow this year, what do you hope South Korea can contribute towards improving air quality around the world? Do we have any policies or innovations we can share?
That's where we'll have to leave it for today. Dr. Moon Kil-choo, chairman of South Korea's Special Committee on Fine Dust Response Solution, thank you for your insight.