Air pollution

South Korea’s Fine Dust Pollution and the New Green Deal Policy

Raewon Kim

We breathe to live, and thus everyone is somewhat cognizant of the ever-worsening air pollution our world is facing. Yet, in South Korea, a certain category of air pollution has so plagued and ingrained itself into Korean society that the ​National Assembly officially declared it a “social disaster.” Called ​“​Misemonji,​ ” (fine dust pollution) South Korea suffers from twice as much of it compared to other developed OECD countries ​[7]​, and the citizens are painfully aware of this. According to a survey, 9 out of 10 citizens feel daily discomfort due to it, actively minimise outdoor activities, and worry about the inevitable health consequences. Even prior to the COVID-19 crisis, masks were a common phenomenon on the streets, and no one failed to check the fine dust weather report before deciding whether or not to leave the house. With fine dust pollution having such a heavy presence in everyday life, it is crucial to examine government air pollution policies, especially in the changing circumstances brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

First, what is fine dust pollution? The term “fine dust” refers to particulate matter found in air that is less than 10 micrometres in size. ​[1]​ To illustrate just how tiny they are, around 9 of them can fit across the width of the average fine sand found on beaches. Yet it is their diminutive size that makes them such potent health hazards. Unlike larger dust particles, the nasopharynx is unable to filter fine dust particles, and thus they accumulate in the lungs or are absorbed into the bloodstream. Health consequences range from simple coughing or chest tightness to more severe diseases – asthma, bronchitis, lung cancer, and even increased risk of heart attack and stroke. ​[1]​ Sources of fine dust pollution are largely attributed to the burning of coal, petroleum, or other fossil fuels, as well as gas emissions. The largest percentage of these emissions come from business establishments, at 40%, and other factors like power plants, cars, and heating/air conditioning take up 14%, 11%, and 5% respectively. ​[7]​ While other countries have these problems as well, South Korea differ in that its fine dust is further aggravated by the yellow “Asian” dust from the neighbouring Mongolian desert. ​[3]

Due to fine dust pollution being such a source of distress, countless government policies have been planned and implemented in the past, all with varying degrees of success. Some examples of policies include regulating vehicles that run on diesel fuel, monitoring factories, providing free public transport during rush hours, educating the public about the issue, and many more. ​[3]​ While it would be unfair to say that they were useless, fine dust pollution is still just as severe or perhaps even worse than before. But with the COVID-19 pandemic altering social, environmental, and economic climates drastically, the government has seen a golden opportunity to transform the current carbon-dependent economy to a greener, low-carbon one with their Green New Deal Policy. This policy is part of a larger policy, the 143 billion USD New Deal Policy introduced on July 14, 2020. Of these 143 billion dollars, the Green New Deal policy takes up the most percentage – around 65 billion. ​[9]​ The main target of the policy is to reinvigorate the country’s post-COVID economy but in a greener direction, by spending fiscal stimulus on creating jobs (1.9 million by 2025) within renewable energy and clean technology industries – in other words, creating the “high-tech, high wage green industries of the future.” ​[5]
In regards to the environment, they have divided their policy into three main goals. The first goal is to lower carbon emissions, the main contributors to fine dust pollution. This means assisting the green transition of sectors that are significant contributors to carbon emissions – the energy, housing, mobility, automotive and industry sectors. For example, in the automotive sector, the government is planning to produce 1.13 million electric cars while scrapping 1.16 million diesel vehicles in the next 5 years. ​[6]​ To ease the transition, they are also going to support regions that have difficulties as a corollary to reduced use of coal power. The second goal is to stimulate the green transition of infrastructures. This includes creating 230,000 energy-saving buildings by adding renewable-energy equipment to them. ​[8]​ These buildings mostly consist of public rental housing and schools. Additionally, the government is planning to install “smart grids” in 5 million more apartments, which is a digital technology that shows the energy usage of the house, so that citizens can be more aware of their electricity use. ​[5]​ This is significant because as previously mentioned, indoor heating and cooling systems take up 5% of fine-dust causing carbon emissions. Changes will also be made in the city’s actual green landscape – around 630 hectares of forests as a fine-dust barrier will be planted and the ecosystems of 16 national parks and 4.5 km​2​ of tidelands will be restored. ​[6]​ Lastly, the third goal is to innovate the green industry. This includes introducing more renewable energy projects, such as developing large onshore wind complexes and closing half of South Korea’s coal plants by 2034. ​[4]​ In total, they are planning to extend its renewable energy from 12.7 GW in 2019 to 42.7 GW in 2025. ​[2] ​It is crucial for the government to focus on the third goal in order to lay a proper foundation for green innovation in the post-COVID 19 era.

Like any other policy, the Korean green new deal has its fair share of scepticism. However, even though the policy may not achieve all its goals, it is still reassuring that the government is aware that they should take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to transform the carbon-dependent economy to a greener one, an awareness that other countries should also take note. Change at such a large scale is a first for policies dealing with fine dust pollution, and it presents a promising future for the quality of South Korean air.

Works Cited

[1] Awair. “Everything You Need to Know About Fine Dust (PM2.5).” ​Awair​ , 3 July 2018, Accessed 30 Oct. 2020.
[2] Djunisic, Sladjana. “South Korea commits USD 61bn to Green New Deal by 2025.” ​Renewables Now​,17 July 2020, Accessed 31 Oct. 2020.
[3] “Fine dust pollution.” ​Korean Law via the Internet​ , Creative commons, Accessed 30 Oct. 2020.
[4] Kim, Jaewon. “South Korea’s Moon stakes legacy on $138bn K-New Deal.” ​Nikkei Asia​ , Nikkei, 14 Oct. 2020, Accessed 30 Oct. 2020.
[5] Kim, Sung-Young, et al. “South Korea’s Green New Deal shows the world what a smart economic recovery looks like.” ​The Conversation​ , The Conversation Media Group, 9 Sept. 2020, Accessed 30 Oct. 2020.
[6] “Korea’s Green New Deal Towards a Low Carbon Society.” ​Green Climate Fund​ , -deal.pdf. Accessed 31 Oct. 2020.
[7] Lee, Yujin. “‘그린 뉴딜형’ 미세먼지 대책의 놀라운 효과.” ​Pressian​ ,
Accessed 30 Oct. 2020.
[8] “South Korean Government Launches Plan For a Green New Deal.” ​International Institute for Sustainable Development​ , 16 July 2020, Accessed 30 Oct. 2020.
[9] “[그린뉴딜] 포스트 코로나 시대! 이제 ‘그린뉴딜’로 통한다.” ​Youtube​ , uploaded by KEI 지속가능 TV, 2 Aug. 2020, Accessed 31 Oct. 2020.