Cooperation on air pollution is key

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Cooperation on air pollution is key

It is hard to see South Korea’s famous clear, deep blue autumn skies these days because they are increasingly covered with toxic clouds of smog drifting in from the world’s biggest carbon emitter, China. According to the Ministry of Environment, smog appeared 19 times around Seoul and its satellite cities this year, compared with a total of 11 times in 2010-11 and three times last year.

Experts point to China, where masks have become commonplace this year with pollution levels reaching as high as 40 times the World Health Organization limit and smog causing school and airports to shut down due to poor visibility. Pollutant substances are blown by easterly winds and carried to Korea, yet China insists it cannot be blamed for pollution in other countries.

A research team at Seoul National University discovered by observing air movements that black carbon, a major pollutant, arrived on the Korean Peninsula with northeastern winds. According to the study, concentration of black carbon particles was measured at 85 nanograms per cubic meter when measured at an altitude of 750 meters (820 yards) in the mountain areas of Jeju Island south of the peninsula. When measured on the wind from Beijing, the scale jumped to 500 nanograms per cubic meter.

At an altitude of three kilometers, the carbon particles increased to 250 nanograms from zero. These findings suggest that some of the pollution originated in China. Experts said China is blamed for about 30 percent to 50 percent of pollutant particles in Korea.

There are no borders when it comes to polluting the atmosphere. Air pollution, in particular, can easily spread to neighboring countries. This is why one country alone cannot fight air pollution. All East Asian countries need to muster the wisdom and cooperation to jointly address China’s dust and smog.

Korea, in tripartite minister-level talks with Japan and China in May, raised the issue of policy talks to enhance air quality. First, they must hold talks to regularize communication channels necessary to jointly monitor and address air pollution problems. The three countries can share information, technology and policy actions through such channels.

The three countries then should aim to establish a joint data system to track and measure air pollutants through reliable and objective means. The three can work effectively toward finding a solution through joint study and action. When three countries work together, it would be a win-win situation for all to enjoy cleaner air.

Regional cooperation can help solve the gray air crisis in China.

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