The diesel dilemma

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The diesel dilemma

The Ministry of Environment has announced results of its emission tests of diesel cars on the road. In the tests of 20 models of diesel cars used in Korea, 19 emitted nitrogen oxide — the chemical compound with the formula NO2 — beyond their allowed levels. Nitrogen oxide is a major cause of fine dust which leads to various types of pulmonary diseases.

The ministry plans to revoke its certification of the Nissan Qashqai — a popular model sold in the local market by Nissan Korea — after it allegedly manipulated its emission standards. The ministry is set to file a complaint about the rigged results to the prosecution. Nissan Qashqai’s emission levels reached more than 20.8 times their certifed amounts. The remaining 18 models had emissions six times their approved levels.

The results of the tests are similar to what the authorities in Germany, the UK and France have found, which has once again confirmed that diesel cars discharge much more pollutants than expected. In a test in Germany, an automatic emission reduction mechanism suddenly came to a halt when outside temperatures dropped below a certain level. As such mechanisms translate into a serious loophole in controlling pollutants in the air, the international community increasingly calls for a global consensus on tougher regulations for diesel cars.

Our environment ministry has joined the move by announcing it will come up with new measures to tackle the pollution problem through consultations with related ministries after such technical problems have been discovered. Over the last years, however, diesel cars have noticeably increased in our car markets: they now account for nearly 40 percent of all new cars sold in Korea. The government also contributed to the remarkable increase in diesel cars in a big way as it arbitrarily lowered diesel prices and exempted new buyers of diesel cars from additional taxes for environmental deterioration.

In addition, given the large number of diesel cars on the road, there are substantial limits to improving our air quality through restrictions on new sales of diesel cars. As Diesel-gate spreads, European countries have been devising various regulations on diesel cars. Our government drags its feet.

The government must first take drastic actions to curtail the emissions, and local diesel car drivers must proactively participate in a campaign to reduce harmful emissions by voluntarily refraining from driving their vehicles. Without such joint efforts, we can hardly reduce air pollution from diesel cars.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 17, Page 30
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