To combat fine dust, gov’t focuses on diesel cars

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To combat fine dust, gov’t focuses on diesel cars

The government is introducing emergency measures to tackle fine-dust pollution, including cutting the number of diesel vehicles on Korea’s roads.

There were 32 fine dust advisories issued between Nov. 3 and 6 across the country. Advisories are issued when the concentration of fine dust particles exceeds 150 micrograms per cubic meter.

A policy coordination meeting Thursday, hosted by Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, settled on a series of measures to address the root causes of fine dust.

“Various factors contribute to fine dust, including domestic factors like power generation, industry, transportation and construction,” Lee said. “Emissions from neighboring countries contribute as well. I hope the Ministry of Environment and other relevant agencies can introduce strengthened measures to reduce fine dust and bring about noticeable changes.”

The repeal of a “clean diesel policy” was one of the strongest measures announced that day. Enacted in 2009, the policy granted tangible benefits to owners of around 950,000 low-emission diesel vehicles, including discounts on parking fees and tolls.

Though diesel cars were encouraged when first introduced to Korea in the early 2000s because they were believed to produce less air pollution than gasoline vehicles, the government now wants to encourage zero-emission vehicles that run on sustainable energy sources like electricity and hydrogen instead. A recent Ministry of Environment study found that diesel cars were responsible for 92 percent of all fine dust created by vehicles.

The government vowed to take the lead, and all vehicles purchased by public institutions will be non-diesel by 2030. It also promised to give hundreds of millions of won in subsidies to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) that replace old diesel trucks with less polluting liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) trucks.

The government also said that, starting in February, it will enforce the so-called odd-even license plate policy for all cars on days with high fine dust levels.

The policy, which dictates that cars with license plates ending in even numbers can be driven on even number dates, while those ending in odd numbers can only be driven on odd number dates, was only applied to public officials before.

Other measures include raising fuel taxes on coal and continuing to shut down coal-powered thermal power plants from March to June.

Last spring, the government closed five coal-fired power plants in South Chungcheong, South Gyeongsang and Gangwon when fine dust levels were at their highest. The closings worked.

Concentrations of atmosphere particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers in South Chungcheong decreased by 24.1 percent this March to June compared to the same periods in 2015 and 2016 on average according to the Ministry of Environment.

Lee also called for strengthened cooperation with China to tackle the air pollution problem.

The two countries established a center for environmental cooperation in June to conduct joint research on fine dust. The government also vowed to work with other neighboring countries including North Korea for cleaner air on the peninsula.

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