The Republic of Korea has recently turned to some high-tech devices in its ongoing fight against air pollution.
Last month, 5G-enabled autonomous robots began rolling through an industrial complex in the country’s south to monitor air quality. This week, thousands of miles above them, a Korean satellite began offering real-time air quality data to the public.
The machines are the latest additions to a state-of-the-art arsenal the country has deployed to fight its notorious air pollution.
Now, a new partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Republic of Korea’s Capital Metropolitan Area, which includes Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi province, will help officials expand their efforts to tackle air pollution and share their best practices with other regions suffering from poor air quality.
“Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi-do have found it beneficial to cooperate to improve air quality in our shared region,” said Eui-Sik Uhm, Director General for Environment and Energy with the Seoul Metropolitan Government. “We will continue to work together to advance air pollution improvement technologies and policies, and hope that this knowledge will serve other areas around the world suffering from the same issues.”
Asia and the Pacific is at the center of a public health crisis, with about 4 billion people exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution. It is a problem felt acutely in the Republic of Korea, where the mean exposure of the population to a toxic particle known as PM2.5 is the highest of any state in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. PM2.5 levels in Seoul, the capital, are about twice those of other major cities in developed countries, though some particulate levels have been dropping in recent years.
Partnerships like this are critical to fighting air pollution.
There is also a growing concern that air pollution could exacerbate COVID-19-related health issues.
In 2003, Seoul, Incheon, and Gyeonggi-do were designated as one air quality control zone, or “airshed”. Since then, the area’s governments have jointly developed a toolbox of measures to combat air pollution, which mainly stems from diesel vehicles, construction, business facilities, heating and air conditioning. The region introduced an emissions cap-and-trade system, which was expanded to four other regions in April 2020. The capital-area governments have also introduced restrictions on high-emissions vehicles and launched a seasonal fine dust management system, among other initiatives.
The new partnership with UNEP will tally the lessons learned over the last 15 years by Seoul, Incheon, and Gyeonggi-do on improving air quality and help share these experiences with other cities in the region. The concentrations of PM2.5 and another toxic particle, PM10, in the Capital Metropolitan Region have decreased since 2003 due to a reduction in emissions. An important factor of this success has been the cooperation between Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi province, say observers.
Large UNEP-managed fora, like the United Nations Environment Assembly and the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, offer opportunities to spread the word of best practices from the Republic of Korea.
“Partnerships like this are critical to fighting air pollution,” said Dechen Tsering, UNEP’s Regional Director and Representative for Asia and the Pacific. “This supports UNEA Resolution 3/8 on air pollution. Most importantly, sharing stories and best practices can help inspire other cities and countries in their efforts to implement their own clean air solutions.”
The partnership with the Capital Metropolitan Area is part of a broader effort by UNEP to combat air pollution in the Asia-Pacific region. UNEP supports the development of national and subnational action plans and policies on air quality while helping to reduce pollution from key sectors, such as transport. In 2018, for example, UNEP and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition identified 25 measures that can address the main sources of fine particulate matter and ground-level ozone, a key component of smog, in the Asia-Pacific region. At the request of cities and municipalities, UNEP also studies the effectiveness of local efforts to improve air quality.
Hero image © Ciaran O’Brien via Unsplash
Story cross-posted from UNEP