A South Korean campaigner of the Global Air Pollution Unit under Greenpeace East Asia has shared his country’s experience in tackling bad air quality with Tuoi Tre News, at a time when airborne fine dust has been posing public health risks to urbanites in Vietnam.
Minwoo Son has experience in reducing particulate pollution of PM2.5, the amount of tiny particulate matter under 2.5 micrograms found in every cubic meter of air, in South Korea.
PM is reportedly the deadliest form of air pollution due to their ability to penetrate deep into the lungs and blood streams unfiltered.
Experts warned during a conference in Hanoi in February that the increasing amount of airborne fine dust has been posing public health risks to people in the Vietnamese capital and Ho Chi Minh City in recent times.
A number of Hanoi people experienced dust-related breathing difficulty and coughing when a high traffic volume was noticed in January, resulting in a concentration of tiny dust particles that was at some points double Vietnam’s maximum safety limit and exceeded the WHO ceiling by four times, according to the pundits.
They said at the same conference that particulate pollution is also worrisome in Ho Chi Minh City even though it is not as severe as in Hanoi.
Greenpeace East Asia is one of the regional chapters of Greenpeace, an independent global campaigning organization that acts to change attitudes and behavior, protect and conserve the environment and promote peace.
How South Korean people began to be aware of the issue of PM2.5 pollution? How did Greenpeace bring this awareness to authorities and members of the public?
PM2.5 air pollution in South Korea became a major environmental issue in around 2013, driven by rising public concerns about bad air quality. However, there were at that time many misunderstandings around PM2.5 air pollution and existing policy loopholes due to the lack of information.
From 2015, the Seoul office of Greenpeace focused on raising public/social awareness to push the South Korean government to take the right measures on PM2.5 pollution in the country.
At the same time, Greenpeace conducted a joint study with Harvard University on the public health impacts of PM2.5 in South Korea, to make society aware of the importance of taking action on pollution reduction.
In addition, we also asked the governments to follow the following demands for PM2.5 reduction.
1. Maintain active communication with the public on correct information and status of PM2.5 air pollution in South Korea
2. Reduce coal consumption, regulate major PM2.5 sources, particularly those in the power generation and other industrial sectors
3. Strengthen PM2.5 standards based on WHO guidelines
4. Add more PM2.5 real-time monitoring systems in the country
What lessons Vietnam should take seriously to tackle PM2.5 pollution?
According to the State of Global Air study, exposure to PM2.5 pollution was attributed to 27,500 premature deaths in Vietnam in 2017. Vietnam can save lives by taking action on air pollution.
First of all, understanding the situation and identifying PM2.5 sources are urgent and essential. Vietnam has quite few PM2.5 monitoring stations. To determine the status and causes of pollution, it is necessary that PM2.5 monitoring stations be installed nationwide.
Next is taking action. Vietnam’s standards on PM2.5 should be strengthened based on WHO guidelines. Moreover, emission standards for power plants, industries and transportations should also be strengthened.
However, the most critical action to improve air quality is to shift to renewable energy by phasing out fossil fuel consumption in Vietnam. Fossil fuel burning is a significant contributor to air pollution in the world.
South Korea is also taking action to reduce fossil fuel consumption, and shifting to renewable energy with solar photovoltaics and wind-based power generation. It's not only beneficial to the environment but also helpful to the future economy and industry. Shifting to renewable energy will also mitigate air pollution and climate change.
What are the aspects that a comprehensive program or a national strategy to tackle PM2.5 pollution must cover?
To reduce PM2.5 pollution, it's essential to reduce other air pollutants at the same time, because the PM2.5 dust particles are not only directly emitted from the stacks of power plants and factories or vehicles, but they can also be formed as a result of the chemical reactions of other pollutants in the air.
It means holistic measures are required on various sources of air pollution including power plants, factories, and the transportation and agriculture sectors when it comes to taking action for better air quality.
Also, air pollution is not only a domestic but also a global environmental issue, as the (polluted) air can travel thousands of kilometers, across borders of nations, when carried by the winds.
Transboundary air pollution is one of the significant contributors to PM2.5 pollution in one certain country. It's critical that one nation cooperate with neighboring countries on policy and information sharing to reduce such contamination.
When it comes to tackling bad air quality, some might not want to give up the convenience of driving their personal motorbikes, while the government insists on relying on coal power for economic development. What are the possible solutions to this?
People exposed to air pollution have an increased risk of death from lung cancer, stroke, heart disease, respiratory diseases, and other serious illnesses.
WHO data shows that nine out of ten people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. Outdoor air pollution alone presents the world’s 4th leading contributing cause of early deaths, and these losses are estimated to burden the global economy with a staggering annual cost of US$225 billion.
These figures prove that air pollution affects not only public health but also the country's economy. Also, the impacts of air pollution are fairly harmful to everyone because everyone shares the same air. In this reason, the efforts for reducing air pollution can never be compromised.
Some people are concerned that we need to give up convenience and economic development to improve air quality. However, we don't have to, as there are other solutions, including renewable energy which doesn't emit air pollution and greenhouse gas but will support our future society and economic growth.
The global renewable energy market is fast growing. Also, technology development is advanced enough to replace conventional energy - fossil fuels. Already, over 170 global companies like Samsung and Apple have announced 100 percent renewable energy targets for their energy supply. Conventional cars fueled by oil and gas are also being replaced by electric vehicles. For clean air, people don't have to give up convenience and development.
In South Korea, just like other countries around the world, the fossil fuel industry is going against global efforts to improve air quality.
However, the government should keep the right direction for public health while maintaining enough communication with the public, to phase out the culprit of air pollution, which is fossil fuel.