The Politics of Fine Dust

The Politics of Fine Dust

This March the Seoul metropolitan government issued a fine dust alert for five days in a row for the first time after the system was introduced in 2017. When the alert is issued, anti-dust measures are also enforced in Seoul and the Gyunggi province. Construction sites are shut down, and trucks cannot drive around the city. A Noticeably growing number of people on the streets are wearing masks now, and it is also partially due to the increased awareness of the severity of the situation.

People’s attention grew significantly in the recent few years, and the popular narrative for the air quality is that it is China to blame. Major Korean medias repetitively report the changing directions of the wind and China’s ignorance on the issue. Unfortunately, nobody -not even the experts- really knows how much it is for Korea to blame China. Seasonal factors change the Chinese influence significantly, and there is not enough research to calculate the precise percentage of the impact.

Another tendency of many Korean articles, mainly the conservative papers, was that they heavily criticized the current government’s inability to negotiate with China and make the situation better. ‘China is eager to solve its fine dust problems when the Korean government is practically doing nothing’, ‘the Korean government says the situation is catastrophic and does nothing’, ‘the government is waiting for the wind to blow’. (Chosun, 2019)These are some quotes from an opinion article in one of the leading newspaper companies in Korea.

But is the government really doing nothing? President Moon Jae-in brought the fine dust issue to the discussion table with Xi Jin Ping for the first time on November 18thlast year. The parliament recognized the severity and the public concern about the situation and passed the law to include air pollution as a national disaster on March. Also, as an additional effort to solve the issue on a global level, the Moon government initiated a national organization to cluster the resource and power. Ban Ki-moon, the former UN secretary general who is known to have contributed in making the Paris agreement, was appointed as the chair. Joint research with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was conducted on 2016  (Yonhap, Korea Herald, 2019),  and the government pushed the second round to begin this year. Local governments are also putting more effort. The Seoul metropolitan government tries to reduce dust from old diesel cars and boilers, which are the two major creators of the dust in the city.

The conservative party mostly blames the government for the increased number of coal power plants, pointing out that the government is only scratching the surface by trying to look like they are interested in solving the issue when in fact they are worsening the situation. While it is true that there are more coal plants being built in Korea, with a closer look at the government announcements, we can see that the plan is to shut down old power plants with low efficiency and replace them with the new ones. (Yonhap, S. Korea to close old coal power plants in March-June to reduce fine dust, 2019)

However, aside from the political propagandas on the issue, we do have to admit that the current pollution is not entirely because of the somewhat demonized neighbor country. There are days when the air stays stagnant -when there is little to none inflow from China- and the pollution level rises significantly. It is some part true that we just ‘wait for the wind to blow’ in those situations. Regardless of the research conclusion this year with NASA, we would have to decrease the dust generation level inside the nation itself. Or from a bigger picture, pollution in general.

Works Cited

Chosun. (2019, 03 06). [사설] 사상최악세계최악미세먼지, 바람불기만기다리는나라. Retrieved from

News, C. D. (2019, 03 06). Retrieved 03 2019

Yonhap. (2019, 03 17). Korea Herald. Retrieved from

Yonhap. (2019, 02 28). S. Korea to close old coal power plants in March-June to reduce fine dust. Retrieved from