By Kim Se-jeong
The government said Tuesday it will spend 7.2 trillion won ($6.3 billion) to reduce fine dust emissions by 30 percent from the current levels by 2022.
"We have had many measures to improve air quality," said Environment Vice-Minister Ahn Byeong-ok. "But they failed because they were sporadic, unable to bring about comprehensive change. That is what we are aiming at in these plans."
President Moon Jae-in made the 30-percent reduction pledge during his campaign, and kicked off a special task force to devise comprehensive plans after his inauguration.
Overall, the Moon administration's package appears quite ambitious. Compared to the former President Park Geun-hye's plans, the reduction target is 16 percent higher — Park's plans aimed at a 14 percent reduction by 2021.
If the plans are implemented successfully, the number of days with the average particulate matter (PM) concentration at more than 50 micrometers per square meter, categorized as "bad," will be 78 by 2022, down from 258 last year. Also, Seoul's daily average PM concentration is projected to be 18 micrometers in 2022, down from 26 last year.
The most notable measure from Tuesday's announcement is to shut down seven coal-fired power plants that have operated for more than 30 years.
Moon already tested this by shutting them down temporarily in June. The temporary shutdown will continue every year at five coal power plants between March and June until 2022 when they will be gone for good.
To cope with possible electricity shortages, the government said it will offer policy support to increase the share of renewable energy by 20 percent of its energy mix by 2030 — in 2015, it was 6.4 percent. Electricity shortages are a common concern for those, mostly in the energy industry, who oppose the shutdown of existing power plants.
Nine coal power plants are currently under construction, and Tuesday's plan also disclosed how to manage them.
For four plants that are in the early stages of construction, the government will convert them to run on LNG, which is considered cleaner. For the other five, the government will leave them completed but will toughen monitoring of their emissions of fine dust and other pollutants.
The government also will toughen the standard for PM2.5 emissions, which are considered particularly harmful to human health, from the current 50 micrometers per square meter per day to 35 micrometers,.
The new plans will put more pressure on drivers of diesel vehicles manufactured before 2005. The government said it is aiming to remove 2.21 million old diesel vehicles from all roads, accounting for almost 77 percent.
They will include many school buses that mostly run on diesel. According to the plans, the government will provide financial support for the conversion of 2,600 public and private buses to cleaner engines this year and next year.
At the same time, the government will continue its push for the spread of electric and hydrogen powered vehicles, with the goal of having 2 million on the roads by 2022. To meet the challenge of charging, it will build 10,000 speed charger stations on highways, at apartments and in shopping malls.
The government said it will also push to put air pollution on the agenda of the heads of state summits between Moon and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Currently, the two country's environment ministers hold talks regularly on the topic, as well as at annual trilateral meetings among China, Japan and Korea.
Public opinion in Korea largely blames China for air pollution and criticizes the Korean government for failing to raise the issue with Beijing. One man even filed a compensation suit against the Chinese government over air pollution.