Dangerously polluted air in South Korea currently costs the country at least 10 trillion won ($8.91 billion) a year and 6-9 million of the nation’s population could suffer premature deaths by 2060 if the bad air quality is not properly tackled, recent reports warned.
The nation has suffered from fine dust for months this year, even before yellow dust from the deserts in northern China usually hit the Korean Peninsula during the March to May spring period.
Fine particle pollutants in the air not only harm people’s health but limit their outdoor activities, consumption and industrial production, causing a wide scope of damage in various parts of the economy, a report said.
Bae Jeong-hwan, an economics professor at Chonnam National University, said air pollution causes 10-12 trillion won of damages per year, based on the assumption that 1 ton of pollutants in the air, such as fine particles, volatile organic compounds and sulfur oxides, cause damages worth 1.96 million won, 1.75 million won and 800,000 won, respectively.
“According to conservative estimates, the damage from air pollution in South Korea hovers in the 10 trillion won range, but it could become much larger considering its ripple effects on consumption and industrial activity,” Bae was quoted by Yonhap News Agency as saying.
“It also has a negative impact on the quality of life.”
Seoul’s air quality Tuesday recorded the second most dangerous figure among major metropolitan cities in the world, next to New Delhi, according to air quality monitoring website AirVisual.
Even the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned in a report that air pollution could result in the premature deaths of 6 to 9 million South Koreans and cause annual economic damage of 2.6 trillion won by 2060.
According to the report, South Korea is projected to lose 1,109 people to early deaths per 1 million people in 2060 -- the only OECD member to exceed 1,000 -- if the country does not make serious efforts to improve air quality.
Social and economic costs from the bad air quality will reach $500 per year per person, which would amount to 22.4 trillion won of economic damage in 2060, the OECD said.
The Korean government attributes 50-70 percent of the fine dust to local factors such as dust from construction sites, exhaust from old diesel cars and the illegal burning of waste, with the remaining 30-50 percent arising from China.
Kim Jeong-in, an economics professor at ChungAng University, said that while the problem originates both here and from China, the Korean government should replace old coal power plants with natural gas powers as well as induce consumers to replace diesel cars with green ones.
“Korea should also suggest to China that the two countries jointly research air pollution and share open data on fine particles. That way, we can pressure China to pay for its own production of the fine dust,” Kim told The Korea Herald.
By Kim Yoon-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org)