Seoul passes emergency bills to fight air pollution

Seoul (AFP) –


South Korea's parliament passed emergency measures on Wednesday to tackle the "social disaster" of air pollution, after the country saw record levels of pollution earlier this month.

The measures include the mandatory introduction of air purifiers in schools and day care centres, and access to an emergency fund to help tackle the issue.

The country's poor air quality has become a serious political problem for Seoul amid growing public discontent that the government is not doing enough, with many South Koreans blaming Asian neighbour China for the poor air quality.

The eight new bills designate air pollution as a "social disaster", meaning the government can use state funds and conduct extraordinary countermeasures to tackle it.

They also encourage the purchase of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cars, which emit less air pollutants than diesel and gasoline-powered vehicles and were previously only available for taxis, rental cars and disabled drivers.

China is the world's biggest polluter and according to the International Energy Agency uses coal to generate around three quarters of its energy.

Air quality in South Korea, the world's 11th largest economy, is generally better. But the concentration of fine dust particles has surged in recent weeks and reached a record high in Seoul on March 5, prompting the government to advise people to wear masks, use public transportation and avoid walking outside.

Seoul has already passed some measures in a bid to improve its air quality, including shutting down five ageing coal-fired power plants last year.