Northeast Asia has a high population density and the emission of pollutants in the region is expected to increase in the future with rapid expansion of industrial facilities. The region is also vulnerable to the impact of Yellow dust. Since the pollutants react, dissipate, and travel far distances in the region, no country or city in Northeast Asia is immune to such pollutants. Therefore, efforts by one particular city can only do so much to reduce air pollution. Close cooperation between neighboring countries and cities where the pollutants originate from is crucial to tackle air pollution in Northeast Asia.
Seoul Leads Efforts to Boost Air Quality of Northeast Asia
Building a Network among Cities
Domestically, Seoul Metropolitan Government established a broad network in various fields of environment by working through the Committee on Metropolitan Atmospheric Environment Management. Internationally, SMG held seminars and international forums and released agreements with overseas cities in an effort to build a strong network among cities in Northeast Asia to ultimately improve the air quality of the region.
Hosting Seminars on Improving Air Quality of Northeast Asia
Since 2010, SMG held an annual seminar on improving the air quality of Northeast Asia and invited major cities in the region to discuss ways to strengthen cooperation and boost the air quality. The first seminar which was jointly hosted with the Korean Society of Atmospheric Environment and the Korean Society of Environmental Health brought together experts and public servants from Korea, China, Japan, and the United States. Representatives from major cities of Northeast Asia recognized the collateral impact of air pollution arising from each city and the need to closely work together to tackle the problem. In the second seminar held in 2011, participating cities announced a joint declaration on strengthening partnership between the cities. Then in the third seminar in 2013, public servants and experts from Korea, China, and Japan gathered together and stressed the need for a cooperative network to improve the air quality of Northeast Asia.
To encourage participation from more cities and prompt discussions on substantial measures to improve air quality, SMG changed the name of the forum to “Seoul International Forum on Air Quality Improvement” in 2014. The Forum was jointly hosted by SMG, Metropolitan Air Quality Management Office, ICLEI East Asian Headquarters, and Korean Society of Atmospheric Environment. The Forum was composed of panel discussions among experts from Korea, China, and Japan, announcement of a joint declaration, and an exhibition to display eco-friendly technologies. The 2014 Forum was particularly meaningful as 13 cities in Northeast Asia put forward reduction targets and action plans and agreed to work towards a common goal as part of the joint declaration.
Signing Memorandum of Understanding to Enhance Collaboration in Improving Air Quality
In February 2014, Seoul signed the first Memorandum of Understanding to enhance collaboration in improving air quality with Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Then, SMG signed a similar MOU with Beijing in April, Shandong Province in June, and Hong Kong in September, laying the foundation to strengthen cooperation with major cities in Northeast Asia. As such, Seoul city government is working through bilateral and multilateral channels to boost the air quality of Seoul so that the citizens can feel safer.
Strengthening Cooperation with Overseas Cities
Laying the Foundation for Continuous Cooperation
From 2015, a consultative body will be created among cities in Northeast Asia to host the Forum on a regular basis. Seoul, Beijing, and Tokyo agreed to take turns hosting the Forum and are in the process of discussing the expansion of the Forum to invite mayors of major cities around the world. Also, a joint fund will be created to conduct joint research on the progress of reduction efforts by each city to identify pollutants that travel far distances and initiate new projects to analyze the health impact of air pollution. In addition, a website will be set up to facilitate discussions among participating cities and share information on best practices or joint research and project opportunities. A newsletter that introduces best practices of Seoul or overseas cities and relevant information about atmospheric environment will be sent to participating cities on a regular basis to encourage continuous cooperation.
Exporting Korea’s Green Technology
Seoul Metropolitan Government will monitor the progress of air pollutant reduction efforts by each city through online and offline channels to encourage active participation. Also, SMG plans to send a delegation composed of representatives from enterprises with advanced technology, members of the Korean Society of Atmospheric Environment, and public servants of SMG to cities overseas in order to boost export of advanced eco-friendly technologies from the private sector.