South Korea steps up fight against pollution, says problem is ‘social disaster’

South Korea’s air quality was the worst among its peers in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development as of 2017, according to data from the group. (Reuters)
Updated 13 March 2019
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South Korea steps up fight against pollution, says problem is ‘social disaster’

  • Pollution in Asia’s fourth-largest economy has been driven up by factors including coal-fired power generation and high vehicle emissions
  • Designating the issue a ‘disaster’ allows the government to use parts of its reserve funds to help respond to any damage or emergency caused by polluted air

SEOUL: South Korea on Wednesday ramped up its firepower as its battle pollution, passing a set of bills that designate the problem a ‘social disaster’ and which could unlock emergency funds to tackle the issue.
Pollution in Asia’s fourth-largest economy has been driven up by factors including coal-fired power generation and high vehicle emissions, sparking widespread concern among the public and weighing on President Moon Jae-in’s approval ratings.
Designating the issue a ‘disaster’ allows the government to use parts of its reserve funds to help respond to any damage or emergency caused by polluted air. The country’s reserve funds stand at up to 3 trillion won ($2.65 billion) this year.
Other bills that were passed included mandating that every school classroom should have an air purifier and removing a limit on sales of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vehicles, which typically produce less emissions than gasoline and diesel.
The latest bills follow previous steps to battle pollution such as capping operations at coal-fired power plants.
South Korea’s air quality was the worst among its peers in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as of 2017, according to data from the group. Its average annual exposure to fine particulate matter (PM) of less than 2.5 micrometers was 25.1 micrograms per cubic meter, slightly more than double the OECD average of 12.5.
The World Health Organization recommends that air quality standard should be no more than 10 micrograms in terms of PM 2.5 levels.
For six consecutive days in early March, high levels of concentrated pollutants enveloped most parts of South Korea.
According to a weekly poll by Gallup Korea released on March 8, President Moon’s approval rating was down by 3 percentage points from a week earlier at 46 percent.
Unless any objections are raised, it should take around 15 days for the bills to become law.
The nation’s regional neighbor China has also been fighting pollution as it tries to reverse damage from over three decades of untrammeled economic growth.


Swiss parliament backs expelling militants to states that use torture

Updated 19 March 2019
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Swiss parliament backs expelling militants to states that use torture

  • Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter told a debate in parliament that the government sympathized with proponents of the measure but its hands were tied
  • One of the convicted militants is a wheelchair-bound man found guilty in 2016 of planning terrorist attacks and helping Daesh operatives enter Switzerland

ZURICH: Switzerland’s parliament approved allowing convicted militants to be sent home to countries where they could face torture, leaving the government to decide how to implement the motion without breaking international law.
The Swiss constitution bans expelling people to countries where they might be subject to torture. But parlimament’s upper house on Tuesday narrowly adopted a motion allowing exceptions for foreign militants, as the Swiss lower house had done.
The motion stems from discontent among lawmakers over the ability of Iraqi militants convicted in Swiss courts of aiding Daesh to avoid being sent home because of the ban on exposing people to torture or other inhumane treatment.
Conservative critics say the ban has cost taxpayer money to care for convicted militants and angered citizens who say Switzerland should not have to host such people on its soil.
Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter told a debate in parliament that the government sympathized with proponents of the measure but its hands were tied.
“The security of the Swiss population has top priority but we also have to adhere to the limits of the rule of law.”
One of the convicted militants is a wheelchair-bound man found guilty in 2016 of planning terrorist attacks and helping Daesh operatives enter Switzerland. Freed from prison, he now lives in a transit center for asylum seekers and is fighting extradition.
Switzerland said this month it would not help bring home its own stranded citizens who had joined extremist forces in Syria and Iraq, insisting national security was paramount.
Switzerland is a signatory to the United Nations’ 1984 Convention against Torture, which bars expulsions of people to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing they would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
Iraq is also a party to the convention, but lacks laws or guidelines providing for judicial action when defendants allege torture or mistreatment, Human Rights Watch said in a report last year. It said torture was rampant in Iraq’s justice system.