Environmental governance in NE Asia (43)
By Rep. Choo Mi-ae
As can be seen in the transport of yellow dust from China and the crisis last year over the nuclear disaster at Fukushima in Japan, there are significant geographical implications in terms of the environment.
In the Northeast Asian region, in particular as it is obvious, there are no national boundaries when it comes to the impact that environmental problems can have.
These are issues of enormous environmental significance that have to be addressed at the regional level.
The yellow dust and other air-polluting materials that originate from the deserts of China and Mongolia have been affecting people in not only Korea and Japan but countries in the Pacific region, resulting in respiratory problems as well as conjunctivitis, a type of ailment for the eyes.
Making matters worse, the transportation of micro dust particles from the areas are believed to cause acid rain causing severe problems to livestock.
According to a recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the number of people dying prematurely due to microdust is expected to reach 36 million a year by 2050.
Owing to the fact that the phenomenon is proven to affect elderly citizens by a two- to three-fold margin, this development will have particularly severe implications for Korea and Japan where aging is more significant than in other countries.
Environmental accidents The earthquake last year in Japan, followed by a massive tsunami, caused radiation to spread not only in Japan but into the East Sea and the Okhotsk region, threatening ecology across a wide-ranging area.
Owing to the seriousness of the radioactive penetration in the region, Korea and Russia have been working together to monitor the situation and ongoing developments.
There are also efforts to prevent the infiltration of radioactive food materials from Japan in various countries as a primary preventive measure against the spread of radioactive pollution The implications from what happened pointed to the need to establish a comprehensive environmental governance to cover health, food safety and proper regulation in economic activities and trade.
In other words, there needs to be more than NOWPAP (Northwest Pacific Action Plan) of the UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) to deal with the wide variety of issues that we are facing.
From health issues and food safety, to trade regulations, there must be a multispectrum environmental governance to address the range of problems.
Unfortunately, the reality is that environmental governance in the Northeast Asian region is not as effective as it is other regions of the world.
According to scholars and academics, the main reason for this is political diversity among affected countries and different levels of economic development.
There are also uncomfortable truths pertaining to historical experiences and the simple fact that civic societies in these countries have not reached a level of maturity.
The specific nature of the political, economic and historical past makes it difficult to create a common platform for environmental coexistence.
FTAs and the environment
From another perspective, the order of the Free Trade Agreement, which is basically puts the United States in the central role, makes it even more difficult to find common ground for environmental governance in Northeast Asia.
In the 1990s, the World Trade Organization (WTO) played a critical role in bringing about a conclusion to the negotiations of the Uruguay Round for free multilateral trade activities.
On the part of the United States, it was apparently disappointed in not being able to promote its interest and thus provide better conditions for developing countries.
As a result, Washington avoided multilateral negotiations and engaged more aggressively in exclusive agreements that such free trade accords.
The main purpose of pursuing bilateral negotiations can only be seen as targeting its role in the regional existence of the Northeast Asian region, the result of which has been the FTA between the United States and the projected conclusion of a similar agreement between Korea and China.
In most cases, FTAs are focused on cutting trade tariffs and removing barriers for the movement of goods and services among the countries concerned and there are usually not many
However, in the case of the Korea-U.S.
FTA, there have been in-depth discussions about the impact the agreement will have on the environment.
The agreement was designed to protect environmental laws and make the process transparent so that anything that occurs through the FTA will have to be within the confines of environmental regulations All issues pertaining to the environment involving the implementation of the FTA was to be closely examined for any violation.
Similarly, issues such as environmental implications and intellectual property rights will have to be taken seriously, as with the joint development of resources.
There are common areas of concern, including pollution in the western coastal areas, the transportation of yellow dust and the possibility of accidents at nuclear power plants.
The Korean government is determined that these environmental issues are addressed in a proper manner when discussing free trade and other related issues.
But environmental considerations go beyond national boundaries and now greater efforts have to be made to pursue common values. From this perspective, there are limits to pursuing free trade agreements and this limitation will continue to exist as we continue seek ways of improving bilateral trade relations.
Environmental implications From this perspective, the environmental governance in the European Union is a model to be emulated.
The European Union established a pan- European environmental body in August 1994 to pursue the development of environment- friendly technologies.
At the same time, the European Union set up the European Environmental Agency (EEA) in Denmark to engage in close cooperation with international environmental organizations.
In particular, the European Union introduced the Environmental Information and Observation Network (EIONET) in 1993 which was specifically designed to reduce ineffective environmental policies.
Where environmental policies are concerned, there is nothing more important than bilateral and international cooperation.
And this is what the European Union is doing well.
In addressing the issue of coexistence, we must accept the fact that preventive steps have to be taken and that damage from environmental pollution must be paid by the polluters.
In this argument, the establishment of environmental governance is important, from establishing preventive measures to discussing the necessity of polluters to take responsibility.
During a meeting of environment ministers in Japan in 2010, a 10-step cooperative initiative was adopted for the environmental government in the Northeast Asian region.
Accordance to officials of the Environment Ministry of Korea, the initiative was under study for implementation although there is no specific timeline.
However, it is high time that stronger steps are taken to prepare against natural disasters and present preventive measures for protecting food safety and health by assuming a leading role in introducing effective and relevant environmental governance in Northeast Asia.
Environmental laws are a complex, interlocking body of statutes, encompassing common law, treaties, conventions, regulations and policies to protect the people’s right to a healthy and pleasant environment and to protect the natural environment, in accordance with the Article 35 of the Constitutional Law of the Republic of Korea.
Environmental issues are closely related to land, energy and industrial policies. Therefore, it is appropriate to understand environmental laws as a broad concept when it comes to preservation and improvements made to the overall environment.
Starting with the enactment and promulgation of the Environmental Pollution Prevention Act in 1963, which was designed to deal with environmental pollution generated from the state-led industrialization efforts in the 1960s, including the first round of 5-year economic development projects, the government has introduced various environmental policies.
Since 2000, the government has established the foundation for precautionary measures to protect the environment, breaking away from the conventional end-of-pipe environmental management approach. Through this effort, the number of environmental laws regulated by the Ministry of Environment has grown to a total of 46, along with the diversification and specialization of management targets.