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April Policy Report. Submission to Policy Process. Dust and sand storms DSS, also referred to as yellow dust or Asian dust constitute one of the major environmental concerns in the region. Originating principally in arid areas such as Inner Mongolia in China and the Gobi Desert in Mongolia as well as increasingly north-eastern China , wind-borne dust particles are carried east affecting not only China, but also the Korean Peninsula and Japan. The main cause of DSS is the rapid expansion of desertification in China and Mongolia, which has been accelerated by the degradation of land from overgrazing by livestock, deforestation, the gathering of fuel-wood, and mismanagement of water resources.
In China alone, areas prone to desertification account for As a result, affected lands are more susceptible to wind erosion. DSS have significant impacts on human health they are linked to respiratory and skin diseases , the environment, and the economy; such storms may damage buildings and land, as well as paralyze infrastructure such as transportation hubs in particular airports , communication networks, and power and water supply systems.
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This is further exacerbated when combined with anthropogenic air pollutants such as sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and heavy metals. South Korea is one of the countries most affected by DSS. As a consequence, 4, kindergartens and schools were closed; flights were canceled; and a number of factories were forced to cease operations.
Japan is also affected by such storms, although not as severely as South Korea. The occurrence of DSS, moreover, is on the rise. It is calculated that the annual frequency of DSS in Seoul has more than tripled from 3. Furthermore, whereas in the past such storms principally occurred in the spring with the thawing of the land after winter, they are now occurring in the autumn as well due to the influence of climate change. Unlike dust and sand storms, fine dust, an air pollutant which was included as a Group 1 Carcinogen in by the World Health Organization WHO , primarily originates from the combustion of fossil fuels from coal-fired thermal power plants and transportation.
In particular, ultrafine dust known as PM2. An additional issue is acid deposition or rain which is also a consequence of anthropogenic air pollution albeit whose impact is less documented than other regions. According to a study conducted by the research organization Berkeley Earth in , it is estimated that 17 percent of all deaths in China are attributable to air pollution.
According to a report of the Long-range Transboundary Air Pollutants project, China accounts for approximately 70 percent of atmospheric nitrogen oxides NOx , especially during the winter season. Although China is attempting to reduce air pollution by, for example, setting a reduction target of PM2. All seas are witnessing increasing levels of marine degradation. Harmful algal blooms or eutrophication cause massive deaths of fish and other marine animals by oxygen depletion known as hypoxia and the toxins produced. Such blooms are in turn caused by the abundance of nutrients from rivers and air, such as nitrogen and phosphorous substances, which flow into the sea.
This phenomenon also represents a threat to human health through bio accumulation of toxins in the food chain. Due to the substantial contribution of air pollution to the increasing influx of nutrients, the occurrence of algal blooms is projected to increase. Oil and Hazardous Noxious Substances HNS spills are another environmental hazard significantly damaging marine ecosystems. Between and , a total of oil and HNS spills were recorded in the region.
The main cause of spills is through ship-to-ship collisions, partly due to the high shipping density in Northeast Asian seas, in particular in the Yellow Sea. Furthermore, marine biodiversity in the region is also decreasing over time. It is estimated that 60 of species are at risk of extinction. Invasion of alien species, overfishing, warming sea temperatures, and aquaculture are the key contributing factors. Indeed, the fast growth of fishery and aquaculture in the region is profoundly changing the ecosystem and food chain patterns.
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The annual fish catch in the Yellow Sea, for instance, has steeply increased from 0. Finally, marine litter is a significant problem in Northeast Asian seas. The effects are predominantly three-fold: it pollutes marine waters and coastlines, diminishes marine productivity through blocking sunlight, and represents a threat to flora and fauna that may consume it.
It is reported that items of marine litter per m2 are washed up monthly in Korean seas. Between 1.
While not treated here in depth, in addition to the above challenges, greenhouse gas GHG emissions and the emerging issue of hazardous chemicals also necessitate cooperative responses from all countries of the region. In the case of GHG emissions, Northeast Asian countries should share a substantial burden in the fight against climate change since they significantly contribute to global GHG emissions. In , China, Japan, and South Korea ranked 1st, 5th, and 10th in terms of global carbon dioxide emissions with 27, 3. As Northeast Asian countries are dependent on high-CO2-emitting industries, cooperation over GHG reduction is of pivotal importance globally as well as regionally.
Hazardous chemicals represent another regionwide concern. The most recent case was the chemical explosion in Tianjin, China, in August , which gave rise to fears of toxic chemical migration to neighboring counties. In sum, all the environmental challenges identified above show some common features: their impacts are transboundary, it is difficult to address the problems through exclusively unilateral efforts, and the region bears responsibility for placing a heavy burden on the regional and global environment. This is why such challenges necessitate targeted actions within a cooperative framework among the Northeast Asian countries.
Existing fora and mechanisms to deal with environmental issues in the region are outlined below as well as their main limitations identified. Attempts at environmental cooperation in Northeast. Multilateral Environmental Cooperation Asia — both bilateral and multilateral — already stretch back several decades. The Symposium of South Korea-Japan Environmental Science took place in and was the first environmental forum in the region; two experts from China also participated as guests.
Its participation was extended to nations such as China, Mongolia, and Russia, and its participants ranged from central and local government officials, to non-governmental organizations and scientists. Environmental cooperation is presently proceeding along two main axes: multilateral bodies and bilateral initiatives between nations.
The main multilateral bodies are considered first. NEASPEC is involved in dealing with various environmental issues such as transboundary air pollution, DSS and desertification, nature conservation, marine protection, as well as establishing eco-efficient partnerships. One of the most significant projects under NEASPEC involved collaboration on mitigation of transboundary air pollution from coal-fired power plants between and One is the inconsistency of the responsible bodies in the different countries.
In the case of China, North Korea, and South Korea, responsibility falls within the foreign ministries, while in Japan, Mongolia, and Russia the main ministry responsible is the environment ministry. This serves to impede communication and slows down the decision-making process. However, the Bohai Sea, the most polluted waterbody in the area, is significantly not included. Accordingly, NOWPAP functions as an information hub for marine pollution, national legislation and policy on oceans, joint monitoring projects, and response to ocean pollution such as oil spill accidents.
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In spite of being guided by a mid-term strategy MTS and annual action plans, it has not developed targets or indicators enabling accurate assessments of the quality level of the marine environment. Furthermore, in terms of outputs, the performance of NOWAP has been rather underwhelming; in over twenty years since its establishment, an assessment on the holistic status of the marine environment of the seas has been published only twice, in and Running two secretariats, partly due to competition between Japan and South Korea, is contributing to budget shortages to some extent.
In view of a lack of funding and capacity, two important projects — one regarding ballast water which is considered to be a carrier of alien species, and one tackling climate change impacts — have been suspended since when the MTS was adopted. On the occasion of the first NEAC meeting in October , Japan announced the necessity of cooperation among East Asian nations to monitor acid deposition also known as acid rain. After several years of negotiations and preparatory projects, EANET was finally inaugurated in January as a formal intergovernmental network.
Its funding comes from volunteer contributions from the participating countries.
As such, EANET has successfully established a network of 56 monitoring sites across the region for acid substances such as sulfate and nitrate, and it has implemented standardized monitoring techniques which enable the comparison of national data across countries. Such mechanisms enable the monitoring, analysis, and evaluation of data on acid deposition.
However, its progress has been marginal in terms of joint-policy development, as its activities center rather on scientific research. Furthermore, its focus on acid rain the effects of which have been better documented in Europe, for instance is not a priority issues for the region. Accordingly, EANET is trying to expand its scope to include air pollution issues such as fine dust and tropospheric ozone.
However, some member states such as Malaysia are strongly opposing the shift, arguing that EANET has to focus more on capacity-building for acid deposition monitoring instead. The TEMMs are hosted by each nation on a rotating basis once a year and deal with an extensive range of environmental issues. While started as an independent project, one of the most relevant outcomes has been the LTP project, which TEMM supports, with the attending agencies of LTP being the national environmental research institutes under the environment ministries of each country.
Over more than 15 years of monitoring transboundary air pollutants since , the LTP project has developed a source-receptor relationship model and thereby analyzed the contribution of alien pollutants to national air pollution. This is significant because it forms the scientific basis for developing action plans to reduce pollution. In , furthermore, the TEMM launched a large-scale joint project against DSS consisting of a Tripartite Director-General meeting, two working groups, and a steering committee; the activities of the project included establishing monitoring and early warning networks, as well as providing scientific knowledge for decision-makers, for instance of the impacts on health.
Bilateral environmental cooperation between Northeast Asian countries began in the early s. Japan has pursued bilateral cooperation as a diplomatic measure using Official Development Assistance ODA and signing agreements on environmental cooperation with Russia in , with South Korea in , and with China in A milestone of Sino-Japanese cooperation was reached in , when the Sino-Japan Friendship Center for Environmental Protection was established thanks to Japanese funding.
South Korea established bilateral agreements on environmental cooperation with China in , and with Russia in In , the country also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Mongolia on the monitoring, research, and conservation of nature reserves. The Korea Forest Service, for instance, has launched small-scale forest plantation projects in China and Mongolia. This was instituted 10 months after the Songhua River spill accident, when tons of toxic substances including benzene leaked from a petrochemical factory explosion in Jilin, China, and flowed into Russian territory, causing water contamination and public concern in Russia.
The conservation of endangered species, in particular the Amur tiger and leopard, is another focal point: the two nations agreed to establish the first cross-boundary protection zone in in the Tumen River area. In sum, cooperation has traditionally been carried out in the form of aid from more economically developed countries, namely Japan and South Korea; however, after the mids when China experienced greater economic development, the focus of environmental cooperation in the region shifted to a greater focus on multilateral cooperation. Furthermore, while bilateral and multilateral cooperation efforts have proven largely complementary, in certain cases the former has proven a more effective tool when discussing more sensitive issues.
For example, in the case of pollution in the Yellow Sea, bilateral channels between South Korea and China have proven more effective than multilateral frameworks. As reviewed above, Northeast Asian countries have developed a variety of forms of environmental cooperation over the past decades to address the challenges facing the region. Through cooperation, some progress has been accomplished especially in joint monitoring and data-sharing projects, which forms the basis for understanding the challenges and developing policies to mitigate them.
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