(ATTN: RECASTS 8th para for clarification; ADDS luncheon with air quality council members in last 8 paras, related photo)
By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, Dec. 3 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in called on the National Assembly on Tuesday to support the government's all-out efforts to reduce fine dust air pollution in South Korea with relevant legislation.
Speaking at a weekly Cabinet meeting, he pointed out the introduction of a "seasonal fine dust management system" mainly in Seoul and nearby metropolitan areas.
Effective from this past Sunday and slated to last through March, preliminary measures include restricting high-emission cars, mostly aged diesel-fueled ones, from running on the roads of downtown Seoul. Vehicles with odd- and even-numbered license plates are required to drive on alternate days at public agencies.
"It is the first special measure to be implemented to curb high-density fine dust," Moon said at the outset of the session, which pool reporters were allowed to cover.
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, Gyeonggi Gov. Lee Jae-myung and Incheon Mayor Park Nam-chun joined the Cheong Wa Dae meeting. The president has emphasized the importance of teamwork among central and local governments in dealing with the fine dust problem, which has plagued South Korea, especially in winter and spring.
Seoul mayors have long attended Cabinet meetings, but it's the first time for a Gyeonggi governor and an Incheon mayor to be present at the session.
"Our government has begun to manage fine dust as a national agenda, including putting the fine dust (issue) into (the category) of social disaster," Moon said.
It has enacted a special law on fine dust, launched the National Council on Climate and Air Quality and sharply raised related budgets, while strengthening environmental cooperation with China, he added.
He noted that a revision bill to the special law on fine dust is still pending at the National Assembly.
In order for the stable implementation of the government's various administrative measures, legal support is necessary, Moon said.
"I expect an early revision to the special law on fine dust," he added.
The president also hailed new legislation on changing the job status of all firefighters nationwide to that of national civil servants.
It was promulgated Tuesday before taking effect in April next year.
According to official data, only 630, or 1.2 percent, of the 52,245 firefighters across the country belonged to the central government as of 2018, while the rest were hired by local fire agencies that are supervised by local authorities.
Moon said the transformation of their job status would lead to a "big improvement" in their services and the strengthening of the national disaster response system.
"At the start of its launch, our government upgraded the National Fire Agency to an independent organization. Taking another step forward, the government now assigns the role of control tower in dealing with large disasters to it," Moon said.
Later in the day, Moon had a luncheon meeting with Ban Ki-moon, head of the National Council on Climate and Air Quality, and other members of the panel established in late April.
Moon said his administration is actively accepting measures proposed by the council, which includes the seasonal fine dust management system.
Moon's offer of designating an international clean air day, which he made during his U.N. General Assembly speech in September, was also based on the panel's suggestion.
Last month, the U.N. formally adopted a resolution on observing the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies on Sept. 7 starting next year.
People around the world will think more about the air pollution problem and explore a resolution, Moon said, calling it a fruit of efforts by Ban, former U.N. secretary general, and other members of his council.
Moon pledged the government's continued efforts for close partnerships with China and Japan in handling the fine dust issue.
He took note of the results of a joint study, released last month, which show that 32.1 percent of ultrafine dust comes from China and 2 percent from Japan.
"Now that the neighboring countries have admitted shared responsibility for fine dust, at least partially, a path to joint response has become open," the president said. "The government will endeavor more to pull off joint efforts with neighboring countries, implementing cooperative tasks discussed by the environment ministers of the three nations."
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