South Korea

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Environmental Law

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Environmental Crime Legal Framework in South Korea

The constitution of South Korea contains provisions for the protection of the environment. Article 35 reads:

  • All citizens shall have the right to a healthy and pleasant environment. The State and all citizens shall endeavor to protect the environment.
  • The substance of the environmental right shall be determined by law.
  • The State shall endeavor to ensure comfortable housing for all citizens through housing development policies and the like.
  • Featured Legislation

    2002: The Act on the Promotion of Saving and Recycling Resources was passed. This Act provides for the promotion of the recycling of resources, the proper treatment of wastes and the efficient use of resources. The Act consists of 5 Chapters divided into 42 articles: General provisions (I); Facilitation of recycling of resources, etc. (II); Recycling business mutual aid cooperatives (III); Establishment of foundation for facilitation of recycling of resources (IV); Supplementary provisions (V).

    2004: The Natural Environment Conservation Act was signed. This Act aims at the conservation and management of the natural environment by protecting the environment from artificial damage, conserving the ecosystem and natural scenery, etc.

    2005: The Water Quality and Ecosystem Conservation Act was approved. The purpose of the present Act is to prevent people’s health and environment from being exposed to harm and danger caused by water pollution and to properly manage and preserve water quality and aquatic ecosystems of the public waters, including rivers, lakes and marshes, etc. in order to enable people to enjoy benefits accruing from measures, and hand down such benefits to our future generations. The text consists of 82 sections divided into 9 chapters as follows: General provisions (I); Preservation in water quality and aquatic ecosystem in public waters (II); Control of point pollution sources (III); Control of nonpoint pollution sources (IV); Control of water pollution sources (V); Wastewater treatment business (VI); Supplementary provisions (VII); Penal provisions (VIII).

    2007: The Clean Air Conservation Act was introduced. The purpose of this Act is to prevent air pollution and to manage and preserve the atmospheric environment.

    2010: The Framework Act on Low Carbon, Green Growth was established. This Act aims to promote the development of the national economy by laying down the foundation necessary for low carbon, green growth and by utilizing green technology and green industries which shall minimize the emission of greenhouse gasses and the discharge of pollutants.

    2014: The Act on Liability for Environmental Damage and Relief Thereof, enacted in 2014, was instituted. The legislation defines the term ‘environmental damage’ as damage (including a series of damages with the same cause) inflicted on the life, body (including mental harm) or property of any third person by air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, marine pollution, noise, vibration or other causes that occur from installing and operating a facility, except the damage inflicted on a business owner and the damage suffered by employees during the course of business. To provide prompt and adequate relief to the victims, the Act on Liability for Environmental Damage and Relief Thereof introduced strict liability, an obligation for business owners to have environmental liability insurance, presumption of causal relationship, the right to request information and payment of relief money to the victims of environmental damage. However, the Act on Liability for Environmental Damage and Relief Thereof also stipulated a liability cap for compensation, as it may impose too much of a burden on business owners with strict liability, among others, with exceptions for the presumption of a causal relationship.

    2017: The Environmental Impact Assessment Act (EIAA) was promulgated. The purpose of this Act is to promote environment-friendly, sustainable development and healthy and pleasant life of citizens by forecasting and assessing the environmental impacts of a plan or project and by formulating measures for environmental conservation when a plan or project that has an environmental impact is formulated and implemented.

    Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

    • Byungsu Kim, according to the US government, is an “international succulent trafficker”, perhaps the most notorious houseplant poacher in the world. Kim pleaded guilty to taking more than 3,700 wild dudleya plants from California state parks and attempting to export them to South Korea in March 2022. American prosecutors argued that Kim’s claims of ignorance regarding laws prohibiting the exportation of plants were ludicrous. He had already fled prosecution once, escaping on foot from the US into Mexico in 2019. He had later been arrested in South Africa for illegally harvesting more than 2,000 rare succulents, including some more than a hundred years old. A South Korean farmer, Kim studied agriculture in college, and ended up on the run from US agents in the early 2000s. Kim has been known to use the alias “Neo”, which he used to export 259 pounds of dudleya in San Diego. California game wardens started going after plant thieves in 2018 after succulent thefts exploded in both California and the Western Cape of South Africa – regions with similar Mediterranean-style climates, which made them succulent poaching hotspots. The most popular plant being smuggled is Dudleya farinosa, the type of dudleya most sought after by California poachers. They are pretty and small, very fragile and yet curiously resilient. Their common name, “liveforevers”, is said to have been given to them by 19th-century European naturalists, who were shocked to find samples of the plant still alive after months-long ocean voyages. Dudleya do not thrive in domestic captivity. While some dudleya are quite common, many species grow in only a few places, and some were already threatened by two of California’s most persistent dangers: wildfire and luxury development.

    References and Further Reading


    Ministry of Environment: