Disputes related to environmental pollution have long existed in Korea, but have increased dramatically with Korea's rapid industrialization since the 1960s. The industrialization process utilized a diverse array of technologies and has been called "compressed development," with the unfortunate consequences of mass consumption and large-scale emission of pollution. It was not until the 1980s that disputes related to environmental degradation became prevalent. In cities around the country, high density of population, changes in the consumption pattern, production of garbage, waste water, and noise have made environmental degradation one of the most serious social problems in Korea.
As public awareness of environmental issues has increased in recent years, there has been a corresponding call to regulate industrial practices polluting air, water, and land. These sentiments were not publicly expressed in the past, when development was the prevailing priority. The Korean government has responded to this public agitation with the enactment of a series of laws regulating the type and amount of hazardous waste that businesses may discharge into land, air, and water, as well as the methods businesses can use to treat and dispose of those substances. This new system of laws represented a significant departure from past practices.
This chapter aims to examine the way environmental disputes are handled and resolved in Korea. First, it delineates current styles and methods of resolving environmental disputes, and suggests that Koreans tend to rely more on power than principle and on political rather than legal factors in dispute resolution. Second, the chapter will consider the development of environmental cases within the legal and political context, from the era of rapid industrialization under the military regime to the more democratized Korea, to illustrate the nature of environmental problems within the public discourse of Korea. Taking some major environmental disputes as case studies, in particular the Dong River Dam Construction and Saemangeum Reclamation Project, it tries to illuminate the relationship between the environmental consciousness of each