South Korea has proposed a joint project with China to use artificial rain to clean the air in Seoul, where a sharp increase in pollution has caused alarm.
President Moon Jae-in also instructed government officials to quicken the retirement of old coal-burning power plants, according to his spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom.
Seoul has been struggling to tackle a rise in air pollution experts have linked to China’s massive industrial activity and emissions from South Korean cars.
Fine dust levels have hit new highs over the past week, prompting people to wear masks while commuting under thick grey skies that online users have compared to scenes from the movie Wall-E.
On Wednesday afternoon, the fine dust concentration level was 136 microgrammes per cubic metre in Seoul, according to the National Institute of Environmental Research, which defines levels above 75 microgrammes as “very bad”.
Na Kyung-won, of the conservative Liberty Korea Party, called for Mr Moon to designate the air pollution as a national disaster.
Ruling and opposition parties held an emergency meeting and agreed to swiftly pass bills to tackle the problem.
In a meeting with government officials, Mr Moon noted that China was “much more advanced” than South Korea in rain-making technologies and expressed hope that creating rain over water between the countries would help mitigate the air pollution, Mr Kim said.
In January, South Korea’s weather agency failed in an experiment to create artificial rain which involved an aircraft releasing chemicals into clouds over the sea.
“China has claimed that South Korea’s dust flies toward Shanghai, so creating artificial rain over the Yellow Sea would help the Chinese side too,” Mr Kim quoted the president as saying during the meeting.
Mr Moon also proposed that South Korea and China develop a joint system for issuing air pollution alerts, Mr Kim said.
The president instructed government officials to take steps to quickly close coal-burning power plants that have operated for more than 30 years and draw up an extra budget if necessary to install more air purifiers in schools and support possible joint activities with China, Mr Kim said.
In a meeting with senior Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi last year, Mr Moon said China was partially responsible for South Korea’s pollution problem and called for Beijing’s co-operation in efforts to improve air quality.