Beijing to spend $4m on smog modifications

BEIJING - Beijing plans to allocate 20 million yuan (S$4 million) for weather modification efforts aimed at smog reduction this year, according to the annual budget released by the capital's meteorological bureau on Monday.

It is the first time that weather modification aimed at smog reduction has been listed in the budget. The funds will be used for smog-reduction experiments and the purchase of equipment.

After Premier Li Keqiang declared "war on smog" during the just-completed annual parliamentary meeting last week, local weather and environmental authorities are taking measures to alleviate air pollution in various ways.

Beijing's environmental protection bureau plans to spend more than 14 million yuan on projects involving air pollution prevention and monitoring.

Weather modification, mainly artificial rain, may be one of the solutions for the capital's weather authorities to alleviate the frequent smoggy days in the capital and the surrounding region.

Eight cities in the region surrounding Beijing were listed among the top 10 cities with the worst air quality across China in February, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said on Tuesday.

PM 2.5, which refers to particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter that are considered extremely hazardous since they penetrate deeper into the lungs than larger particles, is the largest contributor to the region's air pollution, according to the ministry.

From Feb 20 to 26, smog enveloped 15 provinces and regions, covering more than 1.8 million square kilometers, ministry data showed.

As air pollution becomes a national issue, the country aims to cut energy intensity by 3.9 per cent this year to strengthen energy conservation and emission-reduction efforts, which will cut coal consumption by 220 million metric tons. Coal burning is a major contributor to PM 2.5.

While coal burning will be reduced, local weather authorities will be able to use weather modification methods, mainly rain enhancement, to improve air quality by 2015 when heavy smog occurs, according to a document released by the China Meteorological Administration.

Last year, local authorities in Lanzhou, Gansu province, Chengdu, Sichuan province, and Wuhan, Hubei province, included artificial rainfall as a smog reduction option in their heavy air pollution emergency plan.

China has used artificial rainfall to clear the skies for years. In 2008, artificial rainfall in the days ahead of the Olympics helped Beijing ensure a dry night for the Olympics opening ceremony.

Guo Xueliang, a weather manipulation expert with the China Meteorological Administration, told People's Daily that artificial rainfall is a relatively effective way of reducing air pollution.

"It is still in the experimental phase," Guo said.

While Beijing and its neighbours suffered a smoggy February, seven cities including Kunming in Yunnan province, Haikou in Hainan and Shenzhen in Guangdong, met the national air-quality standards last month, according to the environmental protection ministry.

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