Beijing’s mayor promises to improve air quality in 2017

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(CNN) — Officials in Beijing’s take steps towards tackling the city’s long standing smog problem with the creation of an environmental police force, according to state media.

Spearheaded by Beijing’s acting mayor Mayor Cai Qi, the political crackdown on burning fossil fuels comes amid a flurry of concern over the country’s choking air pollution.

At a meeting on Saturday, the mayor promised to take tougher measures to improve the air quality in the city’s 16 districts by 2017, official state media agency Xinhua reported.

The new environmental police would among other things, crack down on open-air barbecues, garbage incineration and biomass burning — areas previously overlooked by authorities, Xinhua reported.

These recent efforts come amid Beijing’s latest spell of smog.

Some 24 cities were issued “red alerts,” Xinhua said. Red alerts are the highest of the four-tiered pollution warning system used by mainland China.

When red alerts are in effect, authorities take measures to reduce the air pollution by closing businesses, shutting down factories and banning high-polluting vehicles off the road.

While China has tried to squash smog offenders, enforcement remains a challenge.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection punished more than 500 Chinese companies and around 10,000 car-owners for alleged violations, according to Xinhua.

China has “held accountable” 2,682 officials for failing to enforce pollution efforts, Xinhua reported. About $35 million worth of fines had been levied, the news agency said.

Beijing’s latest spell of smog has lasted more than a week, with air quality indexes reaching “Unhealthy,” according to the US Embassy in Beijing air quality guide.

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