China has announced plans to set up an "environmental police" force responsible for enforcing pollution restrictions across the capital Beijing in a bid to improve the city's notorious air quality.
Cai Qi, who is both the deputy chief of the country's ruling party and mayor of Beijing, promised to impose tougher measures in the city's 16 districts to combat a long-standing and widespread toxic smog problem that has brought "harm" to people's lives.
"Open-air barbecues, garbage incineration, biomass burning, dust from roads - these acts of non-compliance with regulations are actually the result of lax supervision and weak law enforcement," Cai was quoted by the Xinuhua news agency as saying.
"Like many of us, I am used to checking the weather and the air quality index (AQI) of Beijing first thing in the morning. I totally understand the public's concerns and complaints over air pollution," he said during a three-hour meeting with the press.
Beijing will also work harder with the neighbouring province of Hebei and the Tianjin municipality to curb pollution, Cai added.
China, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has in recent years taken initiatives to fight the pollution crisis by closing coal-fired power plants and high-polluting factories, as well as imposing vehicle restrictions.
But critics say a lot more needs to be done.
"The government must strengthen environmental protection and step up supervision and accountability in 2017," He Ren, a spokesman for the Beijing Volunteer Service Federation - a civil rights group - was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
Beijing's only coal-fired power plant will be shut down soon and coal consumption will be cut by 30 percent in 2017. Cleaner gas and diesel initiatives will also be implemented on February 15.
Furthermore, 500 polluting factories will be closed and 2,560 others will be revamped to meet higher pollution treatment standards, the news agency said.