By Sui-Lee Wee
BEIJING, July 18 (Reuters) - China has asked the European Union to help it tackle some of its most severe pollution problems, the EU's environment commissioner said on Thursday, underscoring Beijing's concerns about addressing a key source of social discontent.
The European Union and China, the world's biggest carbon dioxide emitter, have frequently clashed over climate policy. But both sides recently agreed to cooperate, striking a deal last September to cut greenhouse gases through projects including the development of Chinese emissions trading schemes.
Janez Potocnik, the EU Commissioner for the Environment, told Reuters in an interview that China had asked the European Union for help in tackling pollution related to heavy metals and water and waste treatment.
"That's one of the projects through which we try to help China to address and solve some of the problems, which they have identified as the core problems we are focusing on at home," Potocnik said during a two-day visit to promote green economic growth.
"We are focusing on three areas, one will be pollution with the heavy metals, one is water pollution, and one is waste treatment."
Potocnik, also accompanied by more than 50 European and national industry associations and companies, said the EU was investing about 10 million euros ($13 million) in this scheme, known as the EU China Environmental Sustainability Project, to be launched on Friday.
China's leaders, he said, now recognised the seriousness of pollution issues. A blanket of smog over a string of northern cities in January generated widespread public anger as did the discovery of the rotting corpses of thousands of pigs in March in a river that supplies Shanghai's water.
ADDRESSING ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS
"If you're following the statements of political leaders, obviously they are recognising that this is becoming a serious issue," Potonik said. "They are also addressing it more thoroughly with their political actions."
But the issue, he said, was complex and could not be addressed "with a simple, single and short-term activity.
"We are ready to help either from the point of view of sharing our experiences, be it from the legislative point of view or also the point of view on how to best address those issues."
Some companies in the delegation, he said, "are very successful in dealing with (remedying) air pollution. So we think we can bring some of our knowledge...in the business sector, in the industry sector, and try to help addressing the problems here."
Social unrest over environmental complaints is becoming common across China, to the government's alarm. Authorities have tried to assuage public anger with measures that included empowering courts to mete out the death penalty in serious pollution cases.
But results have been mixed. Enforcement has been a problem at the local level, where governments often rely on tax receipts from polluting industries under their jurisdiction.
Potonik said monitoring and enforcement were critical.
"Because without proper monitoring and enforcement, everything you put on paper will not deliver," he said. "These are basically the most important things that I would also recommend to the Chinese colleagues." (Editing by Ron Popeski)