Tue, Nov 02, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Get serious on cutting emissions

By Chen Jiau-hwa 陳椒華

At the June 1992 Rio de Janeiro Summit in Brazil, a total of 154 countries signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The convention officially took effect in March 1994 with an aim of stabilizing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

We hope that by 2100 we will be able to restrict carbon dioxide levels to about 550 parts per million by volume in the atmosphere, which is twice the concentration as before the Industrial Revolution. In 1997, the third meeting of the convention signatories passed the Kyoto Protocol, which is legally binding, in order to regulate the responsibility of 38 industrialized nations and the EU to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol regulates the emission of six greenhouse gases. Of these gases, carbon dioxide is the most important for the greenhouse effect, accounting for 70 to 80 percent of emissions. Most of these emissions are the result of human energy consumption, such as the burning of fossil fuels, including coal, oil and natural gas.

Taiwan is not a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol. It ranks 22nd in the world as far as carbon dioxide emissions are concerned, and statistics from the Ministry of Economy's Bureau of Energy show that total emissions last year amounted to 255.98 million tonnes, or an average of 11.1 tonnes per person. Taiwan's average annual GDP growth between 1990 to last year was 5.3 percent, while average annual growth of carbon dioxide emissions was 6.3 percent. This is evidence that Taiwan's industrial structure leans toward high greenhouse gas emissions and inefficient energy use.

The Kyoto Protocol has had a substantive impact on global trade interaction. Since pressure to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions means that it is no longer simply an environmental issue, the protocol will have a serious effect on the future of industrial development in Taiwan, leading to intensified industrial competition and putting Taiwan in a bad light in the eyes of the world.

The raising of import restrictions in other countries will have a major impact on our foreign trade, unless Taiwan takes the initiative to cut emission levels and strengthen its negotiation mechanisms. For example, demands that all exports be included in greenhouse gas emission reduction standards and that energy efficiency standards be improved may become a basic export standard.

Inability to meet these requirements would create export difficulties, which would have an impact on major Taiwanese industries such as the semiconductor, liquid-crystal display, steel, cement, textile, home electronics and auto industries.

Even while it was considering whether or not to sign the Kyoto Protocol, the government continued to develop industries which generate large amounts of carbon dioxide, as well as large volumes of wastewater, such as the sixth naphtha cracking plant in Mailiao, Yunlin County, which raised Taiwan's carbon dioxide emissions by tens of millions of tonnes in a few years.

The government also ignored overall environmental pollution and emission controls, and it continues to promote industries with low production volumes and high energy consumption that create high levels of carbon dioxide emissions and large volumes of wastewater. Such industries include the steel works the China Steel Group is planning in the Taichung harbor district, with an annual production volume of 2 million tonnes, China Petroleum's planned second 1-million-tonne ethylene investment in Kaohsiung, and the plan to set up a petroleum technology park and plants in Yunlin.

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