Thu, Dec 16, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Kyoto benefits outweigh the costs

By Gloria Hsu徐光蓉

The onslaught of the winter Typhoon Nanmadol made everyone forget the intense legislative election campaign, as early warning and disaster prevention mechanisms were initiated in the hope of minimizing damage.

Although everyone agrees that "an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure," an oft forgotten principle is that making preparations even before the threat of a disaster has appeared is more important than strengthening preparations when a disaster is already approaching.

Winter typhoons are extremely rare. Are they the result of climate changes, or are they natural disturbances in weather patterns? The scientific community is still unable to determine this. If recent phenomena are a part of these changes, we may be too late if we wait for scientists to propose a concrete solution before we act.

The Kyoto Protocol, aimed at restricting industrialized nations' greenhouse gas emissions, will take effect on Feb. 16 -- 90 days after the UN received Russian President Vladimir Putin's signature on the agreement. The convention on climate change affects societies, environments, economies and even national defense and diplomatic relations. Despite the effects this important convention will have on Taiwan's future development, the government has treated it as a low priority.

After the Kyoto Protocol takes effect, international reductions and measures will be implemented. As Taiwan faces this "storm," the government should not simply choose to let things take their natural course.

Although scientists are still unable to clearly forecast the temporal and geographic extent of climate change, a majority agrees that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, the climate will change, and it may become completely different from the current climate. Because we have no way of predicting the future, conservative hopes must not deviate too far from the current situation.

Scientists estimate that global greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced by 60 percent or more to keep concentration levels below 25 percent. The current stage of the Kyoto Protocol only requires an average reduction of 5.2 percent by 2010.

The main argument of those opposing immediate reductions is a lack of scientific evidence. But what they are really worried about is the costs of such reductions. If we consider the situation using a time-frame of 100 years, however, the benefits to future generations, ecology and socio-economic activities in reducing or eliminating greenhouse gas emissions are certain to outweigh the costs, and that is why such reductions should, and must, be carried out.

Doing this at an early stage will reduce the burden on future generations to carry out reductions, and that is why environmental activists unanimously demand immediate action.

Some members of government and industrial leaders, however, have differing opinions when it comes to the questions of how much, when and how reductions should be implemented, as well as how long it will be before costs are returned, and whether implementation of reductions will affect competitiveness, thus handing advantages to adversaries.

As a result of worries over future uncertainties and the possibility that the advantages of reductions will not appear immediately, little has actually been done.

Although there still is no conclusive scientific evidence that climate change will initiate an increase in adverse weather, 30 years of international insurance industry data show that losses caused by natural disasters have increased by between five and 10 times over the past 12 years. Even if we ignore the greenhouse effect, the government should be strict in its implementation of measures to minimize losses from natural disasters, just as it takes preventative action when a typhoon is nearing.

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