Fri, Feb 18, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Kyoto offers useful reference point

The landmark Kyoto Protocol, which aims to retard global warming, finally came into force on Wednesday. This accord is an important step that mankind has taken for the planet on which we live, and the 141 countries that signed the treaty deserve our praise. Although Taiwan is not a signatory, it should contribute to ensuring sustainable development.

The Kyoto Protocol is designed to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, which result from the burning of fossil fuels. It will have an impact on the use of energy, industrial infrastructure and economic development. To reduce the impact on individual economies, the Kyoto Protocol does not only focus on reductions by individual countries, but has adopted a mechanism to promote reductions across national boarders. Countries can trade their reduction quota by offering commercial opportunities to environmentalism, creating a situation in which countries can exert pressure on each other to achieve environmental goals.

The provisions of the Kyoto Protocol were released in 1997. At that time, the government announced that it would examine how these recommendations can be implemented in Taiwan. The following year, a national energy conference was held in which the development and response strategies to the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change was discussed. Nonetheless, carbon dioxide emissions in Taiwan did not fall, but rose steadily from 130 million tonnes in 1990 to 218 million tonnes in 2000. If Taiwan does not closely monitor developments in the Kyoto Protocol, not only will it be facing retaliatory commercial pressure from other countries, but will also set off a time-bomb for its own sustainable industrial development. The Environmental Protection Agency should take immediate action to adopt appropriate measures, such as implementing regulations to control greenhouse gas emissions and levying a "green tax" on fossil fuels.

Although the Kyoto Protocol represents an international movement with indisputably good intentions, its methods and goals have given rise to dispute. That is why the US, Australia, China and India have all refused to sign the protocol. The reasons offered by the US for refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol are, first, that the causes of global warming are unknown, and that scientists still do not agree whether it is a long-term or a short-term phenomenon; and second, that reducing emissions will lead to sharp energy price hikes. According to estimates by the US Department of Energy, abiding by the protocol will mean that US electricity prices will increase by 86 percent and gasoline prices by 53 percent, and is certain to lower living standards. The third reason given is that, because big polluters like China, India and Brazil will not be restricted, the protocol will only have limited effects on global warming. China and India have refused to sign the protocol because they see themselves as developing countries and therefore feel that different standards apply to them, compared with developed nations.

Taiwan is not a member of the UN, nor is it a signatory to the protocol, which in theory means that it is not obliged to abide by its standards. Since emission reductions will inflate energy prices, the government must consider the impact on the economy, society and the nation's relative cross-strait competitiveness. Taiwan's energy consumption and achievements in environmental protection are still unsatisfactory, and it needs to take the initiative to reduce emissions. But any such moves should take into account the nation's unique economic and environmental protection needs, and then everyone must follow the plan as it has been laid out. Although the Kyoto Protocol is an important point of reference, there is no need for the immediate passage of a high "carbon-generating tax" meeting the standards set by that protocol.

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