Tue, May 30, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Stay away from the `dirty boys'

It was disappointing to hear government officials announce last week that Taiwan would prefer to develop a carbon emissions strategy in accordance with the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate rather than meeting targets set by the Kyoto Protocol.

The Asia-Pacific partnership was formed last year by countries like the US, China and Australia, who either pulled out of or refused to sign up to Kyoto and set targets to reduce carbon emissions. The partnership has been roundly condemned by environmentalists, because without legally binding emission caps, as one World Wildlife Fund campaigner put it, "it is like a peace plan that allows guns to be fired."

In effect this announcement means that Taiwan wants to join the world's "dirty boys' club" nations who fear that helping the environment will harm business interests, or cause "a big loss of GDP," to quote Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Steve Chen (陳瑞隆). This is a pity. While the government talks about environmental protection and its plans to develop a green silicon island -- a balance between environmental conservation and economic development -- it seems that economic development always wins over environmental considerations.

This has been seen in the case of the Pinglin freeway exit ramp near Feitsui Reservoir (翡翠水庫) and the approval of the No. 8 Naptha Cracker plant, both of which will have adverse effects on the environment. By giving in to economic and business interests every time, the government is taking a short-sighted view. It may come to regret this as it is the government that will have to foot the bill for repairs next time there is serious flooding due to careless land management policies, which are directly attributable to the neglect of environmental considerations.

Despite its small size, Taiwan is the 22nd-largest producer of carbon dioxide gases in the world, and according to the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), overall greenhouse gas emissions rose by 70 percent between 1990 and 2000 from 160 million tonnes to 272 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. This figure will rise considerably after several large-scale industrial projects that have already received approval become operational.

These figures reveal the government is not serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Even with three operating nuclear power plants and a fourth under construction, oil and coal still make up the bulk of the nation's energy supply. Taiwan has also maintained old-fashioned petrochemical plants and uses energy-inefficient power generation that relies on fossil fuels.

This situation does not look as if it will change in the near future, otherwise why would the government be trying to establish better relations with oil-producing Middle Eastern countries such as the UAE and Libya?

It is a pity that a nation such as Taiwan, with its wealth of scientific talent, has not invested more in developing renewable power sources and new clean technology like fuel cells. This would help reduce the nation's dependence on unreliable external fuel sources and also mitigate its impact on the environment in line with government promises.

Taiwan should take a lead in demonstrating its willingness to be a responsible contributor to global climate control. Even if it is not allowed to join the Kyoto Protocol and other environmental initiatives that require statehood, it should do its best to meet the treaty's targets to save the earth for future generations and to benefit Taiwan's international image.

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