Mon, Sep 25, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Time to take emissions seriously

There were two new initiatives in the US fight against global warming this week that offer some important policy lessons for the nation and a timely reminder of how much more needs to be done in the area of environmental protection.

The first one was California State's decision on Wednesday to sue the world's six largest automobile manufacturers -- General Motors, Ford, Toyota, DaimlerChrysler, Honda and Nissan -- over their contribution to greenhouse gas production. This is the first legal case of its kind in the US.

The second initiative was British billionaire Richard Branson's pledge on Thursday at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York to spend US$3 billion over the next 10 years on developing renewable energy and tackling greenhouse gas emissions. This is the largest private commitment of money to protect the environment ever made.

It is hard to imagine that the national government would ever hold our leading manufacturers completely responsible for their greenhouse gas emissions. It is also difficult to think of a time when any of Taiwan's business moguls would reach into their pockets and fund a major environmental project.

This said, there are a few examples that the nation is starting to wake up. Environmental policy got a shot in the arm on Wednesday when the Cabinet passed a draft greenhouse bill.

The bill, which requires approval by the legislature, mandates a cut in carbon dioxide emissions and five other greenhouse gases. It makes clear that the need for such a law has arisen due to possible retaliatory actions from countries that have signed the Kyoto Accord. If the bill receives the legislative green light, heavy industry, electrical utilities, transport companies and oil refineries will be forced to reduce or offset their dependence on fossil fuels to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

It is heartening to see the government make an effort to keep up with the global standard on these matters, even though the nation is not a UN member and did not have the option of signing the Kyoto Accord. People should be reminded that this country, with just 0.3 percent of the world's population, is the world's 22nd-largest carbon dioxide producer and emits around 1 percent of all greenhouse gases. Taiwan is a disproportionately large part of the greenhouse problem.

But in its current form, the greenhouse bill lacks effective measures and tools to carry out the goal of emissions reduction. There is no specific timeframe given for greenhouse gas reduction, and the bill does not stipulate quotas for local industry -- key features of greenhouse legislation elsewhere.

Further, the bill does not establish a reliable auditing or reporting system to monitor emissions compliance -- let alone put in place a gas trading platform where companies could buy and sell rights to emit greenhouse gases like any other commodity.

These deficiencies appear to reflect the government's overall ambivalence toward the project. It is torn between economic interests and environmental considerations, even though the bill does outline measures to promote the development of renewable and alternative energy technologies and to encourage energy efficiency and conservation.

As the Cabinet has included the draft among 78 priority bills for rapid approval by the Legislative Yuan this legislative session, both governing and opposition parties should act responsibly to amend the bill's deficiencies and push it through posthaste.

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