Mon, Nov 27, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Ecology is part of the equation in development

By Lin Tieshyong 林鐵雄

On a visit to Hualien on Nov. 8, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said that the construction of the Suao-Hualien Freeway would be able to commence after environmental concerns have been addressed.

Then on Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Administration held a public hearing on transportation policy in eastern Taiwan, ushering in a new round of debates between groups supporting and opposing the project.

Article 3 of the Environmental Protection Foundation Law (環境基本法) states that projects undertaken in the long-term interest of the country's economic, technological and social development should all take environmental protection into account.

It also says that when such development would have a serious negative impact on the environment, the environment should take priority.

However, judging from the nation's actual construction projects, sustainable development still takes a back seat to all kinds of short-term interests.

In the past, construction projects around the world were completely driven by economic concerns and often ignored their environmental impact. They encroached on and severely damaged natural habitats, resulting in shrinking biodiversity.

This is why in the 1980s, the US and other Western countries countries gradually instituted ecological compensation systems to reduce the ecological impact of construction projects.

Such systems focus on three main principles: avoidance, mitigation and compensation. When a project could cause habitat destruction or environmental damage, consideration first had to be given to how to avoid the area.

When there is no way to completely avoid a specific area, a way must be devised to mitigate the impact on it through various construction-related or non construction-related measures.

When all mitigation measures have been exhausted and there is no way to avoid damaging the environment, then compensation measures must be implemented.

Road construction in Taiwan is on the verge of entering a new era, as the Environmental Impact Assessments Act (環境影響評估法) includes avoidance and mitigation measures for development projects.

However, unless an ecological compensation system is established, forcing projects to rely solely on mitigation measures during construction, the goal of protecting environmental quality through a no-net-loss approach will not be met and the nation will not be able to resolve the conflict between environmental conservation and economic development.

On the one hand, a compensation system would alleviate the impact of construction on the environment.

On the other hand, it would boost the importance of environmental conservation in the policy making process and incorporate different viewpoints from residents and government agencies into construction decisions.

I therefore urge the government to establish an ecological compensation system for major construction projects as soon as possible.

This would help save Taiwan's deteriorating environment and help resolve the sharp opposition between development interests and environmental conservation, as well as provide for smoother operation of public construction projects.

Lin Tieshyong is an associate professor in the department of civil and ecological engineering at I-shou University.

Translated by Marc Langer

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