Just days before the upcoming transfer of power, the Council of Agriculture suddenly announced its "Green Sea Project." With a budget of NT$7.18 billion (US$233 million), the five-year proposal would plant 20,000 hectares of forest on the plains, which would supposedly be able to absorb 740,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.
The announcement was met with an enthusiastic response from many well-known corporations, and forestation has suddenly become a fashionable and socially responsible thing to do. However, if this sham is implemented, it may well turn into the next Taiwan Goal disaster.
Any forestation policy would have to be carried out by the incoming administration. Why does the departing council minister need to push this effort now? Also, how did the council arrive at its claim that the 20,000 hectares of forest would absorb 740,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide yearly, and which organizations have verified these numbers?
The Kyoto Protocol guidelines for "fforestation and reforestation methodologies" include a very strict system for calculation and enforcement. Afforestation refers to planting in areas that have not contained forest for at least 50 years. Reforestation refers to planting in areas that were forested before Dec. 31, 1989, but have been deforested since 1990.
With regard to tree species, forest land management and implementation, the guidelines provide a complex methodological approach. The council's Green Sea Project completely ignores this methodology and is more reminiscent of the "backyard steel furnaces" during China's Cultural Revolution. No greenhouse gas verification groups would support the council's claims about how many tonnes of carbon dioxide might be absorbed. No matter how loudly the project is trumpeted, if it is not carried out according to international guidelines, it would be impossible to obtain international certification. In the end it would be a waste of time and effort.
Worse, there are signs of global food shortages. Not only has Taiwan failed to change its policy of encouraging farmers to let land lie fallow, it may even turn agricultural land over for forestation. If food shortage trends remain unchanged while these trees sink their roots into former agricultural land, how can the land be restored if the need for planting food crops arises?
Long-time forestation researcher Chen Yu-feng (陳玉峰) criticized the Forestry Bureau in an article titled "Forestation: Taiwanese Mountain Forests' Biggest Lie." From the time the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) took control of Taiwan to the present, almost NT$100 billion has been spent on forestation efforts, with a failure rate of 90 percent -- and this was for mountain forestation. How much more disastrous would it be if these efforts were moved to the plains?
In another article, Liu Chiung-hsi (劉炯錫), a graduate of National Taiwan University's forestry department, attacked his colleagues in the forestry bureaucracy as a "scam group." However, even though these two were willing to risk offense by speaking out, it seems no one has listened to them.
Of all the fake forestation corruption scandals over the years, one of the largest was discovered by the Ministry of Justice. In 2005, an investigation involving nine cities and counties and 17 townships found that officials fabricated forestation reports to swindle the council out of more than NT$240 billion in forestation reward money.