While the entire nation is focused on the government’s consumer voucher scheme and the money-laundering scandal involving former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his family, the 14th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and the fourth meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol have reached the halfway mark in Poznan, Poland. Taiwan’s failure to sign these two important international agreements on environmental protection should be of public concern as well, not to mention President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his administration’s inconsistent policies on the matter.
In a report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Taiwan is on the list of nations that are severely affected by climate change. Over the last century, Taiwan’s average temperature has increased 1.3°C. This is twice as fast as the average global rate and outpaces increases seen in Japan and China.
Why would Taiwan see such a drastic rise in its average temperature? A study by the Research Center for Environmental Change at Academia Sinica showed that besides global warming, Taiwan’s unusual temperature increase is closely related to the nation’s population density and energy consumption per capita. Statistics indicate that Taiwan’s carbon dioxide emissions account for approximately 1 percent of global emissions, ranking 22nd in the world, while its per capita carbon dioxide emissions rank 16th in the world.
Although Taiwan’s energy consumption per capita is almost three times greater than the global average — much higher than that of members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development such as Germany and France — its economic growth is moving in the opposite direction.
Since the Kyoto Protocol came into force in 2005, the government’s efforts to save energy and reduce carbon emissions have been limited. National energy conferences, sustainable development conferences, the introduction of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act (溫室氣體減量法) and the renewable energy development bill, as well as the estimation and voluntary reduction of carbon dioxide emissions for local enterprises promoted by the Environmental Protection Administration and the Industrial Development Bureau, are not concrete measures to save energy or reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Not only that, but they have all failed to match developments in the international community.
After assuming office, Ma expressed hope that the implementation of the Guidelines for Sustainable Energy Policy would bring the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions back to this year’s levels between 2016 and 2020 and that carbon emissions in 2025 would be reduced to 2000 levels. This is the first time in many years that the government has made a more concrete promise on paper regarding carbon dioxide emission reductions. Although the effort is commendable, follow-up observations are needed.
Carbon emission reduction policies will involve adjusting Taiwan’s overall industrial structure. Because of the economic meltdown, the Chinese National Federation of Industries has demanded that the government defer a plan to set a carbon emission reduction target and instead make it a primary task to improve the quality of business management. The Ma administration responded by drawing up the consumer voucher scheme with the short-term objective of improving the economy, and ignored taking a more sustainable approach that included both environmental protection and economic development.