Tue, Sep 21, 2010 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan trails on the environment

By Liu Chung-ming 柳中明

China is seeking to meet its targets for saving energy and cutting carbon dioxide emissions by enforcing limits on electricity consumption, suspending production where necessary and even forcing energy-hungry factories to close down altogether. Taiwanese manufacturers are hoping to reap extra profits when these measures push up the prices of products made by such factories.

As controversy rages in Taiwan over whether construction of a coastal industrial complex by Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co should be allowed to go ahead, what signals do the actions of the Chinese government send to Taiwan?

In China it is commonplace for the government to use administrative measures to adjust market supply and demand, and neighboring countries are quite used to it. What is surprising this time is that the stated reason for the measures is to cut energy use and carbon dioxide emissions. China’s move is a sharp contrast to Taiwan’s attitude.

The Taiwanese government has never set a target date or an amount for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and it is hard to imagine it ordering conglomerates to shut down production. If such a thing were to happen, elected politicians would be lining up to complain that if businesses were to suspend work, their employees would have to take unpaid leave and their livelihood would suffer as a result.

As China enforces power consumption limits and orders factory shutdowns, Taiwanese factory bosses who stand to benefit from reduced competition — especially energy-guzzling and high-polluting industries — probably see this as a chance to increase production and make more profit, while pumping out more pollution into Taiwan’s environment.

At the same time they would no doubt seize the opportunity to claim that if they were to build factories in China, they would face the problem of having their electricity supply capped or ordered to suspend operation at any time without warning.

In order to thwart this threat to their profits and to avoid disrupting upstream and downstream supply, they would claim that factories like the planned Kuokuang petrochemical plant should be located here in Taiwan.

What a sorry prospect! For many decades industrialized countries have kept moving their production to emerging countries like Taiwan and South Korea. For a decade or more now they have been moving them to China, Vietnam and other developing countries.

Who would have thought that communist China would limit power supplies to factories or have them closed down on environmental grounds, or that the conclusion drawn would be that it would be better for energy-hungry and highly polluting industries to be located in Taiwan?

If such an idea holds sway, when will Taiwan ever see clear blue skies? When will we ever find a way to maintain economic growth while cutting pollution and carbon dioxide emissions?

The current government has given the green light to many dirty and power-hungry factories since it took office in 2008. If the Kuokuang plant gets the go-ahead as well, there will be no chance of seeing clear skies or environment-friendly growth within the next 20 years.

The truth of the matter is that Taiwan’s market economy is dominated by big businesses. Government agencies are powerless to set annual targets for cutting emissions, never mind enforcing them. Taiwan has for a long time held the prices of water, electricity and oil below those of other Asian countries.

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