An agreement was reached last month at the COP21 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Although there have been various assessments regarding the outcome of the talks, the agreement means that nations around the world have a common trajectory toward addressing global warming.
Global warming is already having a noticeable impact on the climate. The nations at the convention have agreed to work toward keeping the rise in global average temperatures to less than 2oC above pre-industrial levels and to aim for a maximum increase of 1.5oC.
Reports show that last year was the warmest year on record, with a yearly average temperature that was 2.4oC greater than the normal range — and that is forecast to keep on rising this year. Through satellite observations, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has discovered that temperatures in the Arctic increased faster than those at other latitudes in the past few years, which shows that the Arctic is especially vulnerable to global warming.
Rising Arctic temperatures will not only affect global weather and climate systems, but will also cause shrinking ice caps and a decrease in the reflection of solar radiation, which would further speed up surface warming. It would also disrupt jet streams and increase fluctuations in the atmosphere that would result in more extreme weather. Many climatologists are therefore concerned over Arctic warming and worry that it might be the tipping point for the climate system.
Global warming is already having a tangible effect on Taiwan. A look at the nation’s response to climate change over the past few years shows that — apart from having announced the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act (溫室氣體減量法) — there is much room for improvement.
Here are four points for the government to consider:
First, giving a proper response to climate change and the Paris agreement requires setting strategic goals. These goals should include the initiation of a low-carbon economy and building a low-carbon society; developing cost-effective carbon reduction technologies and strategies to improve environmental competitiveness; and reducing the impacts of and losses caused by increasingly frequent extreme weather events, with a focus on mitigation and adaptation.
Second, there must be no more empty talk about reduction goals. Concrete and feasible carbon reduction and adaptation strategies should be laid down and the cost of implementing each strategy should be calculated in detail. This is the only way to calculate expenditures, average unit costs, marginal costs and the amount of funds needed. The only practical way is to employ cost-effective methods to promote carbon reduction and adaptation.
In addition, a dedicated agency needs to be established with unified powers to deal with climate change. The Environmental Protection Administration is charged with organizing the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Office, which is responsible for enforcing the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act. The Ministry of Economic Affairs is in charge of the Energy Administration Act (能源管理法) and the Renewable Energy Development Act (再生能源發展條例), but its remit is restricted to industry and reducing the use of electricity. There is no agency in charge of reductions in residential and commercial areas.
There are 20 million cars in Taiwan, but there is no action from the Ministry of Transportation and Communications. The National Development Council’s Office for National Land Planning and Development is only in charge of coordinating adaptation affairs. The Ministry of Education’s Construction and Planning Administration, together with the National Police Agency and the National Disaster Prevention Center have the personnel, funding and practical implementation ability, but they are not in charge of adaptation.
Finally, the Paris agreement requires each signatory to analyze the effects of its mitigation actions on global warming by 2018 — two years before the agreement takes effect — and adjust its mitigation plan by 2020. Once the agreement is implemented, a general review is to take place every five years — with the first scheduled to take place in 2023 — aimed at letting the signatories renew and set more ambitious targets.
Taiwan has already announced an independent contribution report. If it is to be internationally accepted, a careful assessment must be made to determine whether the organizational framework, execution and plans for future reductions meet the requirements of international analysis.
Young Chea-yuan is a professor and chairman of the Department of Natural Resources at Chinese Culture University.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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