Ambitious climate strategy pays off

By Adrian Gault  / 

Fri, Dec 08, 2017 - Page 8

Taiwan is at an important time in developing its plans for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. It has just conducted a public hearing on its first periodic regulatory goal (for emissions reduction to 2020) and is preparing a plan of action to meet the goal.

More widely, Taiwan has committed to reducing 2050 emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels. It sees this as its contribution to international efforts, to cut emissions globally and avoid the worst effects of climate change.

It is essential that Taiwan should play its part. Taiwan ranks as the 22nd biggest economy, with substantial emissions. Climate change is a global problem that can only be ameliorated through global efforts.

The UK has a stronger target than Taiwan, set in legislation, to reduce 2050 emissions by at least 80 percent on 1990 levels (this translates to about a 75 percent reduction on 2005). So far, UK emissions have been reduced 42 percent since 1990, while GDP is up 67 percent.

So I visited Taiwan on a trip organized by the British Office Taipei and the Taiwan Research Institute to share the UK experience, in the expectation that there could be useful lessons on which Taiwan could draw.

I met many committed individuals, with much expertise, struggling with the requirements on how best to take forward the commitments made — at the Taiwan Research Institute, Office of Energy and Carbon Reduction, the Environmental Protection Administration and Academia Sinica, as well as other leading experts and non-governmental organizations.

Based on such a short visit, I should be careful about drawing conclusions to quickly. However, in the hope that they might prompt further consideration, I will make a couple of observations.

First, the UK experience prior to the 2008 Climate Change Act, was that it is very difficult to draw a program of action together when the center is reliant on the “offers” of constituent parts. It is highly likely that each relevant department, or sector, will be cautious in its ambition and look to others to make up any gap.

Part of the answer to that, in the UK, was to establish a body of experts — the Committee on Climate Change — independent of government, to provide advice on emission reduction targets and to monitor progress.

The committee looks across the economy to consider abatement potential on a consistent basis in the different sectors. It reports annually to the British parliament on whether progress is on track to targets.

Having an independent source of advice can be helpful to the government in considering how fast, and where, progress can best be achieved.

There are sources of technical expertise in Taiwan, in academia and research institutions, but nothing like this independent body. It might be worth considering whether and how such a model could be applied.

Second, it is important not to be overcautious. The speed of market development and technology change can surprise, in a good way.

Development of offshore wind in the UK is a case in point. Only three years ago, the cost of electricity generation from offshore wind was about US$200 per terawatt-hour (TWh). The industry was tasked with looking at how this might be reduced to US$133/TWh by 2020, and this was thought ambitious.

Recently, auctions for new-build offshore wind have secured investment at a price of about US$75/TWh, hugely reduced on what we thought possible even a couple of years ago. This has been achieved through deployment — building of offshore wind that has led to learning in technology development across the supply chain.

A small premium has had to be paid — in the higher immediate cost of this technology — to secure these reductions, but has been rewarded with a significant new industry with growth potential, and with expectations of further cost reductions to come and competitive prices without subsidy.

The lesson is that not knowing all the answers now should not be an excuse for inaction. Deployment efforts, development of options, monitoring results and adapting continuing actions in the light of that experience can be productive.

It is also consistent with the overall direction of travel. Consistent with the Paris agreement and international efforts to reduce emissions, markets in low-carbon technologies and services can be expected to grow many times over — and faster than the economy as a whole.

Deployment of emerging low-carbon technologies in Taiwan and development of markets in areas with the most potential, can put Taiwan ahead of others in the search for international markets. That could be good for Taiwan’s emissions, contribute to global efforts to combat climate change and be good for the economy too.

Adrian Gault is chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, an independent body in the UK established under the Climate Change Act 2008 that provides advice to the British government on building a low-carbon economy and preparing for climate change. He visited Taiwan on Nov. 20 and Nov. 21.