Climate demands prompt action

By Chen Chih-Wei 陳治維  / 

Fri, Sep 07, 2018 - Page 8

Since the awakening of atmospheric physicists to climate change and global warming in the 1980s, tremendous efforts have been devoted to stopping climate change and warning humanity about the destructive consequences that continuous temperature rises could have.

However, every effort has failed and could not prevent humanity from consuming more fossil fuels for industrial development. Today, humanity appears to have failed to take advantage of a window of opportunity to stop climate change, and have to take immediate and multiple actions to avoid losing our planet.

Facing such severe challenges, international organizations and countries around the world are increasingly taking responsibility to address climate change, with the expectation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent our planet from entering a “hothouse Earth” stage, a deadly serious concept that scientists have warned about.

Indeed, climate change in recent years has triggered a series of extreme climate conditions, which are increasing in number every year. Looking back at the beginning of the year, most countries in the northern hemisphere experienced an extremely cold winter and saw heavy snowfall that caused hazardous conditions.

This summer, heat waves swept across the northern hemisphere, repeatedly breaking temperature records, and Arctic areas even experienced their warmest winter yet.

Many Asian countries have been tested by intense rain storms. A concrete example is Taiwan: In the past two weeks, torrential rains leading to serious flooding hit the south, causing tremendous damage and almost NT$600 million (US$19.48 million) in economic losses.

Human survival is facing a series of serious challenges from nature. In 2015, the UN announced 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to appeal to countries around the world to work together to address current issues that humanity is facing.

In that same year, 195 countries gathered and agreed on a global framework to deal with greenhouse gas emissions — the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Under those circumstances, countries around the world drafted laws and complementary regulatory systems as part of ambitious efforts.

Turning back to Taiwan, the government has passed the Greenhouse Gas Reduction and Management Act (溫室氣體減量及管理法), which clearly states a goal of reducing carbon emissions in 2050 to less than 50 percent of those in 2005, with sessions once every five years and three major steps, including mitigation, adaptation and green growth.

Moreover, Taiwan has contributed efforts to explore SDGs toward achieving a sustainable future through a series of major policies, such as the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program, the 5+2 Industrial Transformation Plan and others, as well the goals of phasing out nuclear power by 2025 and replacing gasoline with electric power for vehicles, which will boost opportunities for renewable energy (including wind and solar) and further drive a shift in the energy framework to a low-carbon and circular economy, and a sustainable future.

Apart from the energy sector, urban development could also be an essential factor in addressing climate issues and resulting natural disasters.

Regarding intense rain, metropolitan and rural areas both require systematic and nationwide water management through the efficient combination of ecosystem, water circulation system and temporary land use with deliberate designs, among others, to accommodate heavy rains, and build a resilient and sustainable urban and rural living environment.

Concerning record-breaking temperatures, innovations and contributions could be made to general urban planning, considering local climate characteristics and architecture incorporating wind and solar energy to reduce the outside energy needed to heat and cool living spaces.

However, such ambitious goals to combat climate change could never be achieved by the government alone, without support from cross-domain and multilevel collaborations between industries, stakeholders and individual citizens.

Thinking from the perspective of industries, stakeholders and various organizations, an essential method to contribute to sustainable development is pursuing renewable energy, reducing waste, producing environmentally friendly products and operating a circular economy through research and development.

Take electricity, for example: The cost might be high at the initial stage of an energy system shift, due to the investment required in new technology and research, but it will bring long-term rewards. Offshore wind power, for example, could become cheaper than coal-fired energy, and renewable energy promises higher efficiency at lower prices.

In light of this, a systematic national framework of spatial governance should be pursued. Doing that while complying with global visions and with support from cross-domain and multilevel collaborations by industries, stakeholders and individual citizens, where everyone takes their own responsibility and works together, would make the biggest contribution to combating severe climate change and building a sustainable living environment for humanity.

Chen Chih-wei is chairman of the Institute of Urban Diversity and Mobility and sits on the Executive Yuan’s National Council for Sustainable Development.