The timing for the release of the movie An Inconvenient Truth in Taiwan last month could not have been better -- in September the Executive Yuan approved a draft bill designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) was just about to sign a declaration with seven countries from Central America to commit to emissions cuts.
The compelling evidence on climate change presented by former US vice president Al Gore also came as a solid endorsement for the three Taiwan Green Party candidates running for the Taipei City Council, who are campaigning on the greenhouse gas issue.
Despite some progress, environmental activists suggest that more needs to be done to reduce carbon emissions.
Wu Tung-jye (
Wu noted that the Cabinet needs to consider the issue from a much broader perspective, including whether it is necessary for the nation to construct another freeway or to build another steel or petrochemical plant.
The idea of a specific timeline, however, was rejected by the EPA officials.
"Only laymen would come up with a proposal like that," said Young Chea-yuan (楊之遠), director-general of the EPA's air quality protection and noise control department, adding that the timeline for the Kyoto Protocol was arrived at through multiple rounds of negotiations and compromises among the signatories.
Young said the protocol was signed by 38 industrialized countries around the world. And realizing that strict observance of the protocol would not be easy, industrialized countries have agreed on several viable solutions to help them meet the emission targets.
Young said countries can actually increase their quota of greenhouse gas emissions through the Clean Development Mechanism, where more developed countries help less developed ones curb the amount of greenhouse gas they produce.
"Taiwan can by no means be categorized as an industrialized country, and it is neither a member of the United Nations nor a signatory of the protocol," Young said. "We are unable to do this kind of trading with any country in the international community."
Young said the law is "a very serious thing," and it might involve an overhaul of the nation's energy policy.
Young also said that unlike the nation's air pollution laws, where the EPA is granted complete executive authority, the administration needs to coordinate with other departments in Cabinet, such as Ministry of Economic Affairs, to reduce carbon emissions. It also needs to convey the government's policy objectives to private industry, he said.
The lack of consensus on what the law could achieve is not the only hurdle.
Minister of the Environmental Protection Agency Chang Kow-lung (張國龍) said in a press conference held at the beginning of this month that the nation should dedicate at least 1 percent of GNP to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but the budget that was assigned to the EPA only accounts for about 0.5 percent of GNP.
This sum is supposed to cover all the environmental conservation work required, he said.
Industries, on the other hand, have ambivalent feelings about the policy to reduce carbon emissions, given that Taiwan is not a signatory of the protocol.