For many years, the governments of Australia and the US have refused to recognize that human activities influence the global climate and might bring about unimaginable disasters.
But on the opening day of the 13th UN Climate Change Conference held on the Indonesian island of Bali, Australia's new government announced that it would sign the Kyoto Protocol, which commits signatories to decrease green house gas emissions, and proposed serious emission reduction measures.
The world is therefore now focused on the US, which must join the efforts if goals to cut emissions globally are to be met. US participation will be crucial in getting India and China on board as well.
What does all this imply for Taiwan? Since the Kyoto Protocol was concluded and signed in 1997, the government has held two national energy conferences and countless big and small conferences on the subject.
Yet the nation's emissions have continued to increase faster than those of any other country.
Emissions are twice what they were in 1990 and it is expected that by 2025, this figure will have increased to three times that level. It's clear that there's a lot of talking but little action.
The fact is that government agencies don't think there is a need to cut emissions, and the reason is this: As long as the US refuses to cut emissions, it's useless for Taiwan to do so.
Although the US federal government still doesn't want to commit to concrete emission reduction goals, the movement for emission reductions is spreading throughout the country. A few weeks ago, five states in the US Midwest followed 10 east coast states and six west coast states in announcing that they had set their own goals for emission reductions, timelines for executing their plans and a program for implementing regional carbon trading.
In April, the US Supreme Court decided that the federal government should take action with regard to reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Twenty-one large companies have demanded that the US Congress adopt economic measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Last month, US senators from both parties jointly pushed for the Climate Security Act (ACSA).
This act includes legally binding goals, timelines for carrying out the plans and an carbon trading system to gradually reduce emissions.
There were many similar proposals in the US Congress before the ACSA, but the current bill is also supported by people who used to oppose emission reductions, such as Republican Senator John Warner and Democratic Senator Max Baucus, who represent coal-producing states, which means that there will be fewer obstacles than before.
Although the reduction goal for 2020 in the current bill is not as ambitious as EU guidelines -- which aim to reduce emissions in 2020 to 25 percent to 45 percent of 1990 emission levels -- it aims to reduce emissions in 2050 to 60 percent to 70 percent of 1990 emission levels, which is about the same as the EU.
With the bill's restrictions on total emissions and its emissions trade, it is hoped that companies will be able to cut emissions at the lowest possible cost.
Part of a company's emission allowance will be set by the government, while part will be purchased. The proportion of purchased emission allowances will be 24 percent in 2012, to be increased to 73 percent by 2036.
There are also plans for carbon banks to help tone down possible large fluctuations in the price of carbon emissions.
Even if the ACSA does not pass during US President George W. Bush's term, it is likely to become the backbone of future legislation.
The US has started to seriously consider the issue of climate change and it's only a matter of time before it really starts reducing emissions.
The worldwide consensus is that carbon emissions will peak around 2015 and that industrialized countries should reduce their emissions by 60 percent to 80 percent by 2050.
Only then can climate change be curbed.
Taiwan's annual per capita emissions are already higher than the average of the industrialized states, the so-called "Appendix One States" of the Kyoto Protocol.
These countries are working hard to reduce emissions and might even continue reducing them after 2012. Yet Taiwan, where large parts of the manufacturing industry are moving overseas, wants to increase emissions to give a few companies using a lot of resources room to emit even more carbon dioxide.
Soon Taiwan, too, will face international pressure to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions. Now is the time for the government to explain the situation to the public.
What preparations has the government made? Will the industries using the most resources take responsibility for emission reductions in the future, or will the public have to foot the bill?
What are the benefits for Taiwan of the few high-energy consumption industries that were heavily promoted the past few years? Are they worth sacrificing our future for?
Gloria Hsu is chairwoman of the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union and professor at the Department of Atmospheric Sciences of National Taiwan University.
Translated by Anna Stiggelbout
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