China Steel, CPC Corp, Taiwan and other state-owned firms have been falling over themselves in their search for land to plant trees. President-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has also proposed a 60,000-hectare forestation project. These efforts all purport to reduce carbon emissions, but will they really be effective?
The effectiveness of planting trees in carbon reduction depends on several factors, including climate, soil and the species and age of the tree, and it is difficult to use a single standard for measurement. If we go by the calculations used by the Bureau of Energy, every year one hectare of Taiwan’s forests is able to absorb 20.2 tonnes of carbon. How much forest must be planted to offset the emissions of Taiwan’s large-scale industries?
Formosa Plastics Group’s (FPG) Sixth Naphtha Cracker Plant emits 67.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, which would require a 3,340,000 hectare forest to offset its effects. Offsetting carbon emissions from FPG’s planned steel refinery would require 740,000 hectares of forest. These two together would exceed Taiwan’s total area of 3.6 million hectares.
For China Steel, 1 million hectares of land would be needed to offset its annual emission of 20.4 million tonnes of carbon. This is equivalent to the total area of Kaohsiung, Pingtung, Tainan and Chiayi. Kuokuang Petrochemical would need about 350,000 hectares, about three times the size of Yunlin County, where it is located. Taipower’s Talin plant would require 880,000 hectares, larger than Kaohsiung, Pingtung and Tainan counties combined.
Ma’s 60,000-hectare forestation plan would be able to absorb 1 million tonnes of carbon emissions every year. This would not be able to offset even a tenth of the FPG steel refinery’s carbon output. China Steel has announced that it has set aside 48 hectares of land as a green zone and plans to adopt 20 hectares of forest on Tatushan. CPC Corp, Taiwan, has completed the greening of 470 hectares of land and will go on to plant 30,000 trees. Yet, given its enormous emissions, this is only a drop in the ocean and would lead one to suspect that these are just superficial public relations efforts.
In relation to the extraordinary amounts of carbon emissions generated by these heavy industries, seeking to plant enough forest to offset them all is impossible. These efforts only serve to divert focus from the root problem. The fundamental solution still lies in altering the industrial structure and curbing the development of energy-intensive and high-pollution industries. Otherwise, how could Ma achieve his goal of bringing Taiwan’s 2025 carbon emissions down to this year’s levels?
If businesses really do wish to link forest protection with carbon reduction, they would do better to assist the government in the reclamation of state and privately owned forests that have been illegally logged or over-harvested. This land could be left alone to allow its forest to recover naturally. Or they could become responsible global citizens by doing their best to protect forests in Southeast Asia and the Amazon from the terrors of illegal logging. What really matters is decreasing carbon emissions in the manufacturing process.
Individuals can also play a part in changing their lifestyles by eliminating as much as possible any unnecessary consumption. Walk more, ride a bicycle or take public transportation. Buy local goods to help reduce the carbon emissions generated by international transport.
The task of working together to cut carbon emissions is an urgent and painful one. The government and industry should avoid superficial gestures and face the roots of the problem. Only then can the goal of carbon reduction be realized.
Lee Ken-cheng is director of Mercy on the Earth, Taiwan.
Translated by James Chen/em>
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