The new government has been in power for just over two weeks and while it has not had enough time to produce any major accomplishments, it has succeeded in trivializing the hugely important issues of global warming and how the nation should tackle its disproportionately high carbon emissions.
If the government is to be believed, Taiwan and mankind can reverse the dramatic climatic changes afoot across the globe and prevent the melting of the polar ice caps simply by taking off one’s suit jacket, abstaining from eating meat and swapping one’s car for a model with a slightly smaller engine.
No wonder President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was heckled last week when he attended an environmental conference, with one activist telling him: “Environmental protection is not just about taking off your suit.”
So far the government has concentrated on cherry picking, focusing on individual actions that can reduce personal carbon footprints. But this will not achieve anything in the long term unless tough, concerted action is taken to tackle the industrial, power-generation and transport sectors at the same time.
One initiative the government seems keen on is the mass planting of trees here and abroad to offset carbon emissions from the industrial sector. But if our new leaders had been paying attention to environmental news, they would have known that the global ecology department at the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Stanford, California, rubbished such activity as “a waste of time” back in 2006.
The government has also talked about nuclear power as a way to meet the nation’s power generation needs, but any new projects would take decades to come on line and would be extremely unpopular. The Atomic Energy Council’s indecision over what to do with all the barrels of waste generated thus far makes this option even more unappealing.
Ma’s problem is a result of his campaign platform. On the one hand he talked about cutting carbon emissions and meeting Kyoto Protocol requirements, but on the other he promised massive infrastructure investment and plans to increase economic output.
The two seem like strange bedfellows, but contrary to popular belief they are not mutually exclusive.
However, to achieve results the government will need to invest vast amounts of money in clean energy and force very tough and unpopular environmental standards on the industrial sector.
Another strategy would be to transform the Environmental Protection Administration’s Environmental Impact Assessment Committee from the role of a rubber stamp that only makes cosmetic changes to applications into something with the power to force future projects — like Formosa Plastics’ petrochemical factory — to include mitigating measures, such as carbon scrubbers on chimney stacks and solar or wind generation to make them energy self-sufficient.
Current indications, including the apparent reluctance of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-dominated legislature to pass the long-stalled carbon emission reduction law, suggest that none of this is going to happen anytime soon.
Yesterday’s announcement on clean energy is a start of sorts, but to cut carbon emissions the Ma administration will also have to pressure the legislature into passing comprehensive environmental regulations. It cannot afford to bet on the goodwill of the industrial sector, otherwise Ma may well end up losing his shirt, not just his jacket.
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