President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) have repeatedly touted their achievements after their 100th day in office, especially their efforts to raise public awareness about saving energy and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
If you ask around, you may find that everybody is using 10 percent to 20 percent less electricity than the same period last year, and others have cut their usage by as much as 40 percent. These cuts may be because the public cares about the environment or because consumers are more careful with their money following soaring commodity prices. However, does the Ma administration truly intend to save energy and reduce carbon dioxide emissions?
Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) continues to push for coal-fired power plants. It is replacing the two 600MW coal-fired units at its Linkou plant with three 800MW units, and the 400MW unit at the Shengao plant is being replaced with two 800MW units. The Changgong branch may expand its two 800MW units to six units. The Dalin plant is replacing its four units generating a total of 1,350MW with four 800MW units.
The Taichung plant is planning to install two more units. Meanwhile, the private Hoping Power Co also plans to add two 800MW units.
The total increase in output will be between 8,400MW and 11,650MW, which is double the current output of the Taichung Power Plant.
Last November, the Taichung Power Plant with its 10 units was already named the most polluting thermal power plant in the world by the renowned scientific journal Nature, and the Mailiao Power Plant was ranked sixth. This year, the Taichung Power Plant keeps it top ranking, far ahead of the Korean plant in second place. Mailiao has moved up one spot to No. 5.
If the Changgong plant really does install its new units, it will immediately become the world’s fourth most polluting thermal power plant. And if the Taichung Power Plant installs its new units, it will be untouchable as the world’s worst polluting plant.
Why are we still building large-scale coal-fired power plants? Many factories have relocated overseas in recent years and the public has started to save energy, hoping that total energy and electricity consumption will drop.
The government appears to be obsessed with the old idea from the 1970s and 1980s that high energy-consuming industries are important, and plans to expand them.
Over the past 40 to 50 years, steel, petrochemicals, concrete, paper and other high energy-consuming industries have consumed one-third of Taiwan’s energy, while creating less than 7 percent of the nation’s GDP, a figure that has dropped to less than 3 percent in recent years. Today, most of the nation’s energy is imported. When prices were low, it was still reasonable to spend about 3 percent of GDP on purchasing energy. Last year, however the cost jumped to 9 percent of GDP. It is preposterous to spend 9 percent of GDP to produce less than 3 percent of the GDP, let alone consider expanding high energy-consuming industries.
Ma and Liu once vowed to reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions in Taiwan to year 2000 levels by 2025. There are a number of concerns to bear in mind about this promise. First, according to international treaty discussions, the standard for countries similar to Taiwan is 1990 levels. Next, many government officials will have left office by 2025. Third, concrete and feasible short-term strategies, goals, and timelines are lacking. And then of course there’s the concern that the government is pushing for a quicker expansion of large-scale high energy-consuming industries.
Taiwan’s total carbon dioxide emissions have doubled since 1990. The amount generated by coal-fired plants and Formosa Plastics Group’s Sixth Naphtha Cracking Project in Mailiao account for three-quarters of that increase. Total emissions were 230 million tonnes in 2000. Once the new units mentioned above start operations, Taiwan’s carbon dioxide emissions will increase by between 60 million tonnes and 70 million tonnes.
By the time those units come on line, total emissions will have grown by 40 percent from the 2000 levels. If we also take a proposed eighth naphtha cracking project and steel mill into account, the increase will be much greater.
Global climate change has become an increasingly serious problem. Although Taiwan is not a member of the UN, it could face international sanctions. Not only that, but Taiwan’s high carbon dioxide emissions could help cause some of its few remaining allies to disappear from the face of the planet because of rising sea levels.
The industrial and energy sectors accounted for 60 percent of Taiwan’s energy consumption last year, while the transportation sector stood for 13 percent, the agricultural sector 0.9 percent, the service sector 10 percent and households 11 percent.
The bottom line is this: It will be impossible for Taiwan to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions to 2000 levels after increasing them by 40 percent even if the public stops driving cars, using electric lights and air conditioning and gives up cooking food.
All that can be said is the Ma administration’s “policies” to save energy and reduce emissions are just for show.
Gloria Hsu is a professor of atmospheric sciences at National Taiwan University and chairwoman of the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union.
TRANSLATED BY TED YANG AND EDDY CHANG
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