A special draft bill for implementing the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program is under review in the Legislative Yuan. This ambitious development plan aims to enhance the nation’s global competitiveness and economic growth for the next 30 years.
The government’s strategy is to harness both public and private investment for infrastructure construction and low-carbon transition. Public investment under the program would be about NT$882.49 billion (US$29.2 billion) and would raise an extra NT$1.78 trillion in private investments over the next seven years.
The program is expected to raise the nation’s real GDP by NT$975.90 billion while creating 40,000 to 50,000 new jobs.
However, in terms of both form and substance, the draft bill, which contains only 11 relatively short provisions, is seemingly not solid enough to support such a large-scale program.
Commentaries also raise concerns about the program’s provisions to spur industrial innovation, its negative environmental and social effects, and public participation in decisionmaking.
Since the Green Economy Report published by the UN Environment Programme in 2011, governments and analysts have been exploring why and how state intervention could be beneficial to both the economy and the environment.
International lessons have demonstrated that, to achieve a “green” paradigm shift, nations should see environment, investment and innovation as one issue.
It is well-known that Denmark has a first-mover advantage in wind turbine technologies, though it is not a world leader in the availability of wind resources.
Denmark managed to accurately forecast the patterns of wind technologies and global markets at least one decade before its competitors and successfully pursued world technological leadership in the field.
Since the 1980s, Danish environmental regulations drove its industries to develop frontier-level technologies and channeled the investments not only in infrastructure and production, but in natural, human and knowledge-based capital.
This case illustrates that environmental policies can also be vigorous economic policies if the government is able to see further than others and competently allocate scarce resources.
Adequate regulatory safeguards are crucial to keep investment activities within acceptable boundaries.
Though Premier Lin Chuan (林全) promised that all projects in the program would be scrutinized by the existing legal frameworks, fierce public discontent toward nationwide land expropriations and onshore wind turbines have challenged the legitimacy and transparency of the “top-down” and expertise-dominated planning systems.
Undemocratic and unfair development decisions will provoke further social inequalities and threaten the effects of low-carbon investments.
Now is a good time for the nation to trace the new international trends regarding public participatory mechanisms, such as Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, the EU’s Aarhus Convention and the UK’s new National Infrastructure Assessment, which would be helpful to clarify the opportunities and limitations in Taiwan’s domestic legal frameworks.
The decision to invest in pro-environmental innovation is not a bad bet, but all too often, discussion of infrastructure development is limited to economics and engineering.
The authorities should take some time to rethink both the synergistic and safeguarding aspects of the environment-economy nexus, and consolidate the program with the nation’s broader environmental, technological and industrial policies.
Yang Chung-han is a doctoral candidate at the University of Cambridge and a member of the Taipei Bar Association.
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