Last week, at the UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid, the environmental organization Germanwatch released this year’s Climate Change Performance Index, in which Taiwan was ranked 59th. This placed Taiwan third from the bottom, ahead of only Saudi Arabia at 60th and the US at 61st, which is the worst ranking that the nation has received since it was first listed in the 2008 index.
In a statement published to coincide with the opening of September’s UN Climate Action Summit in New York, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) celebrated that the average annual growth of Taiwan’s carbon dioxide emissions over the past 10 years was only 0.1 percent, which was better than other East Asian countries, such as China’s 4.8 percent, South Korea’s 2.3 percent and Singapore’s 1.6 percent.
The nation’s index ranking and the EPA figure offer very different impressions. A closer look shows that the EPA was citing data from 2005 to 2016, while energy policies have seen major changes since 2017.
In that year, the Democratic Progressive Party administration announced its plan to transition the nation’s energy resources to 50 percent natural gas, 30 percent coal and 20 percent renewable energy by 2025 — not a huge shift in reliance on fossil fuels.
In November last year, the Ministry of Economic Affairs stated that the nation lacks the conditions to eliminate coal-fired electricity generation. This is the true situation that the EPA is hiding from the international community.
While performing poorly with regard to carbon reduction and moving away from coal, Taiwan has in the past few years been developing renewable sources of energy, yet it also scored very poorly in the renewable energy category. Why is that?
This category does not take the quantity and speed of the installation of solar power and wind turbines as its sole criterion, but also considers whether renewable energy would damage the environment.
The point of this is to avoid causing environmental disasters in the name of encouraging renewables, which is something that has happened in many countries.
Taiwan is going down the same path as those countries under the banner of scrapping nuclear power and achieving 20 percent green energy.
Various kinds of green energy have mushroomed on the fertile ground of government subsidies, wholesale energy prices, tax concessions and land procurement advantages.
Large tracts of land, such as forests and wetlands, which had been safeguarded in the name of environmental protection or water resource conservation, have been given up in the name of renewable energy development.
When renewable energy facilities are built, trees have to be cleared to make space for the transmission lines and substations that relay power to the grid. Giant wind turbines need to be elevated to a considerable height, thus damaging the scenery and ecology.
In areas with high rainfall, these changes might lead to landslides that threaten local ecosystems and the lives of local residents.
Considering how far the nation’s climate performance has gone off track, maybe more emphasis should be placed on adaptation.
For example, the traditional territories in the process of being assigned to the nation’s Aborigines make up nearly a quarter of Taiwan’s total area, so the key role of Aborigines in this age of climate change should not be overlooked.
Statistics show that allowing the world’s Aborigines to manage their own land could remove 6.2 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent from the atmosphere if passively implemented and 849.3 gigatonnes if implemented more vigorously.
That is greater than the 1.52 gigatonnes of carbon reduction that could be achieved by developing high-speed railways all around the world, and it is in addition to the 18.06 gigatonnes of carbon reduction that could be achieved by planting trees.
To put it simply, while the mountains and forests where Aborigines live are heavily affected by climate change, they also present an opportunity.
Putting adaptive measures of climate justice at the heart of climate action, including better climate policies and laws, and promoting climate education for children in cities and Aboriginal areas, might be the best solution for reversing the deterioration of Taiwan’s climate image.
Hsieh Ying-shih is chairman of the Environmental Quality Protection Foundation. Kao Szu-chi is a senior researcher with the foundation.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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