A day ahead of yesterday’s opening of the new legislative session, a coalition of environmental rights groups called on lawmakers to keep global warming in mind when reviewing bills, including infrastructure proposals and amendments to the Greenhouse Gas Reduction and Management Act (溫室氣體減量及管理法).
Their call came just over a week after Greenpeace Taiwan urged the government to focus on climate change by setting carbon reduction goals and being more aggressive about energy transformation, citing the higher-than-average temperatures in Taiwan and the serious coral bleaching under way off the coast of Pingtung County, the worst in two decades.
Both calls fall short of what is really needed.
The nation’s lawmakers and the central government are certainly crucial to efforts to combat global warming and protect the environment, but so are local governments and the general public.
As is so often the case in Taiwan, too much attention is put on the passage of new laws or amending old ones, as doing so gives lawmakers and the government a track record they can point to come election time. Urgently needed, though, is ensuring the implementation and enforcement of laws already on the books, and enacting meaningful penalties for those who contravene them.
The average person has shown time and again that they prefer convenience over meaningful change to their lifestyles, as attested by the ever-growing number of beverage shops with their plastic cups and straws, and packaging required for all the meals delivered via Foodpanda and Uber Eats.
Another example of how Taiwan fumbles its transition to becoming more environmentally friendly is 5.2 hectares of Dalin Borough (大林) farmland in Kaohsiung’s Cishan District (旗山), that the owner allowed to be excavated to create a massive, about 20m deep pit, designated for burying 1 million tonnes of furnace slag from China Steel Corp. The depositing started in May 2013 — even though the area was in a tap water protection area.
A year later, local residents raised concerns about groundwater contamination — the water in a nearby pond had turned royal blue — but they could not reach anyone at the Water Resources Agency, the Environmental Protection Administration or the Council of Agriculture, while the Kaohsiung Environmental Protection Bureau said that furnace slag did not meet the criteria for the industrial waste they are responsible for monitoring.
On March 26, the Kaohsiung bureau finally announced that one of the companies that had buried the slag had agreed to a three-year cleanup project, set to begin in May.
However, earlier this month it was discovered that there was not just 1 million tonnes of slag to be removed, but an estimated 4 million tonnes, as well as construction debris and other unidentified waste, while the cleanup was running far behind schedule, with just about 1,000 tonnes removed and 100,000 tonnes due to be excavated by May next year.
Company officials blamed summer rains for the delay, and complained that they did not know what to do with the excavated waste, as no decontamination or storage sites have been approved yet. The city bureau said that this was not its problem, but the problem of the firm that was the source of the slag.
Another round of buck-passing has ensued, while local residents have waited for seven years. No one knows exactly what, or how much of it, was buried, and how much contamination it has caused.
There are plenty of agencies that should bear some responsibility for the disaster, yet each just carries out its own mission and follows its guidelines.
The problem does not lie within the letter of the law, but in the inability or unwillingness to give teeth to legislation protecting the environment — and the willingness of so many to turn a blind eye to destructive activities.
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