On Jan. 1, a slew of new measures took effect, including regulations that large users of electricity — defined as those using more than 5,000 kilowatt-hours per month — must boost their use of renewable energy to 10 percent within five years.
This requirement, which applies to more than 300 companies mainly in the semiconductor, display panel, steel, petrochemical and textile industries, is a concrete step forward for Taiwan’s “green” energy policy.
This year, the UK is to host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow, Scotland. Taiwan must increase its effort to reduce carbon emissions to align with international developments and goals.
As President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said in her New Year’s address, the challenge to reduce carbon emissions must be seen as an opportunity for industrial investment, to create new job opportunities and to find a new direction for the nation’s sustainable development.
To be in line with international goals on climate change, Taiwan must reach zero carbon emissions or carbon neutrality by 2050, to maintain a balance between carbon emissions and what the planet can absorb.
Taiwan must reduce air pollution and carbon emissions to keep up with the international community and build an international platform. If Taiwan fails to do that, foreign trade would become restricted and economic development blocked.
On the road toward reduced carbon emissions, the nation has encountered a few issues that cannot be ignored.
First, Taiwan has not been performing well in international climate change ratings, always ranking among the worst performers, and doing particularly badly when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy development. Taiwan’s per capita carbon emissions rank among the highest among developed countries and the highest in Asia.
Second, Taiwan’s goals and vision are decidedly sluggish: The official goal is to cut greenhouse gas emission by 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, and to less than half of 2005 levels by 2050. That means that per capita carbon emissions are estimated to be 5.4 to 6 tonnes by that time, which is still very high compared with the Paris climate agreement’s goal of 1 to 1.7 tonnes per capita by 2050.
Given the seriousness of climate change, country after country is increasing its efforts to reduce carbon emissions. The international science community believes that due to the average global temperature increase of 0.8oC to 1.2oC to this day, countries should adopt active carbon reduction strategies. If they do not, it would not be possible to stop the temperature increase from surging past 1.5oC by 2050.
This is the reason the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is urging that the world must reduce carbon emissions by at least 50 percent by 2030 to stop global warming from reaching a tipping point. Thus, the international community only has 10 years to reduce emissions before it would be too late to limit the warming of the planet.
During US President Donald Trump’s tenure, the US has questioned global warming, saying that the view climate change is of human origin is false and pulled out of the Paris agreement, although US president-elect Joe Biden has said that he would re-enter the climate pact.
Several countries have announced their target year for becoming carbon neutral, including Japan, South Korea and China, in addition to the EU and others. China has said that its carbon emissions would peak by 2030, and that it would become carbon neutral by 2060, which has been seen as empty talk, as it seems to lack a concrete road map for reaching that goal.
This winter, China has experienced its largest power outage in 10 years, which has exposed the country’s excessive dependence on coal for its power generation.
This has drawn criticism that China’s talk on carbon emission reductions is of the same kind as its strategy to deceive the world on many other issues.
Instead, the efforts of the corporate world have been more promising. RE100, a global initiative to bring together the world’s most influential businesses and commit them to 100 percent renewable electricity, has so far attracted more than 200 firms, many of them multinational companies.
Many high-tech firms participate in the initiative and require that their suppliers adopt the same approach. For example, Apple’s Supplier Clean Energy Program requires the companies in its supply chain to work toward using only renewable energy, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co has announced that it would follow this requirement before 2050.
This shows that if Taiwan wants to get a head start and secure a good position in the reshuffling of international supply chains, it cannot afford to take a haphazard approach to reducing carbon emissions and developing renewable energy. If it does, Taiwan’s industry and foreign trade would encounter problems.
For a long time, Taiwan’s economy has been built upon international trade and has enjoyed the benefits of globalization, but because per capita carbon emissions continue to be among the highest in the world and the nation’s self-defined reduction target is both low and distant, it would be difficult to maintain that position and those benefits.
This does not only apply to carbon emission reductions, Taiwan must also not neglect international labor rights, and economic and trade standards.
One example highlighting the importance of this is the Taiwan-flagged Lien Yi Hsing No. 12 fishing vessel, which has been temporarily seized by US authorities, accusing its operators of deducting excessive amounts from the salaries of eight of its migrant fishers.
When it comes to carbon emission reductions, Taiwan might have been talking very loudly, but it has so far been doing very little.
The importation of US pork containing traces of ractopamine was only allowed on Jan. 1 following a dispute that has been going on through the previous three presidencies. Politicians usually take a short-term view, and when it comes to issues that extend beyond their term in office, they either avoid them or talk them up and paint a large pie in the sky. This usually means that once the politician is gone, so is the policy, or that it endures, but as an empty promise.
Since the push for solar power generation has slowed, there is little hope that the regulation concerning large electricity users will bring any benefits. Renewable energy policies must be more actively enforced or Taiwan will have to pay a huge price.
International economic and trade pressures leave little room for any other outcome.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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