In the preface to the 2007 edition of his book Heat, George Monbiot writes, "The danger is not that we will stop talking about climate change. The danger is that we will talk ourselves to kingdom come."
In Taiwan the danger is even greater, because it seems hardly anyone is talking about it at all. The Taipei Times made it the topic of their editorial on 14 December.
Being excluded from the UN and other international bodies that deal with environmental issues like climate change severely hampers the green movement and means that Taiwan comes under no pressure whatsoever to reduce its shocking emissions levels. All we get from time to time is bluster about how we should "voluntarily" meet our "obligations." That didn't work too well with Kyoto, because the nation's emissions have doubled since 1990 — the baseline year in the agreement.
In other countries, protecting the environment and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are hot topics and appear high — if not at the very top — of the agenda during election campaigns. The recent Australian elections are a good example.
Not so here. With legislative and presidential elections just round the corner and the UN talkfest in Bali in full swing, we have heard precious little about the environment from anyone, bar a surprising pledge yesterday by Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung cities — again voluntary — to cut emissions.
On the same day Liou Ming-lone (劉銘龍) wrote an opinion piece in the Taipei Times. He wrote, "Recently, high-level government bodies have finally begun to discuss the formulation of a target and timeline for emissions reduction. Though far from international expectations, at least emissions reduction has been adopted into policy considerations."
Although Taiwan could not officially participate in the Bali Conference on Climate Change, a number of government officials and NGOs were there as observers. The Taipei Times reports on their thoughts about the Bali conference today.
Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) Deputy Minister Chang Feng-teng (張豐藤) said,
the goal of their attendance was two-fold: to grasp the latest developments in international standards for fighting climate change, "so that we can make laws accordingly" and, "to let the international community hear our voice."
Cheng I-chin (鄭一青) of TEAN is reported as saying,
"Developed countries are raising the bar for themselves. For example, the EU's original goal was to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent in 2020. They have increased that to 30 percent," she said.
"In the post-2012 era, the leading 25 countries, including Taiwan, who are responsible for 83 percent of global emissions, will be key targets for greenhouse gas emission reduction," she said.
Furthermore, the green groups at yesterday's press conference made three requests to the government. These were, (1) policies to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2050, (2) participation in COP 13 through International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, which includes Taipei and Kaohsiung, and United Cities and Local Governments, which includes Taichung and (3) government control of manufacturers and businesses. The last one is particularly important with planned projects like the Formosa Plastic Group's steel mill in Yunlin. If a project like this goes ahead it makes it virtually impossible for Taiwan to achieve significant reductions in carbon emissions.
Looking at the economic policies of the two candidates for the Presidential election one wonders whether there were any considerations regarding climate change at all. DPP candidate Frank Hsieh says Taiwan "must revitalize the manufacturing industry". While KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou plans to "upgrade the nation's road network" along with other infrastructure and industrial developments.
Both candidates seem focused on infrastructure projects and Taiwan's industrial base. There is not a single word about climate change or carbon emissions. The problem is that decisions made now continue to influence the nation's carbon emissions for decades and limit the options for moving to a low carbon economy in the future.
Here are some policy suggestions for Taiwan's next President.
- A freeze on all major infrastructure and industrial projects until a thorough assessment of their carbon cost is made.
- An ambitious but achievable target for the amount of energy to produced from renewable sources. (e.g. 20% by 2020).
- Government incentives for the development of new technologies and industries that can reduce Taiwan and the world's carbon emissions.
- Agree to meet the targets set in future international treaties even if Taiwan is not a signatory (as a result of being excluded from the UN).
The time for talking is finished. What is needed is action.
*cartoon by Nicholson, www.nicholsoncartoons.com.au.