Is Taiwan on Track to Reduce its Carbon Footprint?

Power generation and industrial processes are Taiwan’s most substantial sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Photo: Timothy Ferry.

Taiwan’s government has ambitious goals for dramatically reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in line with global standards.

Although Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and did not sign the Paris Accord, Taiwan has nevertheless developed its own plan to dramatically reduce its carbon footprint in line with international efforts and with an awareness of its own vulnerabilities.

“Taiwan is an island country with high vulnerability to serious and immediate climate change threats,” the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) noted in a written reply to Taiwan Business TOPICS. “In response to calls for global climate action, Taiwan has passed the Greenhouse Gas Reduction and Management Act (GHG Act), followed by the National Climate Change Action Guidelines.”

The GHG Act calls for GHG reduction based on 2005 GHG emissions levels. The GHG Act calls for emissions to decline 5% by 2020, 10% by 2025, 20% by 2030, and 50% by 2050. “Taiwan is a member of the global village, and combatting climate change is one of the EPA’s top priorities,” says Taiwan EPA Minister Lee Ying-yuan.

The measures are aimed at ensuring Taiwan’s long-term sustainable development while reducing GHG emissions and are “in line with the Paris Agreement,” according to the written statement.

Yet doubts persist as to whether the government is taking the issue of climate change seriously enough. “There is no urgent call for action,” says Hsu Huang-hsiung, research fellow and deputy director of the Laboratory for Climate Change Research at Academia Sinica.

The GHG Act targets six major sectors for GHG emissions reductions targets, including Energy, Manufacturing, Transportation, Residential and Commercial, Agriculture, and Environmental Management. But Hsu notes that although the Act was enacted in 2015, “we still don’t have a detailed plan for greenhouse gas reduction.”

In order to function, the GHG Act requires a highly comprehensive and thorough inventory and regulatory framework, which has not yet been deployed. The vast scope of the Act means that it impacts a host of stakeholders, including environmentalists, industry, several government ministries and agencies, local governments, and citizens. With so many competing and conflicting interests, the framework was difficult to establish, but a draft has now been created. Minister Lee notes that the EPA will soon hold a series of hearings with stakeholders to finalize the rules.

Yet Hsu sees an even more fundamental issue: that neither the government nor society accurately perceives the threat of climate change and the consequent need to take action to both mitigate that change and adapt to it.

“People don’t see it as an emergency because it’s a long-term threat,” he says.

He faults the GHG Act for being too limited in scope and for not addressing the need for the “deep de-carbonization” of the economy and society that will be required to maintain the rise in average global temperatures within the 1.4 degrees Celsius range specified by the UNFCCC.  “It will only control a tiny part of the impact of climate change,” he concludes. “We need a total solution, not just a solution for one aspect.”

Many experts predict that in less than 20 years the warming will have already exceeded 1.4 degrees and in less than 40 years will reach 2.5 degrees.

In a lecture last year, Nobel Laureate Lee Yuan-tseh, the former president of Academia Sinica, called on Taiwan to play a leading role in fighting climate change. Photo: CNA

The government has struggled to manage GHG emissions as it proceeds with its denuclearization and energy-transformation efforts. Although the energy-transformation plan calls for shuttering all nuclear power plants by 2025 and replacing them with similarly zero-emission solar and wind power, the energy transformation is taking longer than expected. What replaced this lost nuclear power over the summer was primarily coal, as receiving terminal and storage capacity is insufficient to meet the ever-growing demand for liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports.

Previously, Taiwan generated some 19% of its electricity from zero-emission nuclear power, but this proportion fell to only 2% in midsummer 2017 with the shutdown of the Jinshan Nuclear Power Plant (NPP1) two years ahead of schedule and reactor 2 at Kuosheng (NPP2) five years early. There were also temporary issues at the Maanshan (NPP3) power plant that took one reactor offline for several weeks.

Out of Taiwan’s total of six nuclear units, currently one reactor at Kuosheng and both reactors at Maanshan are in operation. With wintertime demand peaking at around 27,000MWh, Taiwan is now generating some 10.6% of its electricity from nuclear, 44% from LNG, and 37% from coal. Renewable energy is down to less than 4%, with 1.5% from hydro, 0.4% from solar, and 1.8% from wind, according to the Taiwan Power Co. website.

As CO2 can remain in the atmosphere for 200 years, Taiwan’s added emissions will be a part of the climate change problem regardless of when renewable energy begins to be more fully deployed.

Hsu calls on the government to pass a Climate Change Law that would provide a detailed plan for how Taiwan can de-carbonize its society.

“We need a roadmap so that we know where we are going and how to achieve our objectives,” he says. “It will enable us to estimate how much money we will need and how much benefit we will experience – or how much impact we can expect to suffer.”