Getting Serious about Climate Action

A climate change report published in November by a consortium of German NGOs placed Taiwan near the bottom of a list that ranked 63 countries based on such metrics as carbon emissions, renewable energy, and energy use. Overall, Taiwan received a “very low” performance rating. 

Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration has disputed the report’s findings, pointing out inaccuracies in the data and basic information about Taiwan. Nevertheless, the dismal score should serve as a wake-up call to the country’s leaders and the public.

Despite President Tsai’s pledge this past April for Taiwan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 – a goal reiterated during her National Day speech in October – some major obstacles to meeting the target remain. 

For starters, Taiwan’s energy consumption, already very high, continues to increase significantly each year. The biggest consumer in Taiwan by far is its vast industrial sector, including the island’s semiconductor industry. The energy required to produce these postage stamp-sized components is enormous, with a few core firms accounting for a significant proportion of Taiwan’s total consumption. As demand for chips skyrockets amid a global shortage, the full-capacity production undertaken by Taiwan’s fabs translates into an ever-growing amount of carbon emissions. 

While major chip companies have ramped up carbon reduction efforts, seeking to raise the proportion of renewable energy used in their production processes, a substantial increase in Taiwan’s renewable energy supply will be needed to fulfill the demand of these large industrial users.

Residential consumption has risen as well, particularly since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Contributing factors have included the rise of remote working, as well as record-high summer temperatures that brought increased use of home air conditioning. Another key factor, however, has been Taiwan’s low electricity prices, which the public has come to see as a basic entitlement.

Other domestic developments also threaten to derail the Tsai administration’s push to eliminate carbon emissions. Referendums taking place this month will include two items that could have a direct impact on Taiwan’s energy future. One question regards restarting the mothballed Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei’s Gongliao District, while another concerns the location of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving terminal off the coast of Datan in Taoyuan’s Guanyin District. 

Nuclear power has long been a thorny issue in Taiwan, with public opinion firmly in favor of phasing it out. But opposition to the LNG facility, which would expand Taiwan’s access to a lower-carbon energy source, is more nuanced as it involves protection of an endangered algal reef at the proposed site.

Obstacles to Taiwan’s net-zero ambitions are not purely internal, however. Given the island’s exclusion from most international organizations and forums, including the United Nations Framework on Climate Change and the recently concluded COP26 summit in Glasgow, Taiwan is largely shut out of the global conversation on climate change and carbon reduction. Taiwan’s inability to join these forums also means that it lacks direct access to the resources, information, and alliance-building potential that they afford participants. 

To align itself with the international community and meet its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, Taiwan clearly will need to find actionable solutions to these challenges. Approaches advocated by AmCham Taiwan, such as public-private partnerships that allow industry and government to work collectively on climate-related causes, could provide a useful tool in tackling some of the most pressing issues Taiwan faces.