Taiwan's carbon emissions highest in ten years

Experts have linked the recent surge in particulate matter pollution with the increased usage of fossil fuel powered energy.

Particulate matter pollution as seen in Kaohsiung City

Experts have linked the recent surge in particulate matter pollution with the increased usage of fossil fuel powered energy. (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) According to the latest carbon emission report carried out by the Environmental Protection Administration under the Executive Yuan, Taiwan’s carbon emissions have reached their highest level in ten years. This goes against the objective of the carbon emission plan initiated by the government two years ago.

Observers have suspected that this is due to the government’s goal of achieving a non-nuclear society, with replacing nuclear power with fossil fuel being the main tool.

"While carbon reduction is important, having sufficient electricity is even more so," states the Bureau of Energy. High electricity demand throughout 2017 has prompted the increased usage of coal-burning power plants.

The Bureau of Energy estimates that in the upcoming five years, total fossil fuel usage, including coal, may reach 33 million tons, significantly higher than any of the past few years. Not only does the use of coal have a high carbon emission rate than nuclear power, it is almost double the amount of natural gas. This poses a contradiction between Taiwan’s current state and its commitments in the Paris Agreement.

In response, Lee Ying-yuan, head of the Environmental Protection Administration stated in an interview that the substitution of nuclear power with fossil fuel is undoubtedly the main reason for the surge in carbon emission. He emphasizes however, that this is an inevitable outcome for Taiwan during its transitional phase in shifting towards more environmentally friendly resources. Although total carbon emissions are expected to be higher than usual in the upcoming years, in 2020 gradual decreases can be expected.

According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, stagnant technological developments in renewable energy resources, as well the shortage of natural gas provision plants, are the main reasons that the government has turned to coal power plants to tackle the high demand in electricity. However, after the country goes through the high energy demand of the next few years, renewable energy sources are expected to increase significantly by 2020.

More natural gas provision plants are also expected to be installed in 2023. Therefore, the period between 2020 and 2025, is when Taiwan will start seeing the significant benefits of the government’s carbon reduction program.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs also notes that the recovery in the business cycle, a lively manufacturing industry, and the housing expansion are all reasons for the increase in carbon emission.

Experts from The American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei, and Bloomberg analysts however, have both expressed doubt towards the Taiwanese government’s plan to cut carbon emission. According to them, being “non-nuclear” and achieving “significant reductions in carbon emission” at the same time is a faraway fantasy that in no way seems feasible.

Public health professor from National Taiwan University Jhan, Chang-Cyuan (詹長權), has also pointed out the possible link between overusing coal power and the recent surge in particulate matter pollution (PM2.5) throughout the island. He also warns that it is “unwise” for the government to underestimate the public health risks of its energy policies.

Despite doubts and criticisms, Lee remains optimistic for Taiwan’s path towards cutting carbon emission. He believes that though the government’s policies may not bring immediate effects, with thorough planning and perseverance in execution, the desired outcome of transforming the energy sector in Taiwan by 2025 will eventually come to be.