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Should Taiwan establish Asia's first Green Deal?

Greenhouse gas emissions remain stable, but many hurdles remain to banning fossil fuel-powered vehicles

Coal-fired power plants in Taichung, Taiwan

Coal-fired power plants in Taichung, Taiwan (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The European Union (EU) repositioned itself as a world leader on climate issues last December by announcing the European Green Deal and the goal to become climate neutral by 2050.

In the following decades, the EU will cut 90 percent of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transport, ensure all packaging is reusable or recyclable, and guarantee that all member states receive fair allocations during their energy transitions. Promoting biodiversity and decreasing the use of pesticides will also be treated as priorities.

As the movement to counter climate change spreads across the world, is Taiwan also on the right track to develop without sacrificing the happiness of future generations?

The Greenhouse Gas Reduction and Management Act is Taiwan's response to the climate target set by the Paris Agreement. The Act demands that the island nation diminish its GHG emissions to 20 percent of the 2005 levels by 2030 and 50 percent of the 2005 levels by 2050: a challenge requiring collective efforts across sectors.

"Taiwan imports 98 to 99 percent of its energy from abroad. Unlike the EU, our electric grids are not connected to any other country. That is why the energy transition may be much harder in Taiwan," said Huang Wei-ming (黃偉鳴), Deputy Director of the Department of Environmental Sanitation in Environmental Protection Administration (EPA). "Despite our situation, Taiwan is not behind other advanced countries with regard to the pace of adopting sustainable economy."

Between 2005 and 2016, the average annual growth rate for GHG emissions in Taiwan was 0.1 percent, but Taiwan's GDP increased by 42 percent. This indicates the two statistics have already decoupled.

Huang attributed this decoupling to the improvement of energy efficiency and strict regulations. For example, after the EPA forbade the use of diesel containing more than 10 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur on roads, the oil industry had no choice but to upgrade its production to meet the standard.

Nevertheless, as several European cities are waging wars against fossil fuel-powered cars, Taiwan is falling short in its attempts to further transform its transportation landscape.

According to the EPA's Clean Air Action Plan, Taiwan would have replaced all its city buses with electronic models and forbade the sale of all fossil fuel-powered motorcycles and cars by 2035 and 2040 respectively. In 2019, however, the sales ban was suspended out of fears with regard to its impact on supply chains. The EPA confirmed there is no further plan to implement the ban in the future.

At the moment in Taiwan, encouragement and subsidies are the main approaches to reducing vehicle emissions. From 2017 to 2019, the government pulled more than 910,000 two-stroke motorbikes off the road with subsidies aimed at riders of up to NT$5000 ($164.60); diesel car owners also received funds or tax reductions for adding diesel particulate filters to their cars or switching to environmentally friendly models.

Even though it is still too early to judge the full impact of cancelling the sales ban on gasoline and diesel cars, Taiwan did see its concentration of PM2.5 fall after the EPA began addressing other pollution sources. Results were achieved by reducing the pollution of 10,000 restaurants and preventing the burning over 270,000 acres of farmland.

The concentration of PM2.5 dropped from 21.9μg/m3 in 2015 to 16.0μg/m3 in 2019, with a further reduction projected for the coming years.

Should Taiwan establish Asia's first Green Deal?
Heavy air pollution in southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung