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Taiwan News talks to Taiwan Institute for Sustainable Energy's Eugene Chien

Taiwan’s first environmental protection minister outlines big changes needed for sustainability transition

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Taiwan Institute for Sustainable Energy head Eugene Chien. (Photo/Taiwan News)

Taiwan Institute for Sustainable Energy head Eugene Chien. (Photo/Taiwan News)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — With the COP 26 summit, 2021 was a big year for sustainability worldwide, says Eugene Chien (簡又新), head of the Taiwan Institute for Sustainable Energy (TAISE), and now Taiwan must accelerate its efforts to contribute to carbon reduction.

“We saw tremendous change in the last year,” Chien says, pointing out that over 130 countries announced their commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050.

The U.S. announced a doubling of its carbon reduction targets, and many other countries, including Japan and the U.K., made similarly striking pledges. The EU is now also implementing the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, Chien pointed out, making carbon duties a reality.

But how about Taiwan’s transition? Chien’s organization is pushing the agenda forward.

TAISE, which Chien has been leading since 2007, focuses on promoting climate change awareness, renewable energy, corporate sustainability, university sustainability, and sustainable development goals. It all comes back to one word, says Chien: sustainability.

Chien recalls the environmental degradation when he was Taiwan's first environmental protection minister in the 1980s.

“The environmental situation was crazy at the time; it was terrible in Taiwan,” he says. “We did not even have one incinerator in Taiwan… these were very difficult times.” Chien says there was an acute need to raise public awareness about the environment.

He hosted regular radio shows for about 15 years, started climate change painting competitions in schools around Taiwan and finally, beginning in 2008, began handing out corporate awards to sustainability leaders in the private sector. Through education initiatives, competitions, workshops, and conferences,TAISE has increased the level of corporate environmental responsibility.

Then, in 2016, TAISE established the Center for Corporate Sustainability (CCS), which educates government agencies and universities about sustainability. Most companies in Taiwan have begun seriously considering how to reduce their emissions, Chien says, but do not know how to measure them accurately.

“That’s a big problem for Taiwan,” he says. Yet, with the government planning to roll out carbon pricing in 2023, corporations are urgently trying to learn what they need to do.

Chien says Taiwan has not done enough over the last 20 years, but he is confident things can change.

If there is a carbon fee next year, he says, people will be incentivized to change. Chien proposes carbon fees be added not only to electricity but also to water utilities.

“Then you will see that tap water is really not so cheap,” he says.

Asked how individuals can contribute to the transition, Chien says people should start by not wasting food, using energy-saving light bulbs, and even wearing different clothes.

“Almost everything must change,” he says. “It’s impossible for the government to say ‘Okay, we go for carbon neutral,’” he says. “There is still a long way to go.”