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Kaohsiung’s green potential

Why one of Taiwan’s most polluted cities is at vanguard of nation's green revolution

Kaohsiung. (PXhere photo)

Kaohsiung. (PXhere photo)

KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan) — When it comes to green credentials, Kaohsiung’s reputation is not exactly great.

It is ranked the third most polluted city in Taiwan (after Yuanlin and Fengyuan) and exceeded WHO guidelines for PM2.5 concentrations in the atmosphere every month in 2021. It recorded more than five times the recommended amount in no fewer than five of those months.

In that context, it might seem odd to make the case that Kaohsiung has the potential to become Taiwan’s green pioneer city, but hear me out.

If we set aside the electoral aberration that was the Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) era, Kaohsiung has felt like a city progressing fast for as long as I have lived here (since 2014).

The port area of the city is now unrecognizable from just a few years ago. Aesthetically pleasing new buildings such as the Kaohsiung Exhibition Center and the new Kaohsiung Music Center, constructed as part of the Asia New Bay Area (亞洲新灣區), have drawn the eye away from the less visually pleasing 85 Sky Tower, which previously dominated the skyline.

Signs of progress

Along with these developments have come significant investments in infrastructure and particularly public transport. A fantastic light rail line has been constructed and, once completed, will provide a vital link around the city.

The main railway through the city has been tunneled and replaced with Kaohsiung’s version of the New York High Line and a spectacular new main station constructed.

Approval has also just been given for the construction of a new metro line, the Yellow Line, which will have two branches and link vast swathes of the city to its fast-growing public transport network. It is expected to boost system capacity by between 18% and 25%.

And that’s not all. Earlier this month, Foxconn (Honhai, 鴻海科技集團) announced plans to establish an electric bus ecosystem in Kaohsiung. The city already has a number of electric buses operating on its streets, and that number is likely to rise substantially in the coming years.

Meanwhile, the Kaohsiung City Government announced earlier this week that it would require all new building construction plans to include EV charging points, which will encourage people to use electric cars.

Throw in the prevalence of Gogoro electric scooters over high-polluting diesel models, and there is no denying that when it comes to transportation, Kaohsiung is moving rapidly in the right direction. The difference can already be noticed in the city’s atmosphere.

But greener transport alone is not going to solve Kaohsiung’s pollution problems. Much of the green agenda feeds into Kaohsiung’s Smart City ambitions and any green ambitions are likely to be anchored in this agenda.

Smart ideas

We have hosted the Smart City Summit and Expo (SCSE) before, and this year co-hosted it with Taipei. Kaohsiung hosted forums on smart city living, net-zero carbon emissions, and green energy development — all fitting topics given where Kaohsiung currently is on environmental issues and where it wants to go.

Kaohsiung’s Smart City program already features a number of smart energy initiatives, including the use of smart meters and a cloud energy monitoring system. But there is scope to take this much further and combine smart technology with green energy sources to help Kaohsiung reduce its reliance on fossil fuels.

Large-scale projects such as offshore wind farms are likely to play a role, but there is more that can be done at a local level too. For example, incentive schemes for homeowners to install solar panels on roofs and get paid for any excess power that can be fed back into the grid is just one way that older housing stock can begin to go green — rather than just focusing efforts on new builds.

As far as new builds are concerned, EV charging points alone are not enough. Solar panels and other environmentally friendly energy solutions should become mandatory, with a target of all new-build complexes being net-zero by no later than 2030, well ahead of the national deadline of 2050.

Tackling transport pollution and domestic energy use is all well and good, but the blunt truth for Kaohsiung is that it remains Taiwan’s industrial heartland.

This means that it is surrounded by dirty, polluting heavy industry, albeit made up of businesses that create jobs and provide a large proportion of Taiwan’s manufacturing output. This is important to both the domestic and national economy and it would be wrong to undermine this important sector for the sake of green targets.

Green targets

However, Taiwan has committed itself to net zero emissions by 2050, and Kaohsiung has the potential to show that there is a sustainable way to reach this ambitious target.

That means incentivizing industries to transition toward their own green targets and allowing new green technologies to be established in the region to help with this process. Most industries will be able to achieve this, but unless it is made financially appealing to do so or prohibitively expensive not to, many will not make the effort.

It will take both the carrot and the stick if Taiwan is to deliver its net-zero goals. Public and private sectors will have to work together, and Kaohsiung is the perfect city to trial that approach.

The city has an ambitious mayor in Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) and a DPP administration at a national level that has shown a willingness to invest in Kaohsiung and close the country’s north-south divide. They must work together to achieve these goals and help Kaohsiung’s industries clean up.

Kaohsiung’s transport plans and Smart City agenda are already well advanced. The city is already adapting to the modern world.

There is nowhere in Taiwan that is better suited to serve as the country’s green pioneer city. And let's face it, if Taiwan can succeed in transforming Kaohsiung, there is not a city in the country, or indeed the world, that cannot follow our lead.