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Putin Acts, Taiwan Reacts

With the Kyoto Protocol taking effect, Taipei seeks to get into step

3 min read


Russia's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change has sent ripples around the world, with effects being felt especially in places where emissions trading systems are being established. Russia's accession to the agreement means that the protocol takes effect this year, requiring signatory states to reduce their greenhouse gases back to below 1990 levels by 2012.

The effects of Russia's action are also, however, being felt in some unlikely places—among them Taiwan, a country that's not even a party to the Kyoto pact. The island state, so long a dependent satellite of the United States, ironically has adopted a position on Kyoto that is almost the mirror image of the U.S. attitude. It is outside the protocol not because it wants to be—in fact, it would much prefer to join—but because for three decades it hasn't been allowed to be part of the U.N. system. (The agreements that brought the People's Republic of China into the United Nations left Taiwan out in the cold.)

Generally, Taiwan complies with international treaties, especially those pertaining to the global environment, because it wants to be seen as a world citizen in good standing. With the Kyoto Protocol in place, it wishes to take a reasonable posture on emissions reduction that is in keeping with the international trend.

On 8 November, three days after Russia gave its final approval to the Kyoto pact, Taiwan Premier Shyi-kun Yu upgraded an operating task force, already established under the cabinet-level National Council for Sustainable Development, to formulate policies on greenhouse gas reduction. Premier Yu personally convened the reinvigorated panel, charging it to pursue its work with all dispatch.

MANDATE: Jiunn-rong Yeh's task force must find ways to cut Taiwan's greenhouse gas emissions

Taiwan's situation is singular in more ways than one. Though a small country with just 23 million people, it is the world's 14th-largest exporter, and some of its most successful exporting industries are major producers of greenhouse gases. And although Taiwan accounts for only about 1 percent of total world greenhouse gas emissions, its particular emissions have been rising exceptionally sharply—an estimated 70 percent in the 1990s, from 160 million to 272 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

"We are taking greenhouse gas reduction seriously," the executive general of the task force, Jiunn-rong Yeh, minister of the cabinet's research, development, and evaluation commission, told IEEE Spectrum [see photo, "Mandate"]. Yeh stressed that the potential for saving on emissions is especially great in Taiwan because the country's energy productivity is poor—only about half that of Japan. That is to say, it currently takes Taiwan about twice as much energy as Japan uses to produce a corresponding unit of output. Yeh expressed confidence that it would be possible to find a workable plan to reduce emissions without resorting to using more nuclear energy, which the reform government has promised to phase out.

Taiwan's main greenhouse culprits are the perfluorocarbon (PFC) compounds used in electronics manufacturing to scrub vacuum chambers. They have a much stronger effect on climate than carbon dioxide, with warming potentials 5700 to 11 900 times as great. Accordingly, both the Taiwan Semiconductor Industry Association (TSIA) and the Taiwan TFT-LCD Association (TTLA) have set goals to voluntarily reduce PFC emissions in the near future. They also have been working toward a shared consensus with their global trade counterpart organizations, the World Semiconductor Council and the World LCD Industry Cooperation Committee, respectively. For example, Taiwan has pledged to go along with a commitment by the World Semiconductor Council that its members should voluntarily reduce PFC emissions to 10 percent below their 1995 levels by 2010, though from a different baseline.

Taiwan could become a showcase of greenhouse gas emissions reduction if its industrial structure and use of energy can be adjusted appropriately. "International pressure could possibly be a driving force for us to make all of the required adjustments smoothly," says Yeh. "If [we] succeed, [we] will still be a competitive, secure economic entity in the post-Kyoto era."

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