Taiwan represents a textbook example of the special challenges that export economies face in meeting their carbon reduction targets. Exports represent two thirds of The Republic of China’s GDP and although the country’s economy contracted by over 10 percent in the first quarter of 2009, all signs point to a resurgence of export led growth as China emerges from recession. That is good news for Taiwan’s GDP trajectory and bad news for the country’s carbon reduction policy goals—as coal-fired factories are fired up to produce the home appliances and electronics for the consumers of China’s urban and emerging rural markets. In 2008, China replaced the United States as Taiwan’s number one export market.
Taiwan has the dubious distinction of being home to two of the top five most polluting power plants on the planet. According to Carbon Monitoring for Action two coal-fired power plants in Taichung and Mailiau are, respectively the number one and number five emitters of carbon in the world. The Taichung plant, owned by Taiwan Power Company, produces twenty percent of Taiwan’s power. Coal-fired plants generate 36 percent of Taiwan’s energy and the small island nation is the 22nd highest emitter of carbon dioxide among nations.
Unfortunately, Taiwan has been excluded from much of the formal global conversations on carbon restraint—it was not invited to be a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol—because its powerful neighbor to the north has successfully barred it from UN membership. Nonetheless, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou maintains that the country is committed to reducing the carbon intensity of its manufacturing by 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2015, and by an additional 50 percent by 2025. Total carbon emissions are to be reduced to 2000 levels by 2025 and by half again by 2050.
Meeting these targets will be a challenge. Although the country has abundant wind, solar and geothermal resources, Taiwan’s legislature has been accused of endless foot-dragging over a renewable energy bill that would jump start a faster pace of renewable development. The legislature’s intransigence has so exasperated one German wind power company (Infravest) that it has threatened to suspend investment in the country if the bill is not passed soon. Meanwhile, more coal-fired plants are in the works, as indicated by government approvals granted last year to Taiwan Power to expand a coal-fired power plant in Taipei County, and to build a new one in central Taiwan.
How quickly will policy makers in countries that are likely to pay the most carbon intensive price for the worldwide economic recovery move to implement clean technologies to address those impacts? Probably not quickly enough. The next economic boom is likely to a bust for climate change mitigation.