Read, Debate: Engage.

Taiwan committed to reaching net zero by 2050. But can it?

April 04, 2023
tags:#Taiwan, #net zero, #carbon capture, #renewable energy
by:Chermaine Lee
The self-governing island passed a law to achieve net zero by 2050, but some experts are alarmed by the law's lack of strong measures to curb emissions from the industrial sector, which is responsible for a significant portion of the island's carbon emissions.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen signed a historic climate law last month that is set to bring the self-governing island to its net zero goal by 2050.

But while the landmark Climate Change Response Act is widely viewed as a significant step forward in Taiwan’s green commitment, experts and NGOs caution that more needs to be done. 

The Act sets a legally binding target for the island to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in accordance with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit the increase of global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celcius above pre-industrial levels. This is notable given that Taiwan is excluded from participating in the annual UN Climate Change Conference due to its longstanding sovereignty dispute with Beijing, which regards Taiwan as part of the People’s Republic of China. 

The new law includes several key provisions, such as the establishment of a carbon pricing system, the implementation of climate adaptation measures, and the designation of ministries' responsibilities for reducing emissions. As part of its energy transition, Taiwan aims to increase the share of renewables in its energy mix to 20 percent and the share of natural gas to 50 percent by 2025, while reducing the share of coal to 30 percent. 

Currently, coal is responsible for the majority of the island's carbon emissions from fossil fuels, even though it accounts for only about a third of its electricity generation.

Energy transition challenges

Huisun Tsai, a campaign director of energy transition and climate change at Citizen of the Earth Taiwan, told FairPlanet that natural gas will constitute an important part of Taiwan's energy transition. 

"The Taiwanese government has been signing deals with different countries to purchase natural gas in order to secure the fuel amid short supply brought on by the Ukraine war," Tsai said. 

But the increase in natural gas use cannot continue indefinitely, she added. "There's a point in time it has to drop, but which year will it start going down? The government hasn’t set this target yet."

Debates surrounding the use of nuclear energy to help Taiwan reach its emissions goals have been ongoing on the island. Despite being the only clean energy source to currently make up double-digit percentages in the territory's energy mix, nuclear power has faced opposition due to safety and environmental concerns. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party has promised to phase out nuclear power by 2025, but opposition to its reintroduction has also been significant

"Taiwan suffers a geographical disadvantage compared to countries in Europe or North America," Tsai explained, "so it’s not easy for it to use nuclear energy. Taiwan’s land is scarce, [and] it’s hard for us to empty enough space to store nuclear waste. And without space to put in new fuels, nuclear plants are also not able to generate electricity." 

Taiwan is prone to earthquakes and floods, which poses a threat to the six nuclear energy reactors on the island. Fears of accidents similar to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan prompted multiple protests in Taiwan to restart its path to the use of nuclear energy. In 2021, a majority of voters rejected a proposal to restart the construction of two reactors. 

Solar and wind energy development will be strengthened under Taiwan’s net-zero transition plan, with both reaching at least 40 gigawatts by 2050. Measures include providing incentives to install solar panels on building roofs and unused agricultural land, recycling modules and developing floating technology to expand offshore wind farms. 

But balancing the needs of different stakeholders will be a challenge in implementing Taiwan's net-zero transition plan, according to Kuei Tien Chou, Director of the Risk Society and Policy Research Center at National Taiwan University.

"We have exclusive zones for fishermen," he told FairPlanet. "And there has been opposition from the group as well as environmental groups over the safety of coastal areas and the livelihood of the endangered Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins. The government has to negotiate with the community."

Large emitters

Another highlight of the new law is the setup of carbon pricing that charge large emitters incrementally and carbon tariffs on imported products. The revenue will be used to fund mitigation technologies and local advancement of green policies. 

The two experts both applauded the move, but said that a carbon tax is still needed for a stronger effect. 

"The carbon fee will be mandatory from 2024 onwards, but it will mainly be charged by the Environmental Protection Administration," said Chou. "This means the scale is smaller than if the Ministry of Finance sets up a carbon taxation system." 

The industrial sector, including cement, petrochemicals, steel, textile and electronic machinery, accounts for half of the island’s overall carbon emissions. The transition strategies mention the use of a carbon capture technology and hydrogen to slash emissions, but critics argue that the new law does not include consistent measures targeting the sector’s mitigation. 

"We think it’s inappropriate that there is not a strategy so far to reduce emissions from industries. I found this very strange," Tsai added.

"We have been urging authorities to adopt a strategy pushing industries to change their operation model, but they were not willing to. This means organisations like ours will have to do the job of monitoring."

The use of carbon capture technology also lacks certainly, she said. 

"The [carbon capture and storage] technology hasn’t matured, so whether it can indeed be [scaled] and help reduce emissions in 2030 is still uncertain. This will be a risk. A lot of companies [in these industries] rely on this future tech, but can they also invest in low-carbon facilities?"

Climate litigation

Critics of the new law and strategies also pointed to the failure to set up a climate litigation court, which the two experts say are methods for local residents to voice their environmental complaints. 

"Climate litigation cases might not be able to help immediately solving the related conflicts, but people can raise awareness of climate change through this means," said Tsai. "We think a climate litigation court can allow residents to have a conversation with different stakeholders and the government on how to adjust policies." 

But despite ongoing campaigns by environmental groups like Greenpeace, this stipulation was excluded from the law.

"The government is quite conservative in this regard, as they think this [setting up a climate court] will attract legal troubles," Chou explained. 

Image by Thomas Tucker.

Article written by:
Chermaine Lee
Asia Desk Editor
Embed from Getty Images
While the landmark “Climate Change Response Act” is widely seen as a major step forward in Taiwan’s green commitment, experts and NGOs say more needs to be done.
Embed from Getty Images
Taiwan aims to increase the share of renewables in its energy mix to 20% and the share of natural gas to 50% by 2025, while reducing the share of coal to 30%. 
Embed from Getty Images
Taiwan faces significant geographical challenges that make it difficult to rely on nuclear energy, especially compared to countries in Europe and North America.