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Taiwan prepares regulations to meet 2050 net-zero goal despite COP26 exclusion

08 November 2021 Max Tingyao Lin

Taiwan, Asia's eighth-largest GHG emitter, is preparing regulations to achieve its 2050 net-zero pledge and wants to be included in future talks under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Despite having emerged as a large renewables market with plans to install more than 32 GW of capacity by the end of this decade, Taiwan has not been able to participate in Conference of Parties negotiations because mainland China blocks it from all UN meetings.

President Tsai Ing-wen reaffirmed Taiwan's target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and promised to enshrine the goal into domestic law during a 7 November event, but she called on the UN to involved Taiwan in future climate talks.

"Taiwan regards attaining net zero and mitigating [the climate] crisis as our collective and generational responsibility," said Tsai, who first announced the mid-century goal in April. "And for this very reason, Taiwan should be included as part of the solution to address the global climate crisis."

Tsai's prerecorded message was played at a Taiwanese government-organized event at the Radisson Blu Hotel Glasgow, nearly 2 km from the main COP26 venue.

In late October, Taiwan's Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) released the draft text of the Climate Change Act, which aims to provide the legal framework for decarbonization measures including participation in international emissions trading.

Government officials have expressed worries over whether Taiwan's exclusion from Article 6 discussions will affect its export-oriented economy, which will need to respond to decarbonization initiatives beyond its border.

Under the proposed mechanisms for future international carbon markets, Taiwanese firms might be able to participate in the market for public and private corporations. But Taipei is likely to be kept out of country-to-country transactions.

"For years, Taiwan has been trying to monitor all the rules and regimes emerging from the Paris Agreement," said Kelly Hsieh, head of the Taipei Representative Office in the UK. Hsieh is Taiwan's de-factor ambassador to the COP26 host country.

"We have been trying to follow discussions on carbon reduction, carbon pricing, and climate financing…[But] we are deprived of the opportunity to join the global actions," he added.

The Taiwanese event was held on a day when there were no official UN talks scheduled. It drew hundreds of participants, including local politicians from the Scottish National Party and Labour Party.

Calls for more inclusion

Many climate activists—including Sweden's Greta Thunberg—have described COP26 as the most "excluding" UN climate summit ever, saying the host did not grant access to many representatives from non-profit organizations (NPOs) and provide a wheelchair-friendly venue. Also, the UN closed media accreditation 8 October, having promised a deadline of 30 October.

The COP26 Presidency said it had to limit the number of participants to control the spread of COVID-19.

However, Taiwan's exclusion is more about international politics. It lost its UN seat to China in 1971 when under authoritarian rule. Having started electing its own government in the 1990s, Taiwan has been seeking to re-enter the UN, but with little success due to mainland China's opposition.

"Taiwan's meaningful participation in the UN system is not a political issue, but a pragmatic one," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said 26 October. "Taiwan's exclusion undermines the important work of the UN and its related bodies, all of which stand to benefit greatly from its contributions…We need to harness the contributions of all stakeholders toward solving our shared challenges."

Taiwanese officials have managed to participate in some UN meetings in their capacity as NPO representatives, but they are not allowed to provide input. The government is currently seeking to be recognized as an observer to UN agencies in the future.

Carbon levy

Tsai's 2050 goal enjoys cross-aisle support in domestic politics, a rarity in Taiwan's highly polarized public arena. While Taiwan does not have to establish an emissions goal because it cannot sign the UNFCCC, observers said Taiwanese firms expect to be exposed to carbon regulations in other countries.

"I always tell Taiwanese companies that if there are no ESG [environmental, social and governance goals set by you], there is no money," said Sophia Cheng, chief investment officer of Cathay Financial.

"Someone with lower quality, higher costs, but a net-zero goal probably will take their orders [in the future] …Climate action in Taiwan is a national security issue, because Taiwan depends on exports," she added.

In response to the EU's planned Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism in the Fit for 55 package, the EPA proposed imposing a carbon levy on major Taiwanese emitters in its climate law. But it plans to detail the tariffs in separate regulations by 2023.

Some environmentalists were dismayed. "The government should expedite the regulatory process…and the initial tariff should not be too low. Our survey found nearly 70% of the major emitters would be OK with a levy of $10 per metric ton of CO2 emissions," Greenpeace Taiwan said 1 November.

Renewable targets

The proposed law, expected to be passed next year, also said carbon capture and storage will help Taiwan reach net-zero emissions by 2050. But government officials suggested detailed plans—including medium-term renewable power targets—will only be decided later.

"Based on our estimates, Taiwan will have more renewable energy, less coal power, while gas usage will peak at some point," Alan Lin, deputy executive director of the Taiwanese cabinet's energy and carbon reduction office, said during the event.

"We are still carrying out detailed assessments and will release the roadmap in phases," he added.

Some Taiwanese companies, including world's largest chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, have signed up for the RE100 initiative and committed to sourcing all their electricity from renewable sources by 2050.

Taiwan is currently targeting a 25% share of renewables in its power mix in 2025, compared with 5.4% last year. To achieve this, it aims to have 20 GW of solar power, 5.7 GW of offshore wind, and 900 MW of onshore wind capacity installed by 2025.

In May, the government said Taiwan plans to have 1 GW of solar power capacity installed each year from 2026 onwards, and 1.5 GW of offshore wind installed between 2026 and 2035.

Progress has been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Official data showed just 850 MW of wind power and 5.82 GW of solar were installed as of the end of 2020.

In a November update, the government said the 109-MW Taipower 1 offshore wind farm became fully operational in September, and that the 160-MW Yunneng Phase 1 and the 376-MW Formosa 2 wind farms will be operating at half capacity by the end of this year.

The 100-MW Changfang Phase 1 facility, and the Greater Changhua 1 and 2A projects, with a combined capacity of 900 MW, are scheduled to be completed next year.

Posted 08 November 2021 by Max Tingyao Lin, Principal Journalist, Climate and Sustainability

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