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FEATURE/Amid challenges, coordination to be key for new environment minister

05/16/2024 06:42 PM
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Peng Chi-ming is pictured at the COP28 UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai as the secretary general of the Taiwan Climate Partnership on Dec. 1, 2023. CNA file photo
Peng Chi-ming is pictured at the COP28 UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai as the secretary general of the Taiwan Climate Partnership on Dec. 1, 2023. CNA file photo

By Alison Hsiao, CNA staff reporter

Peng Chi-ming (彭啟明), Taiwan's soon-to-be environment minister, may have to count on all the experience he has racked up as an open government data advocate, entrepreneur, and meteorologist to bring various interests together in addressing climate change.

An atmospheric sciences specialist who founded Taiwan's first private weather risk management company, Peng is unique in that he is both a climate action advocate and someone who understands the need for collaboration with enterprises.

He pushed in 2021 for the establishment of the Taiwan Climate Partnership, a platform aimed at raising climate change awareness and advocating and supporting net-zero actions among enterprises in response to the demands of international clients.

The partnership was founded with the support of eight leading tech companies in Taiwan, including Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) and Delta Electronics, and now boasts more than 100 participating enterprises, according to Peng.

In a statement on April 19 detailing why he decided to take the post, however, Peng said "participating in 11 United Nations Climate Change Conferences [COPs] in a row" taught him that "it takes more than the effort of private companies" to bring about change.

"The whole country's ecosystem will need to change," he added.

'Climate governance mindset'

That change in mindset is necessary as Taiwan's challenges on emissions mount.

It has among the highest emissions per capita of any economy in the world, and its renewable energy program accounted for only 9.5 percent of total electricity production in 2023, far below the 30 percent averaged by the world last year.

Taiwan will also be reviewing its national carbon emission reduction goal set in 2022 of cutting emissions by 23-25 percent from 2005 by 2030, which was criticized as not being ambitious enough, especially if it hoped to achieve net-zero emissions in the future.

These challenges to move toward net-zero emissions are putting pressure on Taiwan's industrial sector, and Peng knows it, saying that Taiwan is engaged in an "energy war" that could be just as important as the "chip war."

If Taiwan is not fast enough in boosting renewable energy capacity, it might lose out in the race of the net-zero transformation, Peng said while attending COP 28 in Dubai in December 2023.

In his April 19 statement, Peng said that many countries "such as the United States, Europe, and Japan have already taken advantage of this global call for change to undertake transformative strategies, pushing for digital and green transformations."

Premier-designate Cho Jung-tai (left) shakes hands with Peng Chi-ming in Taipei on April 19, 2024, when he was named as the minister of environment in the new Cabinet set to take office on May 20. Photo: CNA
Premier-designate Cho Jung-tai (left) shakes hands with Peng Chi-ming in Taipei on April 19, 2024, when he was named as the minister of environment in the new Cabinet set to take office on May 20. Photo: CNA

"These transformations will be able to galvanize new economic development and provide new opportunities to the young," Peng added.

At the global level, on the other hand, the world's net-zero and climate change adaptation activities necessitate international and intergovernmental coordination, he said.

Given these many tasks, the government needs to have "an overarching climate governance mindset," he stressed, describing climate change as an "interlocking" issue that requires cooperation and action from the government and non-governmental groups of all stripes.

Tsui Shu-hsin (崔愫欣), secretary-general of the Green Citizens' Action Alliance, told CNA that the group applauded having someone with climate action credentials at the helm of the environment ministry.

Also, having experience in collaborating with industry does not necessarily mean that work on the environment will be compromised, as it could also mean Peng will know how to facilitate communications with companies, she said.

"But we certainly hope Peng can stand firm against industry on issues such as carbon fees," Tsui said.

Taiwan is set to collect carbon fees starting in 2025 from companies that emit more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year, but the rate has yet to be hammered out as businesses and environmental groups clash over how high it should be.

It remains to be seen how effectively Peng will play the role of mediator.

He said in his statement that carrying out policies without enough consensus-building could easily cause them to fail, and warned that enterprises' concerns should be taken seriously lest they respond in a way that results in either green inflation or greenwashing.

More challenges ahead

Environmental Rights Foundation researcher Lin Yen-ting (林彥廷) said the carbon fee rate is only one of the many challenges Peng faces.

Lin noted the review of the national carbon emission reduction goal and said setting a new goal would be one of Peng's most difficult tasks.

The new minister also has to make sure that climate change adaptation implementation programs be submitted within this year by local governments, as required by the Climate Change Response Act, Lin said.

A demonstration is staged outside the Executive Yuan, alleging that the environmental evaluation conducted for the Taiwan Power Co.'s fourth LNG terminal near Keelung Port is illegal, in Taipei on July 5, 2023. CNA file photo
A demonstration is staged outside the Executive Yuan, alleging that the environmental evaluation conducted for the Taiwan Power Co.'s fourth LNG terminal near Keelung Port is illegal, in Taipei on July 5, 2023. CNA file photo

There is also the dispute over building Taiwan's fourth liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal near Keelung Port, the researcher said.

An environmental impact assessment of the terminal's location is pending, and Lin warned that "there have been cases in which controversies over the assessments have ended in top-level officials leaving the post."

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