Last week, the head of Taiwan’s National Development Council announced that before the end of March, his agency would release a road map for Taiwan to meet net zero by 2050. Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-Wen had already announced this goal in April of last year, but this will be the first time that the country gets a detailed look into the proposed plans for things such as Taiwan’s energy mix as it weans itself off of fossil fuels such as coal.
What does net zero actually mean? It’s a buzz word that’s used a lot when discussing climate change and climate policies but is sometimes misunderstood. Net zero doesn’t mean completely eradicating all carbon emissions. Instead what it refers to is a situation in which the amount of greenhouse gases given off are balanced out by other positive measures. This means that the total amount of greenhouse gases we create are zero. This is different to total zero, where no greenhouse gases are emitted at all. There are two ways to reach the target of net zero. First, we can reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we give off. Second, we can put in place techniques to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, through things such as planting more forests.
Taiwan isn’t the only country with these kinds of net zero targets. Japan, Korea, the UK, Canada, New Zealand and most European countries also have net zero targets set for 2050. Sweden and Germany have their targets set for five years earlier, as they aim to reach net zero by 2045. These targets are legally binding, however the USA and China have similar targets that aren’t legally binding. In addition, China’s target is to reach net zero by 2060, ten years after most other countries with the exception of Russia, Saudi Arabia and India. Taiwan’s target is therefore firmly in line with the rest of the world.
What kind of things might be in Taiwan’s roadmap to net zero when it’s released? Of course, Taiwan will need to move away from using greenhouse gases and instead turn to renewable energy sources. There also might be details about how to encourage people to make behavioural changes such as changing to electric vehicles instead of those that use petrol for fuel. Plus it might include details of how to bring corporations in line with Taiwan’s goals to reduce industrial emissions, such as those from the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. But Taiwan’s road to net zero will also need to partly rely on new technologies in several different ways. For example, new technologies will have to be called upon to find ways to use energy more efficiently in a way that reduces emissions, such as smart technology that can identify when energy is and isn’t needed and optimise its usage. New technologies will also be needed to find ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Taiwan has a strong grounding in the scientific world already that should help it achieve these goals. For example, last year Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University founded Taiwan’s very first carbon-negative factory that captures CO2 from the atmosphere and turns it into petrochemicals for use in other industries.
In all of these discussions though, there is one question that has to be considered. The question is whether people in Taiwan are willing to sacrifice a little in order to meet this goal. For example, currently Taiwan’s electricity prices are low compared to most of the world. If Taiwan wants to make the shift to renewable forms of energy such as solar and wind rather than cheap coal this may well see prices increase. In 2012, President Ma Ying-jeou raised the prices for gasoline and electricity because of the rising cost of petroleum imports and this severely affected his support rate. Thus the road to net zero might be a road filled with unpopular decisions.
The first steps to reaching net zero, setting goals and making plans, are the easy parts. Once Taiwan releases its roadmap, the hard work will begin. 2050 may seem like a long time away, but the amount of change that will be needed in Taiwan to meet the target by that date is substantial. From completely changing the makeup of Taiwan’s energy sources, to encouraging and enforcing widespread behaviour change, it’s clear that Taiwan, much like the rest of the world, has yet another big task ahead of it.