by Chia-wei Chao and Benjamin Yang

Photo Credit: Ray Yu/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED.

The following article is part of a special joint issue between New Bloom and Taiwan Insight on the 2024 elections. 

WHEN IT COMES to the climate, all three candidates in Taiwan’s upcoming presidential election have emphasized the importance of taking action and committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. The main driver behind this mainstreaming of climate policy is the fact that supply chain requirements have made the country’s export competitiveness highly connected to climate performance. Therefore, we must scrutinise the comprehensiveness of each candidate’s policy proposals, rather than solely relying on whether they are climate denialists, to distinguish their positions. Taiwan Climate Action Network (TCAN), a collaborative advocacy platform organized by five NGOs, has thus produced a climate commitment tracker to compare their positions on seven key climate-related policies: (1) 2030 emissions reduction target, (2) carbon pricing strategies, (3) 2030 power mix, (4) renewable energy development plan, (5) industrial decarbonization, (6) public participation, and (7) just transition. In this article, we will focus specifically on their 2030 pledges, carbon pricing strategies, and just transition policies.

2030 Emission Reduction Pledge

IN ORDER TO achieve net zero by 2050, aggressive mitigation efforts within this decade are imperative. Yet in terms of decarbonisation targets for 2030, Kuomintang (KMT)’s Hou You-yi and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP)’s Ko Wen-je have not proposed any, whereas Lai Ching-te of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) follows the 24±1% target President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration has set. In contrast, all six of Taiwan’s special municipalities have set 2030 carbon reduction targets of 30-40%; TCAN organisations have also called for a 40% target based on a previous scientific assessment. This gap indicates that all three candidates are overly passive in their approach to near-term decarbonization, jeopardizing intergenerational justice in the face of climate urgency. The candidates should present a clear pathway to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 with near- and mid-term goals, including sector-specific (e.g., manufacturing) reduction targets and policy instruments. Such transparency will allow for better public oversight and encourage local governments and businesses to set more ambitious carbon reduction goals and climate actions.

Carbon Pricing Strategies

THE “POLLUTERS PAY” PRINCIPLE is an indispensable element of climate policy. This presidential election marks the first since Taiwan enacted the Climate Change Response Act (Climate Act), which mandated the government to implement a carbon levy on the country’s largest emitters. As opposed to a carbon tax, where the revenues would be collected by the Ministry of Finance and become part of the government’s general budget, this carbon levy will be implemented and administered by the Ministry of Environment, designated for specific uses as outlined in the legislation. As discussions continue to finalize the initial rate of the carbon levy and its specific revenue usage, presidential candidates (except for Hou) have offered their visions for how carbon should be priced in Taiwan.

Building on this foundation, Lai proposes using various policy tools such as discounted rates and emissions reduction credits to incentivize decarbonization. He also promises to negotiate with trading partners such as the European Union to use Taiwan’s domestic carbon fee as a source of rebate for border carbon adjustment tariffs like the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), mitigating the impact these measures would have on Taiwanese manufacturers. He makes no mention of any potential transition towards a carbon tax system in the medium- to long-term; as the rate of the carbon fee increases overtime to meet international rates and standards, scholars and advocates argue that such a transition will be necessary to handle, utilise, and allocate its revenue properly.

On the other hand, Ko calls for a more comprehensive carbon pricing system that incorporates both the carbon fee-to-tax approach and an emissions trading system (ETS), as well as eliminating inappropriate subsidies to gradually reflect the actual energy costs in electric utility rates. He also promises to use the carbon tax’s revenue to subsidize low-income and marginalized groups. He does not specify, however, when and how the fee-to-tax transition would take place, nor does he address the administrative and regulatory challenges that would come with implementing an ETS, let alone doing so simultaneously with a carbon fee or carbon tax scheme.

Just Transition

JUST TRANSITION is an inclusive strategy for pursuing climate goals, ensuring that all communities, workers, and social groups are actively included and supported in the shift towards a net-zero future. While this idea in the country’s quest to decarbonize has caught wind and become somewhat mainstream after civil society groups’ successful lobbying efforts for its inclusion in the Climate Act and the government’s 12 Key Strategies for Net-zero by 2050, the candidates’ visions and proposed policies in this area rarely expand beyond the current government’s managerial approach and represent a general lack of understanding on existing frameworks and measures.

Lai promises a comprehensive dispute-handling mechanism that would minimize the impacts and uncertainties of the transition through employment opportunities, investments, social insurance, and trusts. He also aims to turn climate action into a stimulus for regional development, promoting green and inclusive growth for small, medium, and micro enterprises, workers, and marginalized communities.

Hou aims to establish a “Social Climate Fund” from carbon fee revenues to subsidize low-income households and support investments in renewable energy and green infrastructure development. He also proposes a tripartite commission that holds regular social dialogue meetings to formulate labour net-zero transition plans aimed at supporting workers with upskilling, compensation, and unemployment relief programs.

Similarly, Ko suggests a “Climate Sustainability Transition Fund” from the carbon tax revenues, which would be dedicated to the research and development of negative emissions technologies and subsidizing marginalized groups. He specifically mentions the importance of supporting workers in the transportation sector whom the uptake of electric vehicles would influence. Ko argues for lowering the threshold for union organizations to 10 workers from the current 30.

Although Hou and Ko’s proposals generally align with the broad principles of resource redistribution and supporting those who may be otherwise “left behind” in the transition to net zero and are more specific than the Climate Act on using carbon fee revenues to facilitate a just transition, it is unclear how their funds and Hou’s tripartite commission would differ from and/or work with existing entities including the newly-established National Just Transition Committee.

Furthermore, none of the three candidates goes beyond the relatively passive approach of supporting and remediating those who lose out in the transition. It is unclear from their plans how they would seek to identify the varying ways through which different stakeholders, regions, and people of different socioeconomic status will be impacted by the net-zero transition and construct tailored, localised solutions with each of them through meaningful social dialogue. While Ko’s commitment to lowering the threshold for union organization is helpful, none of the candidates offer a clear vision of the capacity-building and promotion of unions and labour organizations in the just transition discourse.

Climate and energy issues were once again a point of contention among the three candidates during a recent presidential policy presentation, as they have been periodically throughout this campaign season. Yet, much of such discussions still revolve around the future of nuclear power and the side effects of renewable energy, with minimal focus on making constructive commitments and addressing these seven key elements of climate policy TCAN has identified. With the passing of the Climate Act, Taiwan’s climate policy may not undergo a significant overhaul in the near future, which makes persistent supervision and advocacy from all sectors even more essential to accelerating decarbonization and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050—both in this election and beyond.

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