Why a more effective solution to global warming is called for
By Yilin Hsieh
English translation by Wei-hsin Lin (of the Tang Prize Foundation)
Recent years have seen an increase in extreme weather events. Phenomena including heat waves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and typhoons have all caused serious causalities and huge economic loss. When the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, the signatories vowed to hold global warming to 1.5℃. However, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) this August, the prediction was that even under the most optimistic scenario, global average temperatures are very likely to increase more than 1.5℃ between 2021 and 2040. Under the worst-case scenario, it is highly probable that the planet will become 5.7℃ hotter by 2100.
As early as the 1980s, scientists had established the connection between climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, and emphasized that the only way to slow down global warming was to reduce CO2 emissions. One of them was Dr. James Hansen, who at that time had detected an unusual change in global surface temperature beyond natural variability and warned us that global warming could lead to violent storms and other extreme climate events. Another one was Prof. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, who pointed out that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), often used as refrigerants or in aerosol spray cans, are also a kind of greenhouse gases. Not only do CFCs deplete the ozone layer, but, like CO2s, they can also exert enormous impact on our climate. Because of their contributions, Dr. Hansen and Prof. Ramanathan were jointly awarded the 2018 Tang Prize in Sustainable Development.
Unfortunately, even if accords on carbon reduction continue to be drawn up, global carbon emissions still continue to surge. Needless to say, there is an urgent need for a more effective solution to this problem. Many scientists and economists agree that a “carbon fee and dividend” policy is the most effective and proactive strategy and it also balances the three dimensions of sustainable development: the environmental, economic and social. A concise description of the policy would look like this: first, charge an increasingly high price for fossil fuels and products that play a part in carbon emissions; second, pay all the dividends thus yielded to citizens equally; and third, levy a carbon border tax on imports from countries without a carbon fee. It is expected that in the future, those who have smaller carbon footprints will pay lower carbon fees, and their net incomes will also grow because of the dividends. This policy should therefore create a fairer and more just society.
It’s worth mentioning that the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) will take place toward the end of 2021 in Britain. In early 2021, Dr. Hansen wrote a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urging him to take on the duty of caring for the younger generation and for all forms of life on earth, and suggesting that he assume an active role in pursuing a “carbon fee and dividend” policy as it is superior to strategies that focus on clean energy innovation or energy efficiency, so as to ensure that COP26 doesn’t become another occasion where leaders pay lip service to this issue.
On July 14, 2021, the European Union (EU) outlined plans to impose a “Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM)”, asking companies importing goods into the EU to pay carbon costs in accordance with its emissions trading system at the border. It will be in place as early as 2023 and will target highly polluting products such as iron and steel, aluminum, cement, fertilizers, and electricity. It will then gradually expand to cover more industries. Judging from the current status of international trade, if powerful nations including the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia and Japan start to impose carbon border taxes, their influence will force other countries engaging in international trade to have no choice but to adjust their domestic carbon tax policies, prompting businesses in these countries to switch to low-carbon energy sources or take measures to cut carbon emissions in order to remain competitive in the global market.
Motivated by the goals set in the Paris Agreement (halving global carbon emissions by 2030 and reaching net zero emissions by 2050), many leaders pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050 at the Leaders Summit on Climate held virtually on this year’s Earth Day. Although Taiwan didn’t partake in this meeting, as an export-driven economy, it is imperative that we should introduce a carbon tax that is in compliance with international standards as soon as possible. So far, the public and private sectors have been working together to draft amendments to the “Greenhouse Gas Reduction and Management Act,” with one of them being to revise the carbon tax policy and set a more reasonable price for carbon emissions. Given that there is a high correlation between CO2 emissions and human activities, it is impossible for us to keep sitting on the sideline for another ten to thirty years. The time to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is now.