Taiwan Has Elected a New President who Promises to Continue on the Path to Net-Zero Emissions

On January 13, 2024, Taiwan’s 20 million eligible voters were asked to vote for a new president. Taiwan’s constitution compelled incumbent President Tsai Ying-wen from the Democratic Progressive Party to step down as president after having served out two four-year terms. After the elections, her former Vice President, Lai Ching-te, was named President-Elect. The president is head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces, represents the nation in foreign relations, and is empowered to appoint heads of four branches of the government, including the premier.

After the island shook off martial law in 1987, it embarked on a gradual journey to free and democratic elections. The first free presidential elections were held in 1996. Since then, two major parties – the Kuomintang and the Democratic Progressive Party – have held presidencies. This year, three candidates vied for the presidency:

  • LAI Ching-te of the Democratic Progressive Party. The ex-Vice President was formerly also a Mayor of Tainan City.
  • HOU Yu-ih of the Kuomingtang, Mayor of New Taipei City, and former police officer.
  • KO Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party and former Mayor of Taipei.

Internationally, Taiwan’s presidential elections are always closely watched as their outcome also defines how the relationship with mainland China will be conducted. China considers Taiwan part of its territory. The relationship needs careful navigation between Taiwan’s interests, a growing anti-China sentiment, the increasing identification as “Taiwanese,” and the need for regional stability and peace. Generally, the geopolitical dimension of Taiwan’s presidential elections takes precedence over any other topic.

The campaign platforms of all three candidates contained climate change-related policy goals as part of their proposed energy policies. Given that Taiwan is home to several of the world’s largest and most important semiconductor companies and their need for enormous amounts of energy, energy security is of utmost importance to sustain Taiwan’s economic base and the well-being of its people. Thus, the question of whether to bank on coal, gas, renewables, or nuclear energy security became a core issue for all three candidates. In particular, nuclear versus coal has been at the center of the discussion ever since Taiwan, under the Democratic People’s Party, decided on a roadmap to exit nuclear energy by 2025 in reaction to Japan’s Fukushima nuclear incident in 2011. Yet, in the absence of other cleaner energy forms, Taiwan switched back to coal, thus causing increased levels of air pollution in recent years. Taiwan’s energy mix 2023 stood at 43.60 % coal, 38.90 % natural gas, 8.7 % renewables, 6.4 % nuclear, 1.4 % oil-fired thermal power, 1.1 % pumped storage hydropower. All three candidates promised an energy transition:

Lai Ching-te

  • Plans to achieve net zero by 2050 through the decarbonization of the electricity sector and by continually increasing the installed capacity of various renewable energies. His roadmap foresees an energy mix of 50% natural gas, 20% coal, and 30% renewables by 2030.
  • Hopes to achieve an energy mix of 60-70% renewables and 29-39% carbon-neutral power (energy generation with carbon capture utilization and storage) by 2050.
  • Plans to phase out nuclear power by 2025.
  • Calls for innovative technologies for energy storage, infrastructure resilience, energy savings, and government support for green technology development.
  • Plans regulation to spur the gradual reduction of carbon emissions for all energy-intensive industries in Taiwan

Ko Wen-je

  • Believes Taiwan needs to reach net zero by 2050 by giving renewable energy a stronger role. His roadmap proposes an energy mix of 45% natural gas, 15% coal, 30% renewables, and 10% nuclear until 2030.
  • Argues that nuclear energy is essential for Taiwan as a transition energy and to alleviate dependence on imported energy sources. Out of Taiwan’s four nuclear power plants, he maintains the decommissioning of the first plant, the maintenance and extensions of two later plants, and the re-examination of the operability of the most recent nuclear plant.
  • Promotes the use of rooftop solar panels and calls for increased investment in renewables-related technologies, including energy storage, a smart electricity grid, and the renewal of the energy infrastructure.

Hou Yu-ih

  • Calls for a “pragmatic promotion” of renewable energies with his roadmap by 2030, foreseeing an energy mix of 45% natural gas, 14% coal, 27% renewables, 12% nuclear, and 2% carbon-neutral power by 2030.
  • Hopes to achieve an energy mix of 57% renewables, 18% nuclear, and 25% carbon-neutral power by 2050.
  • Explicitly states a goal to phase out coal power by 2040 and maintain at least three of Taiwan’s four nuclear power plants by inspecting, repairing, extending licenses, and continuing operations. With a review of the fourth nuclear power plant and how to bring it safely into operation.

All three candidates supported an increased role of renewables and only differed in the percentage of how much needs to be achieved by 2050 and the role of nuclear energy. Lai Ching, the victor, is experienced in environmental and climate matters and will come into power. His party, the DPP, has been the ruling party for the past eight years. As vice president, he has had a hand in many environmental measures and policies introduced during this period.

Several acts and laws have been initiated or strengthened under the DPP government:

  • The Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) announced the “Sustainable Development Guidemap for TWSE—and TPEx-Listed Companies” in early 2022. This guideline requires all listed companies to complete greenhouse gas inventories by 2027 and have them verified before 2029.
  • In January 2023, the parliament passed revisions of the “Greenhouse Gas Reduction and Management Act” under the new name “Climate Change Response Act. It now includes a net-zero emissions goal until 2050.
  • In March 2022, “Taiwan’s Pathway to Net-Zero Emissions in 2050” was published. It provides a roadmap on how to achieve the 2050 net-zero emissions through technology, R&D, innovation green financing, investment and industry guidelines.
  • In March 2024, the Waste Disposal Act and the Resource Recycling Act will be combined to become the stricter “Resources Circularity Promotion Act.”

The above creates the legal framework necessary to regulate and govern Taiwan’s climate change mitigation work, which is set to continue under President-Elect Lai. His presidency also promises continuity in international cooperation.

Due to its unique status in Taiwan-China relations, the island cannot be a member of large international organizations such as the UN. While Taiwan’s Environmental Minister Hsue Fu-sheng led a delegation to last year’s COP 28, government-level talks with other country officials are difficult. Therefore, Taiwan’s interests and positions are often represented through NGOs, industrial representatives, or university delegations. At the same time, international collaboration has been conducted on different, easier manageable levels. While President-Elect Lai was Mayor of Tainan City, together with the European Chamber of Commerce in Taiwan, he set up the annual Low Carbon City Conference to exchange views and best practices on climate change mitigation on a municipal level. Under his leadership, Tainan was elected as a “Low-Carbon City. With his experience, international cooperation will continue to find forums and ways to continue.

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard China Country Manager Annette Wiedenbach.

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