Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wu needs to provide more than lip service

Attorney Severia Lu voices some thought-provoking comment in a recent letter to the Taipei Times on the threat that the Kuokuang Petrochemical Project poses to the nation's food supply. Lu has been actively involved in the legal effort against the infamous Kuokuang Petrochemical Project planned for Changhua Country which will destroy internationally listed vitally important wetlands which are key habitat for the critically endangered Taiwan pink dolphins and several other threatened species. The area is also situated right in the middle of Taiwan's rice-basket and main aquaculture region where the toxic fallout from Kuokuang will cripple the local farming and fishing communities.

Wu needs to provide more than lip service
By Severia Lu 陸詩薇

Taipei Times

On Feb. 17, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) declared that food security should be elevated to the level of national security. One cannot help but feel we have been here before. At the time of the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen in 2009, Wu announced the establishment of a UN Framework Convention Climate Change task force that included a number of national security officials. The task force said the government believed climate change should be elevated to the level of national security.

It is reassuring that the government finally recognizes climate change and food security are national security level issues. However, Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) has been courting Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology shareholders since 2008, assuring them a proposed plant for Changhua County would proceed. The environment impact assessments (EIA) for an overall petrochemical industry policy have yet to be finished, while the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) has fast-tracked the assessments for the Kuokuang project.

The EPA has been hampered by the constant errors in Kuokuang's submitted materials, indulging the firm by repeatedly allowing it to submit additional information and has even been giving Kuokuang guidance during EIA meetings. This makes us suspect that the government is either being duplicitous or suffers from a split personality.

First, the Kuokuang project is entirely inconsistent with the government's policy of energy conservation and carbon emissions reduction. Even if a reduced-scale plan is implemented, Kuokuang will still be belching out 7.29 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. EPA statistics show each household in Taiwan contributes about 7.82 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. That means the annual volume of greenhouse gases of the Kuokuang plant would be equal to emissions of 932,225 households.

The government wants people to do their bit for the environment by turning down their air-conditioners, wearing lighter clothing in the summer and switching to bikes, but it is willing to allow Kuokuang to spew more than 930,000 households' worth of carbon emissions every year. What's good for the goose is apparently off- limits for the gander.

Changhua County is the key grain and rice-producing region in Taiwan, responsible for 35 percent of national production. It is equally important for vegetables, having the second-highest national yield and providing 41 percent of national demand. In 2008, Changhua as a whole produced 28 million chickens, and one of every two eggs produced in Taiwan comes from this region. Major urban areas close to the proposed plant site account for roughly half of the area of Changhua County. Eighty-three percent of Taiwan's oysters and clams come from the Yunlin and Changhua county coastlines.

Taiwan's food self-sufficiency rate stands at just 30.6 percent, yet the government is steering Kuokuang in a project that will decimate the nation's food basket. Convincing the public that food security has been elevated to national security level will be a hard sell.

Both the government and the pro-development lobby are keen to portray the Kuokuang issue as a showdown between the economy and the environment. However, if we take Wu's words at face value, purely from the perspective of climate change and food security, whether or not building the Kuokuang plant is an issue of national security.

The Kuokuang EIA process is moving into its final stages. We will soon know whether the government is sincere in its intent to raise climate change and food security to national security status, or whether they are just paying lip service to the idea.

Severia Lu is an attorney.


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