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The following sections are based upon the 2016 Environmental Policy Memorandum for the New Legislative Yuan (Structure: Taiwan Environmental Information Association (TEIA); Text: Chan Chia-wen; Peng Jui-hsiang)

Stipulation of the National Spatial Plan should incorporate actual public participation

The Spatial Planning Act promulgated during the end of 2015 attracted a great deal of public attention. This Act was regarded as the ultimate law for land distribution in Taiwan. The purpose for stipulating the Act was to address the general lack of consensus for land development, utilization, and restrictions for various related parties, the issues caused by the lack of legal basis for enforcement agencies, and the lack of focus during dialog or mediation of the related parties. The Ministry of the Interior (MOI) will subsequently establish secondary laws and generate a National Spatial Plan expected to be released within 3 years. The process allow various parties to engage in dialogs and establish an overall inventory for national land utilization. This process is a rare opportunity where both visions and consensus can aligned as one. The new Legislative Yuan shall fully exercise their duties of supervision and ensure compliance for every executive procedure of the executive agencies and involve well-arranged public participation to ensure that subsequent measures can be thoroughly enforced.

The Spatial Planning Act was to enter into force 1 year after promulgation, and the National Spatial Plan will be promulgated 2 years after the Act enters into force. The program will then be promulgated and enforced after another 2 years in all municipalities, counties, and cities. Functional zoning of national land will be released after a further 2 years. In total, the entire package will take about 6 to 7 years to complete. During this opening window, the new Legislative Yuan is recommended to refer to the Spatial Planning Act. For contradictions with relevant laws, legislators should exercise their official duties for absolving these differences or provide an interpretation to prevent the original intent of the legislation from being reduced to a mere formality. Issues related to the National Spatial Plan are extremely challenging and complex, but the Plan itself is related to every aspect of development. Legislators and their teams are expected to acquire thorough knowledge of these laws. Recently, the environment group Citizen of the Earth, Taiwan implemented a National Spatial Plan Workshop that was fully signed-up within 2 days, indicating that NGOs are also taking a proactive role for acquiring professional knowledge of these laws. If legislators fail to prepare properly, the faux pas where a legislator asked the state to sell land to non-invasive religious associations for the proposed Religious Associations Act may very well repeat itself. However, policies related to national land and natural conservation make up a very small proportion of Tsai Ing-wen’s political platform during her election campaign. It is obvious that her team is ill-prepared in tackling national land sustainability policies.

Stipulation of the National Spatial Plan should incorporate actual public participation

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Another legislative proposal that attracted public attention was the third reading of the 4 maritime laws. However, legislators have questioned the excessive callousness of the legislative process for the Organization Act of the Ocean Affairs Council and the lack of supporting legal instruments, temporarily stalling the legislative process for this Act. The stranding of the cargo freighter TS Taipei and the resulting oil leakage has yet to be fully resolved after nearly three weeks of towing. Other risks also emerged with the fracturing of the hull, further increasing oil leakage and expanded the scope of the disaster. Poor control over distant water fisheries also resulted in a warning from the EU. The Executive Yuan quickly passed the draft for the Act for Distant Water Fisheries, draft revisions for the Act to Govern Investment in the Operation of Foreign Flag Fishing Vessels, and draft revisions for a number of articles of the Fisheries Act, and attempted to submit these revisions as a single package to the Legislative Yuan for review. However, the process was called into question by environmental groups for not involving public participation and was regarded as an attempt to address urgent issues instead of providing long-term and fundamental improvements to the problems of distant water fisheries. Other difficulties include the proliferation of marine garbage and lack of effective control and package programs for limiting plastic micro-particles, further highlighting the problems caused by the absence of a dedicated agency for handling maritime affairs. When faced with marine resource depletion and lack of comprehensive policies governing maritime affairs, the new Legislative Yuan should help stipulate a set of laws for the sustainability of fishing resources and exercise the duties of its office to ensure the establishment of a dedicated organization. These measures are needed to realize the dreams of transforming Taiwan into a maritime country. In truth, civil environmental organizations also have their own proposals for the basic act for marine affairs and act for governing sea areas. Judicial and legislative agencies and personnel should listen to public voice to facilitate the establishment of a comprehensive legislative organization, involve public participation, and ensure sustainable utilization, creating a marine society that is close, knowledgeable, and caring to the ocean.

Energy and climate policies are inseparable - Transformation will not be painless - Energy Policy Reforms should be public to avoid corporatization

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Current discussions on energy policies focus on ending the Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) monopoly, replacing dirty energy derived from burning coal, establishing non-nuclear low carbon options, and freeing, from a policy and systems perspective, renewable energies from the limits imposed by state owned enterprises and fossil fuels. However, such discussions failed to delve deeper into who will be actually receiving the reins for the liberated energy industry. How can we design a system capable of ensuring that the right to control and direct the energy sector rests within the public domain? Care must be taken to avoid following the footsteps of western countries where water, electricity, and other infrastructure are privatized while preventing controversial privatization through public offering of shares by ChinaSteel, Chunghwa Telecom, and state-owned banks which ended up corporatizing these entities. Hence, when revising The Electricity Act and other relevant laws, the new Legislative Yuan must comprehensively review and discuss these topics to ensure that the energy sector is kept, to a certain degree, within the public domain and to carefully review the roles played by the central government, local government, corporations, and general public.

Can we pass the Energy Tax to mitigate climate change?

After the COP 21 Paris France Sustainable Innovation Forum, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) has sworn to keep Taiwan on par with global standards and is expected to stipulate a 5-year carbon reduction plan in January this year. However, the goal established for the current year is simply to return to the emission standards of 2014. When being inquired by the new Legislative Yuan, Wei Kuo-yen, the Minister of the EPA, confessed that “progress was limited”. Although the GHG Reduction and Management Act promulgated last year mentioned taxes and fees for imported fossil fuels, such taxes and fees are related to the rights of the average citizen and cannot be handled by the GHG Reduction and Management Act or other derived laws thereof. This meant that another legislative instrument such as the Energy Tax Bill must first be passed. In the past, environmental organizations hoped that the Energy Tax Bill could be passed before the GHG Reduction and Management Act. In 2009, however, Wu Den-yih, then President of the Executive Yuan, expressed that the energy tax will not be levied. A noteworthy observation is that after three readings of the GHG Reduction and Management Act, the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) again raised the possibility of levying the energy tax. Is it possible for the new Legislative Yuan to increase the legal validity of the GHG Reduction and Management Act and initiate revolutionary changes for carbon reduction measures in Taiwan? The next battlefield may very well be fought for the Energy Tax Bill.

Drought, Floods, Typhoons and Earthquakes are hard to predict - Disaster prevention and response should be prepared earlier

Early this year, Taiwan was tested by many extreme weather and disasters that include an extremely cold front and the February 6 earthquake. Difficulties in predicting such disasters and lack of preparations exposed the ill-preparedness of the government in face of such contingencies. The new Legislative Yuan should concede to actual evidences of worsening impacts of extreme weather conditions, realize that Taiwan is positioned along a fault zone and in the middle of a typhoon paths, or revise certain laws to enforce actual implementations of disaster prevention training and education. Alternatively, the Legislative Yuan may also focus on making key inquiries and enforce comprehensive reviews for weaker areas. For cold hazards, disaster insurance provisions should be established and expanded upon as quickly as possible. As for earthquakes, old buildings should undergo comprehensive seismic retrofitting and other reinforcements. All these measures are better than revising laws to cover up gaps or providing compensation after disaster strikes. Both the government and the people must undergo preventive exercises and drills to keep calm when actual disasters strikes and to reduce the impact and scope of such calamities.

Reduce public pollution - Environment information monitoring must be gain increased overall transparency

After polluting Houjing River, Advanced Semiconductor Engineering (ASE) was given a fine of NT$ 100 million. However, there was a great public uproar when the company appealed, whereupon the courts subsequently ruled to absolve ASE of the fine. Nobody likes a polluted river, but the polluter managed to get away with such actions due to the lack of real-time monitoring as well as inadequacies in environment monitoring data and basic information. Private organizations in China are already promoting the use of live monitoring in discharge ports and flue gas vents as well as Blue Map app to publicize such information for public viewers and notifications and to supervise large companies. Taiwan, however, lags well behind such measures. Despite public announcements made in the end of last year that water and air pollution monitoring will gradually adopt a live public data system in the beginning of this year, no progress has yet to be made currently. It is also difficult to acquire information on food safety-related issues such as farmland pollution.

“We don’t really know about the state of pollution in Taiwan,” Legislator Wu Kun-yuh noted with disappointment. The new Legislative Yuan should establish an environment research institution under the future ministry of environment resources. The institution can collect an extensive selection of various basic information about the environment so as to support various legislative proposals and decision making.

Mainstreaming biodiversity - Need to increase budgets for ecological and environmental protection

Biodiversity is closely tied to sustainable development of the human society. The importance of biodiversity is no less than climate changes, but few people in the Taiwanese government or public actually focus on such issues. In 2010, various countries in the world stipulated the Aichi Biodiversity Targets at Nagoya that included a 10-year strategic plan to achieve biodiversity conservation objectives across various dimensions in terrestrial and marine areas by 2020. The United Nations has currently stipulated Mainstreaming Biodiversity as the main theme for the 2016 World Biodiversity Day. The importance behind this move is to help everyone appreciate biodiversity and include the element as a consideration for taking appropriate actions. This concept does not just apply to the public. It is also extremely important to executive and legislative agencies.

According to data witnessed by Lai Jung-hsiao, member of the commission for sustainable development of the Executive Yuan and former general director of the Society of Wilderness (SoW), the current state budget for ecological conservation and environmental governance, including the budgets for the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), Construction and Planning Agency of Minister of the Interior (CPAMI), and Forestry Bureau, have been decreasing every year, and was down to 0.70% in 2013. In another example regarding the controversy of the astronomical environmental assessment fees disclosed for the Sanyi Outer Ring Highway, Miaoli County Government has set aside a budget of 18 million dollars for researching the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). To Kuo Jung-hsin, former general director of the Miaoli Ecological Conservation Association, regard this as an astronomical figure because total expenses for his 10-year study on the leopard cat was no more than 7 million dollars.

Despite following the footsteps for supporting global conservation efforts, stipulating the biodiversity action plan, and assigning the cross-departmental sustainable development committee of the Executive Yuan to carry out regular tracking, it remains questionable whether the low budget for conservation efforts and administration could ensure comprehensive implementation of basic surveys and subsequent establishment of effective conservation plans. Taiwan is suffering from a severe loss of ecological habitats threatening the survival of many wild species. For example, the Taiwanese white dolphin and leopard cat are both facing extinction. Conservation agencies are establishing reserve areas for these two species and are currently in the process of collecting public opinions regarding this matter. However, to resolve public concerns on impacts to livelihood as a result of conservation efforts, the Legislative Yuan should adopt the idea of mainstreaming biodiversity to promote concepts of sustainable transformation.

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Houyi Perspective

Taiwan has been implementing the Spatial Planning Act since 2015, and played the role of a pro-active participant regarding international carbon reduction issues. However, when it comes to the actual state of our land, the environment, and the perspective of the general public, many felt that such attempts were not adequately backed by relevant action. In fact, some policies could not be fully enforced and went against their original intentions due to the realities of economic development. The government has established program to achieve non-nuclear home and green energy objectives. However, some of these objectives would be extremely difficult to achieve given the current circumstances. Houyi Perspective believes that everyone must be mobilized to ensure proper use of energy and resources. Conservation efforts and resource saving habits must be part of our gene to prevent waste, protect valuable resources, and save the environment. Government efforts and goals should therefore include public education on these matters.