【Taiwan losing ‘wood space race’】
By Hsieh Ying-shih and Cheng I-chan 謝英士、鄭佾展，Translated by Julian Clegg
Japan’s Sumitomo Forestry Co and Kyoto University plan to send samples of wooden material to the International Space Station next month to conduct experiments on their practicality for use in spacecraft engineering.
Their aim is to launch the world’s first wooden satellite next year. This ambitious project envisages a merger of wood with cutting-edge space technology.
The project was inspired by Japan’s ambitions to enhance its wood product brands and accelerate the development of its forestry industry. By using forests strategically, Japan’s aim is to emphasize the role of its forests as carbon sinks and to help achieve net-zero emissions.
Taiwan and Japan have more than 60 percent forest coverage and abundant forestry resources. However, 93 percent of Taiwan’s forests are state-owned, whereas only 41 percent of Japan’s forests are owned by the government.
Japan’s forestry industry, being mostly privately owned, is influential enough to exert a great deal of pressure on its government. This has allowed the Japanese government to revitalize its forestry industry and look after the interests of its workers.
Despite facing challenges of cheap wood from large-scale forestry industries in Southeast Asia, Europe and the Americas, Japan has maintained 32 percent self-sufficiency in wood.
In contrast, although the Council of Agriculture’s Forestry Bureau declared 2017 as a new start for domestic timber, Taiwan is still only about 1 or 2 percent self-sufficient.
The Japanese Forestry Agency is also promoting a forest carbon sink policy, as well as announcing that the growth efficiency of domestic timber is to double by next year at the earliest, and that domestic timber production in 2030 is expected to be 35 percent higher than 2019.
Japan has amended laws, established a “wood use promotion headquarters” to coordinate between government departments, and empowered institutions and enterprises to sign wood-related agreements that improve links between producers and consumers, thus increasing a stable supply of wood.
In contrast, Taiwan’s forestry industry has been weak since a logging ban was imposed in the 1990s. This has made forestry companies less ambitious, while the concept of forest carbon sinks and Taiwan’s path toward net-zero emissions is lacking.
Forest carbon sinks are not covered by any legislation in Taiwan, so forestry departments dare not imagine what forestry development with a “carbon vision” might be.
This situation is not good for the overall development of forests. The “carbon sequestration contract” between the government and the public must treat forested land as carbon sequestration infrastructure, guiding the industry onto Taiwan’s path to net zero emissions through well-designed legislation and planning.
This would enable forestry to become a more important contributor to carbon sequestration.
Forestry departments must change their mindsets and get away from the old idea that forestry businesses cannot generate enough profit to cover their costs.
Starting with the values of nature and climate, they should aim to maximize four aspects with regard to carbon:
First, carbon sequestration through afforestation and reforestation, mixed farming and forestry, afforestation on marginal farmland and urban greening.
Second, carbon conservation through reduction of deforestation and degradation, sustainable forest management, forest fire control, and prevention of diseases and insect pests.
Third, carbon substitution by increasing the use of forest products and biomass energy.
Fourth, carbon management by boosting soil carbon storage, monitoring forests and calculating their carbon footprints.
Forestry departments can reclaim their roles and position themselves on the path to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Just as one falling leaf heralds the autumn, Japan’s research into wooden satellites demonstrates its creative imagination and ambition with regard to forest carbon sinks.
Taiwan needs to catch up.
* 本文刊登於111年1月16日台北時報（Taipei Times）：