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Official ly k nown as the Republic of China, and located on the island of Formosa, Taiwan has long struggled with the People’s Republic of China for recognition as an independent nation. Some two million Chinese sought refuge on the island after the Communist takeover of China in 1949. The issue of whether or not Taiwan will eventually be unified with China continues to dominate Taiwan’s politics. Bordering on the East China Sea, the Philippine Sea, the South China Sea, and the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan has a coastline of 971 miles (1,566 kilometers). Mountains cover the eastern two-thirds of the islands, giving way to plains in the west. Tropical and marine climates produce a distinct monsoon season in the southwest from June to August, and extensive clouds cover Taiwan for much of the year. Home to 23,036,087 people, the islands are prone to earthquakes and typhoons.
With a per capita income of $26,700 and healthy foreign investments throughout southeast Asia, Taiwan is the 34th-richest nation in the world. In recent years, many banks have been transferred from government to private hands as private industries have grown in response to the growth of the export industry. Taiwan has the third-largest trade surplus in the world, and China and the United States are the major trading partners. Natural resources include small deposits of coal as well as natural gas, limestone, marble, and asbestos. Roughly a fourth of the land is arable, but only 6 percent of the workforce are engaged in agriculture.
Extensive industrialization has led to major problems with air and water pollution, and supplies of drinking water have been threatened by pollution that includes the release of raw sewage into fresh water sources. Improper disposal of radioactive waste has created low levels of radiation. A study by scientists at Yale University in 2006 ranked Taiwan 24th in the world in environmental performance, well above the relevant geographic group and slightly below the relevant income group. The lowest rating was received in the category of air quality. The high overall ranking is due to government efforts to promote sustainable development and conserve natural resources that have received priority in Taiwan for several decades.
While a number of agencies bear responsibility for protecting the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the only agency that is solely dedicated to environmentalism. Departments that work under the EPA include Comprehensive Planning, Air Quality Protection and Noise Control, Water Quality Protection, Waste Management, and Environmental Sanitation and Toxic Substance Management. In order to combat the extensive air pollution that has accompanied industrialization, the legislature enacted the Air Pollution Control Act of 1975. The law was revised in 2002 to increase the power of the EPA and the Taiwan Area Air Quality Monitoring Network to strictly enforce environmental laws. Because Taiwan’s independent status is not universally recognized, the country does not participate in international agreements on the environment.
Current land development policies in Taiwan have been formulated under the Challenge 2008 National Development Plan that promotes the upgrading of agriculture by encouraging farmers to employ improved technologies and land use, including switching from land cultivation to agricultural tourism. In 2004, Taiwan was hit by several typhoons. Extensive land development in the mountains led to heavy flooding and massive landslides during the typhoons. This devastation subsequently provided the momentum for a new program of conservation under the National Land Planning Act of 2004, combining public education with strict enforcement. Additionally, the Soil and Water Conservation Bureau was charged with overseeing the construction of a number of water catchment facilities designed to improve access to safe drinking water.
Taiwan has one of the richest ecosystems in the world. Constituting 1.5 percent of all identified species, 150,000 separate life forms have been identified on the islands. Around 30 percent of these life forms are endemic to Taiwan. The government first began a conscious effort to protect this biodiversity with the passage of the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act of 1981 and followed it up with the Wildlife Conservation Act of 1989. Taiwan is home to 70 species of mammals, 500 species of birds, 90 species of reptiles, 30 species of amphibians, 18,000 species of insects (including 400 butterfly species), and 2,700 species of fish. Some 1,955 species of rare fauna have also been identified. Among the 3.9 million acres (1.57 million hectares) of Taiwan’s forests, 72 percent are nationally protected, and Taiwan has 16 wildlife refuges, 19 nature reserves, and an extensive national park system.
- Central Intelligence Agency, “Taiwan,” The World Factbook, www.cia.gov;
- Timothy Doyle, Environmental Movements in Minority and Majority Worlds: A Global Perspective (Rutgers University Press, 2005);
- Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom, Asia: A Continental Overview of Environmental Issues (ABC-CLIO, 2003);
- Michael Howard, Asia’s Environmental Crisis (Westview, 1993);
- Taiwan Yearbook 2005 (Government Information Office, 2005).