Taiwan Seeks Involvement in Global Network Against Climate Change
By Pat Gao, Taiwan Review
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) entered force in 1994 as a result of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, or Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The convention has been ratified by more than 190 countries, or nearly every nation in the world, to form a global framework of environmental and industrial agreements designed to combat the growing threat of climate change. Due to its lack of UN membership, the Republic of China (ROC) is not a signatory to the agreement and cannot be formally represented at UNFCCC events, but the head of the Cabinet-level Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) hopes that can be remedied. Taiwan needs direct, stable access to the meetings and activities of the UNFCCC in order to cope better with the impact of climate change says EPA Minister Shen Shu-hung. 'We must be more visible to the world.'
In light of the realities of Taiwan's unique political status, in recent years the country has shifted focus from attempting to secure UN membership toward the more practical goal of pursuing an official presence in UN specialized agencies and working groups. In May 2009, for example, Taiwan was invited to attend the annual meeting of the World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body of the UN's World Health Organization, as an observer. Delegations led by Taiwan's health minister have attended the WHA forum in Geneva, Switzerland every year since then. The breakthrough came after more than a decade of effort to gain an official presence in the global health organization. Shen says he would like to see the model of Taiwan;s formal participation in the WHA applied to UNFCCC events.
The environment minister attributes the successful bid for representation in the WHA to Taiwan's persistence in seeking the support of the international community on the one hand, and building a pragmatic, constructive dialogue on cross-strait affairs with mainland China on the other. Improved cross-strait relations have helped Taiwan expand its presence on the world stage, Shen says. Cooperation on climate change is one example of constructive dialogue, and the EPA and mainland China's National Development and Reform Commission's Department of Climate Change have taken turns hosting cross-strait climate change forums since 2010. The latest meeting took place in Beijing in May this year, with Shen heading the delegation from Taiwan.
This year's UNFCCC summit takes place in Warsaw, Poland from November 11 - 22, and will include the 19th Conference of Parties (COP), the annual meeting of the body that supervises the implementation of the convention, as well as the ninth session of the COP serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol, adopted at the 1997 COP 3 meeting in the Japanese city for which it is named, sets limits on greenhouse gas emissions for industrialized countries.
The EPA head points out that Taiwan could make greater contributions in the fight against climate change if the country had more comprehensive participation in the COP and UNFCCC. 'We're standing on common ground, seeking a sustainable, prosperous future for the whole human race, and we want to do our best to play our part for the global village,' Shen says.
To date, delegates from Taiwan have gained only limited access to COP events. The nation has been represented each year by the quasi-official Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), the largest research and development organization in Taiwan. Headquartered in Hsinchu, northern Taiwan, ITRI is one of the some 1,600 nongovernmental organizations (NGO) admitted as observers to COP sessions. In addition to ITRI staff members, the delegation usually includes a number of governmental officials such as those from the EPA and related ministries, as well as representatives from the academic and business sectors. Only three other local NGOs are recognized by the UNFCCC Secretariat. They are the Environmental Quality Protection Foundation (EQPF), Taiwan Institute for Sustainable Energy (TAISE) and Delta Electronics Foundation, the charitable arm of the world-class manufacturer of switching power supplies of the same name, which gained UNFCCC observer status earlier this year.
In June 2012, the ITRI delegation headed by EPA Deputy Minister Yeh Shin-cheng participated in Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, 20 years after the landmark 1992 Earth Summit held in the same city. Later in 2012, Yeh led a second delegation to attend the COP 18 meeting in Doha, Qatar, with the team organizing a forum titled 'Comparative Studies of Climate Change Adaptation in the Globe: From Least Developed Countries to Africa and Small Islands' at the Qatar National Convention Centre on December 1. The forum was attended by more than 200 people including officials and experts from the ROC's diplomatic allies such as Burkina Faso, the Marshall Islands and Palau, as well as from the Climate Parliament, a global network of legislators interested in climate change issues based in London. The gathering represented the largest COP side-event ever organized by a delegation from Taiwan, and attracted attendees and media representatives from a number of countries. Taiwanese delegates also took part in more than 10 bilateral meetings with other environment officials and leaders of international organizations during COP 18, while the ROC's diplomatic allies voiced their support for the country's participation in COP sessions as an observer.
In view of the significance of work by Taiwan's NGOs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and the EPA jointly organized a forum on enhancing the participation of observer organizations in the UNFCCC process in Taipei in August this year. Invited speakers included representatives from Delta, EQPF, ITRI and TAISE as well as Marilyn Averill, who chairs the steering committee of the UNFCCC's research and independent NGO constituency, and Gotelind Alber, who acts as the focal point for the women and gender NGO constituency. The focal points of the current nine constituencies work to facilitate exchanges of information between the UNFCCC Secretariat and admitted observer organizations. During a news conference held at MOFA in Taipei, Averill said that people around the world should work together to mitigate the impact of climate change, while Alber pointed out that the efforts of advanced economies to address climate change issues would not be successful without countries like Taiwan, which she said is also highly developed and a forerunner in tackling the problem.
Indeed, as Shen points out, although Taiwan is neither a UN member nor a signatory to the UNFCCC, the country has willingly followed international environmental agreements and is determined to reduce carbon dixoide (CO2) emissions 'just as a responsible member of the global village should.' The 2012 edition of Key World Energy Statistics, a report by the International Energy Agency, ranks Taiwan 20th and 19th in the world for 2010 regarding total volume of CO2 emissions from fuel combustion and per capita CO2 emissions respectively. According to the Executive Yuan's sustainable energy policy guidelines passed in 2008, Taiwan is aiming to reduce CO2 emissions to the 2005 level by 2020, to the 2000 level by 2025 and to half the 2000 level by 2050. Statistics from the Bureau of Energy under the Ministry of Economic Affairs show that Taiwan's 248.7 million-metric-ton emissions in 2012 represented a drop of 1.9 percent from the previous year, moving the country closer to the 2005 emission level of 245.2 million metric tons. 'In contrast with the 2.4 times increase of CO2 emissions from 1990 to 2007, the past five years saw decreases in emissions,' Shen says.
While the minister attributes the result partly to lower levels of economic development in certain sectors during the period, he also credits government efforts. Such initiatives include the promotion of LED lighting and solar electricity; the country is also a leading manufacturer in both sectors, and changes in garbage collection practices beginning more than a decade ago that have resulted in a household recycling rate of more than 40 percent. More recently, the government has subsidized the development and use of electric vehicles.
Incentives to Act
Shen says the government's approach is in line with that of other developed countries. Toward the end of 2009, the Executive Yuan established a committee to coordinate energy-saving efforts across the various ministries. That same year the legislature approved considerable revisions to the Energy Management Act, which was promulgated in 1980, as well as passed the Renewable Energy Development Act, which offers incentives to related businesses.
'We've worked actively to develop solar panel roofs, wind turbines, geothermal power facilities and other new energy sources,' Shen says, adding that such sources will take on an even more significant role after nuclear power is phased out in Taiwan. Other major laws in the pipeline include the proposed Energy Tax Act and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act, the latter of which would stipulate emission standards and penalties for violators, and is currently under review in the legislature.
Taiwan has also been active in respect to international cooperation on environmental issues. In July this year, Taiwan and the United States once again extended an agreement on technical cooperation for environmental protection that was first signed in 1993. In addition, the EPA cooperates with the European Union and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on atmospheric monitoring, sometimes relying on data collected by local survey stations or a contracted local cargo ship or airliner. One such project using data collected by local survey stations is the Seven South East Asian Studies mission, or 7-SEAS, a joint initiative with NASA that tracks the distribution of air pollution from burning biomass throughout the South China Sea region. Data collection for 7-SEAS began in February this year and continued for four months. Researchers from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam also participated. 'Environmental projects require a large amount and wide range of knowledge, skills and technologies,' Shen says. 'As such, international exchanges and partnerships are indispensable.'
The minister also emphasizes grassroots efforts to foster low-carbon towns and cities. 'New Taipei City, Taichung City, Tainan City and Yilan County have been selected as regional hubs for developing low-carbon areas,' Shen says. Together with projects in outlying Penghu and Kinmen counties, the EPA plans to create large-scale low-carbon communities that feature green homes and businesses throughout Taiwan by 2020. 'The government is taking the lead by involving all Taiwanese people in the ongoing fight against climate change,' Shen says. °I hope to see greater achievements for Taiwan and the international community alike through the country's substantial participation in global mechanisms such as the UNFCCC.'
Write to Pat Gao at email@example.com
The Taiwanese people are ready and willing to embrace the UNFCCC's mission of global sustainable living. In the video below, illustrator Shih Cheng-ting, whose recent work was showcased at the Bologna Children's Book Fair Illustrators Exhibition, and visual artist Ahn Zhe, who won the Young Talent Award at the Fumetto International Comix-Festival in Switzerland, discuss how the issue of climate change influences their work and how the people of Taiwan are ready to set a positive example for green living.
Taiwan photo by Zhao !