Taiwan: An asset in the war on climate change

Taiwan: An asset in the war on climate change
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Against a backdrop of extreme weather events this summer, President Obama spoke boldly about the need for a global response to climate change.

“Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm,” he told an audience at Georgetown University.

For those of us who have come from Taiwan, where the coastlines are constantly threatened by typhoons, the president’s words bore immediate relevance. The world is witnessing rising temperatures, harsher storms, longer droughts and deadly fires. Citizens of Taiwan are just as concerned as others around the globe and just as committed to the belief that countries must join together to shoulder responsibility and actively ensure a healthy planet for the next generation.

As an emerging economy, Taiwan is eager to lend its voice to the vigorous debate over important global issues, especially climate change, despite the fact that political factors keep us on the sidelines.

Since 1994, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been ratified by nearly every nation in the world. Its founding charter recognizes that the “global nature of climate change calls for the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response.”

Yet, to date, the government in Taiwan has not been able to participate in the UNFCCC’s annual meetings. 

Taiwan has much to offer the UNFCCC. The lessons learned in the process of rapid economic development, industrialization and environmental management would be extremely valuable to developing countries that face the challenge of modernizing their own economies without causing undue harm to the environment.

Having acknowledged its own role in greenhouse gas emission, Taiwan and its 23 million potential innovators would like to collaborate with others to find ways to reduce emissions. Under current international arrangements, however, we are unable to find a proper forum to share stories of success from government-led initiatives like our pioneering effort to build 600 offshore wind farms by 2030, private sector innovations in producing low cost, small scale renewable energy infrastructure, or public-private partnerships to encourage adoption of solar roof panels.

We cannot even formally share results of the cutting-edge research by Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute or Institute for Sustainable Energy. At the very moment when every nation should be joining the chorus of voices combating climate change, Taiwan, though being ready and willing to contribute, has been left on the sidelines.

The rapprochement between Taiwan and mainland China has fostered a peaceful and prosperous environment in East Asia and opened the window of opportunity for Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international society. As an example, Taiwan has been invited to participate as an observer at the World Health Assembly (WHA) since 2009. Its constructive role as a WHA observer demonstrates the contribution that Taiwan can and should be making in other relevant international mechanisms, conventions and bodies. It is time for the international community to give Taiwan a chance to participate in the UNFCCC, a view shared by the European Parliament, which has voted overwhelmingly to support Taiwan’s participation in the group as an observer.

While a faithful member of the global village, Taiwan shares the stigma of having contributed to the problem of climate change and now seeks to share the responsibility of solving this great challenge. The path to true international cooperation on a complex issue such as this might be difficult, but granting Taiwan a voice in this global struggle would certainly be a step in the right direction.

Teng, who holds a Ph.D. from Northwestern University, is a distinguished professor in the Department of Diplomacy at the National Chengchi University, Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China.