Written by Jing-Yi Zhong, Shun-Te Wang and Wan-Ting Hsu.
Image Credit: COP25 Closing Plenary. Sunday 15th 2019 by UNclimatechange / Flickr, License: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Youths in Taiwan are concerned about their future. They are the last generation to stop Climate Change before it is too late, but their voice is not allowed to enter the UNFCCC framework. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the most important treaty to address the impact of Climate Change. As a part of the United Nations (UN) system, it invokes the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 of 1971 to preclude the official participation of Taiwan. Nevertheless, Taiwanese youths have developed flexible strategies to keep their country within the UN-based climate regime of UNFCCC.
With 197 parties, the UNFCCC is the core of international multilateral climate actions. It is the parental treaty of the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, it is also the foundation of a series of supporting mechanisms, funds, and networks that coordinate parties to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. Nevertheless, this regime takes only parties’ responsibility and risk into account. In 2017, Taiwan’s 23 million population had produced 268,9 thousand Mt of carbon dioxide, making Taiwan the 21st largest source of CO2 emission in the world, according to the International Energy Agency’s report. This island is also vulnerable to potential impacts of Climate Change, as it is located on the brink of Asia pacific. In 2018, the annual average temperature of Taiwan had reached its highest point since records began. The rising temperatures are likely to increase the frequency of extreme precipitation events and typhoons, putting the next generation at risk. Taiwan Youth Climate Coalition (TWYCC) is a network of youth climate activists. They recognise Taiwan’s importance to be a part of the global climate regime, in particular, the Paris Agreement, in spite of the political constraint.
The Paris Agreement is a set of global frameworks intended to limit global warming below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. It requires governments to submit a comprehensive national climate action plan (nationally determined contributions, NDCs), allowing each countries’ progress to be monitored and evaluated by a transparency and accountability system called the Global Stocktake. Since Taiwan is not a signatory of the Paris Agreement, the Taiwanese government — at least legally — has no responsibility to propose a climate action plan according to the standard of the Paris Agreement, nor obligation to have its implementation monitored by the UNFCCC.
One of TWYCC’s major attempts is to introduce the Paris Agreement’s normative power into Taiwan. The Taiwanese government announced its own voluntary NDC after the agreement was drafted in 2015. Nevertheless, the 2015 NDC is a political statement rather than a practical action plan. It is somewhat incomplete and not supported by appropriate policies or legal instruments. As the Paris Agreement requires the parties to review and improve their submitted NDC in 2020, this year TWYCC launches a series of NDC campaigns, pushing the government to meet the requirements of the latest global principles.
The core of the 2020 NDC campaign is the promotion to the policymakers of the guidebook, ‘the Principles to Enhance Taiwanese NDC by 2020’. Every year, a group of youth delegates are sent to the annual UNFCCC summit (Conference of the Parties, COP) and update the Taiwanese youth with the latest progress of climate negotiations. Besides, TWYCC also launched a citizen NDC research group. The guidebook combines the youth delegates’ on-site experience, citizen research group’s research result, the advice proposed by leading international environmental NGOs, and the CTU (clarity, transparency and understanding) principle described in the Paris Agreement Rulebook of 2018. The guidebook is used as a reference for lobbying legislators and government officials so that they can prioritise the improvement of Taiwanese NDC. Thus, they can narrow the gap between the domestic climate policy and the global standard.
The second mission is mobilising Taiwan’s civil society to monitor the government’s implementation of climate action. It includes two strategies: public campaigns and domestic incorporation. The purpose of public campaigns is to make the public aware of the government’s climate policy implementation. For example, since 2018, the ‘Taiwan Youth Climate Stocktake’ was launched as a 3-year campaign. It aims to establish a citizen-led ‘Stocktake’ mechanism to take over the monitoring role of ‘Global Stocktake’ under the Paris Agreement. In terms of domestic incorporation, TWYCC has cooperated with other environmental NGOs to propose amendments of the national climate change laws, such as ‘the Greenhouse Gas Reduction and Management Act’ with the Paris Agreement’s spirit. Combining the power of public opinion and improved legal instruments, the Taiwanese NGO had contrived an alternative strategy to review Taiwan’s implementation, with the standard of the UN system, but without being a part of the system.
In addition, TWYCC’s physical presence at UNFCCC climate summits is also an effort to breach current political constraint. While most of the open sessions are provided online as webcasts, there are still a couple of closed sessions during the summit. Besides, one could not sense the tension between negotiators unless he or she is physically inside the meeting space. The meeting space of the climate summit is a highly politicised place. Those who have permission to enter the place will have a chance to ‘encounter’ delegates of the parties and develop bilateral and regional initiatives. Although Taiwan’s official access to the climate summits is limited, TWYCC can take substantial initiatives as a youth NGO observer. For example, TWYCC is a member of YOUNGO, the official children and youth constituency under the UNFCCC, and enjoys equal rights and opportunities as other constituency members from UN countries. As a member of YOUNGO, Taiwanese youths could co-work with the network, and make contributions beyond political boundaries. For example, during the summit of 2016, TWYCC was an active member of YOUNGO’s Action for Climate Empowerment working group (ACE). Hence, Taiwanese youths were allowed to lobby international delegates freely inside the summit. One of the TWYCC’s members was even invited to speak in the COP22 closing ceremony on behalf of YOUNGO, symbolising the potential of youth on Taiwan’s international participation.
Still, a youth non-state actors’ capability to breach such political constraint is limited. Youth’s participation can hardly change Taiwan’s exclusiveness from UNFCCC’s supporting mechanisms, such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the Green Climate Fund (GCF), and the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN). These mechanisms provide supportive technologies, funding, and markets to facilitate member states’ low-carbon transition. Furthermore, as TWYCC tried to engage Taiwan into UNFCCC’s climate regime, the organisations’ relationship with the government became rather complex. Though they could supplement the government’s diplomatic plans and programmes, they are simultaneously critical of the government’s domestic climate policies. Finally, although youth climate NGOs have some privileged access to UNFCCC’s resources, most of them are operated by inexperienced student volunteers and have minimal financial support. As a result, it is hard for Taiwanese youth climate NGOs to utilise UNFCCC’s resources and collaborate with the government in the long-term.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic might create a new opportunity. Since most of the UNFCCC events are either postponed or become online, every country — at least this year — are technically ‘excluded’ from the physical summit, just like Taiwan. As a result, most of the youth climate NGOs are cancelling their original international project and moving their campaign online. It might be an unprecedented opportunity for Taiwan’s youth climate NGOs. This year, TWYCC launches a new division to develop its international relations. They aim to develop bilateral initiatives between TWYCC and other youth climate NGOs by using digital platforms. Although the effectiveness is still unknown, it could shed light on a new strategy to breach Taiwan’s international political constraint.
Youth environmental NGOs, such as TWYCC, have their unique and flexible roles inside the UN-based climate governance framework. As a part of civil society, they can narrow the gap between Taiwan and the UN-based climate regime. Furthermore, as youth non-state actors, they can even access some of the UN’s resources regardless of their Taiwanese identity. But being youth organisations also means they are less-organised, inexperienced, and underfunded. Thus, if Taiwan would like to utilise their potential to break the existing diplomatic constraints, the government should develop a more flexible and innovative model to cooperate and support youth climate NGOs, not just inside, but also outside the climate summit.
Jing-Yi Zhong is a graduate student studying Engineering and System Science in National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan. Her main area of research focuses on material science. She is also deputy chief executive officer and public relation manager of TWYCC.
Shun-Te Wang is a scientist, a community engagement specialist, and a practitioner of interdisciplinary communication. He is also the deputy manager of the International Cooperation Office in TWYCC.
Wan-Ting Hsu is a master student at the International Degree Program of Climate Change and Sustainable development (IPCS) at National Taiwan University. She is also a board member of TWYCC.