Written by Simona Grano.
Image credit: Couresy of Leslie Mabon
Since the early 1990s, Taiwan has been developing its energy policies in response to the trends established by the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Even though Taiwan is not a signatory Party, a Taiwanese delegation has never been absent from the UNFCCC.
The Taiwanese delegation is mainly composed of non-governmental organisations, including several UNFCCC accredited observers, such as the state-backed Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) and several other local NGOs from the public and private sectors. ITRI, a technology research and development institution, has played a pivotal role in transforming the labour-intensive Taiwanese landscape into one that is innovation-driven. From the start, ITRI has been a significant player in driving Taiwan’s economy, especially the country’s high-tech sector. As such, it also plays a crucial role in swaying industrial development towards smart solutions that contribute to a sustainable path. These solutions include smart living options, smart manufacturing, smart medical care, smart finance, and a sustainable environment by centring on green energy solutions, smart transportation options, advanced green manufacturing, and disaster relief technologies.
Apart from this form of ‘partial participation’ in side-meetings through NGOs and with observer status, as a political entity, Taiwan has long been prevented from joining international multilateral fora including but not limited to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, for obvious reasons.
The 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) is taking place this November in Glasgow, Scotland. Countries are expected to meet and develop policies and agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, thus, hopefully, control the escalating global crisis we are currently facing.
Without formal support from the international community, Taiwan is once more excluded and barred from sharing its experience and valuable information with the rest of the world. This is even though the UN’s statement reads: “…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.”
This statement is reminiscent of the WHO’s treatment of the island throughout the corona pandemic. This is when Taiwan could have shared its positive experience in managing the virus with the rest of the world but was prevented from doing so, as it cannot be heard or listened to as effectively as a member would be.
Taiwan is becoming a problem for international organisations such as the WHO and UN climate conferences and meetings. In fact, its sustained absence, in the face of its successes, is a clear reminder that such decisions are politically motivated and have nothing to do with the stated mission of said organisations, namely: listening to all sides to ensure the best possible results for humanity, be it related to mitigating global warming or a pandemic, which Taiwan managed exceptionally.
Whether things could change soon is uncertain, but clearly, there is more public support at the international level, in the US and Europe, towards Taiwan playing a more significant role in international organisations.
At the end of October, the US State Department and Taiwanese officials met virtually for a “discussion focused on supporting Taiwan’s ability to participate meaningfully at the UN.” Moreover, “US participants reiterated the US commitment to Taiwan’s meaningful participation at the World Health Organization and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and discussed ways to highlight Taiwan’s ability to contribute to efforts on a wide range of issues.”
Taiwan is indeed a “responsible player” and could positively impact and contribute to a more effective international response to global warming. Its behaviour illustrates this in the past decade. Taiwan is among the first countries to commit to long-term reduction goals by writing them into law. According to the Greenhouse Gas Reduction and Management Act, enacted in July 2015, Taiwan’s national carbon emissions must be half of 2005 levels by 2050. This Act also mandates the setting of regulatory mitigation goals in stages; to this avail, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) set five-year phased goals of 2 per cent, 10 per cent, and 20 per cent decreases below its 2005 levels by 2020, 2025, and 2030, respectively.
At least since the Tsai Ing-Wen administration, the Taiwanese government has pledged to phase off nuclear energy and increase its renewable energy quota to 20% of the total by the year 2025. In addition, the government has invested in the wind turbine industry, and in 2019 Taiwan had the 8th biggest offshore wind market in the world.
Like it did for the pandemic, Taiwan seeks a transparent and bottom-up approach to find shared solutions to global problems. Along with other ministries and agencies, the EPA has launched a public consultation call on visions for the year 2050. The goal is to create a dialogue between the state and society on critical issues such as agricultural and forestry carbon reductions, low-carbon industries, net-zero buildings, green transportation, and economic instruments. With contribution from all sectors of society and research and development investment in innovative technology, Taiwan hopes to find the most suitable climate governance path for its future growth.
At the basis of Taiwan’s vision for the future lies the concept of “teamwork” and especially cooperation with critical industrial sectors and private enterprises. To support them and decrease the financial costs for enterprises, the government has introduced a series of financial tools to sustain and encourage virtuous behaviour in industrial production and other sectors.
At a time when countries around the world, including the US and the EU, are warming up their long-frozen ties to Taiwan, looking for new opportunities to allow the island to be part of the international circuit, support should start by rallying around issues that are of shared concern. Politics should not be the decisive factor for excluding a critical player from sharing valuable insights, which could have far-reaching benefits for other countries around the globe.
Taiwan has always sought to fulfil its role of a “responsible player” even though excluded from all relevant international organisations. A variety of other countries, even though not excluded from international fora, have attempted to achieve much less in terms of moving towards more efficient and less polluting solutions. As a cradle of innovation, a vibrant democracy, an incubator for novel technological tools and a stable political system, Taiwan should receive widespread international support, allowing the country to share its valuable experience and success stories with the rest of the international community.
Simona A. Grano is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Zürich and has been Director of the Taiwan Studies Project since 2017. She is the author of Environmental Governance in Taiwan , published in 2015 by Routledge.
This article was published as part of a special issue on COP26 and Taiwan