Taiwan: barred from UN climate talks, but committed to global deal

Minister of Environment in Taipei says country is pushing hard for an ambitious global emissions reduction deal

(Pic: Flickr/daymin)

(Pic: Flickr/daymin)

By Stephen Shu-hung Shen

Mitigating climate change — the most pressing challenge the international community is facing today — has a direct bearing on the sustainable development of nations around the world, as well as the survival of humankind.

Despite Taiwan’s unique status in international politics, our government has actively participated in global efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and has encouraged our citizens to contribute to these efforts.

In 2010, we voluntarily pledged to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat and the international community that we would set concrete emission reduction targets. The international community should recognize and take note of Taiwan’s actions, and include it in the worldwide network of mutual assistance.

Two strategic components can be distinguished in our endeavours to mitigate the effects of climate change: containing the phenomenon and adapting to it.

With regard to containing climate change, the Republic of China (ROC) government at the end of 2009 established the Executive Yuan Steering Committee on Energy Conservation and Carbon Reduction, which is responsible for formulating a national master plan to reduce emissions.

It aims to actively create a sound legal environment and green transportation infrastructure, as well as low-carbon energy systems, communities, and industries.

Meanwhile, in 2012 Taiwan adopted national climate change adaptation guidelines covering eight major domains—disasters, essential infrastructure, water resources, land use, coastal areas, energy supply, biodiversity, and health.

Green legislation

In addition, the government is continuing to promote the passage of a Green House Gas Reduction Bill. This bill, along with the Energy Tax Bill that is currently being studied, the Energy Management Act that has already been implemented, and the Renewable Energy Development Statute, constitutes the legal framework for the reduction of greenhouse gases in Taiwan.

President Ma Ying-jeou has explicitly stated that “developing an environment characterized by low carbon emissions and high reliance on green energy” is one of the five pillars of Taiwan’s national development, so as to gradually transform Taiwan into a “low-carbon, green-energy island.”

The government has also aggressively initiated a plan to build a “low carbon and sustainable homeland.” As part of this plan, 52 rural villages, three cities—New Taipei, Taichung, and Tainan—and one county, Yilan, have been selected as model communities in terms of low-carbon and sustainable environments, with the aim of encouraging the people of Taiwan to actively participate in the development of such a homeland.

Meanwhile, the government is promoting electric motorcycle battery exchange systems, geographic information systems (GIS) for bicycle road networks, and hybrid cars.

It also plans to replace all traditional buses in urban areas with electric buses in the coming 10 years, so as to gradually establish a low-carbon transportation infrastructure.

Falling consumption

Faced with severe challenges posed by climate change, Taiwan’s efforts over the past few years to reduce carbon emissions have already yielded concrete results.

From 2008 to 2012, annual energy consumption fell by an average of 0.1 per cent, which marked a significant improvement compared with the period 2004-2007, during which it grew by an average of 3.3 per cent.

Furthermore, in 2008 carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion dropped for the first time, and between 2008 and 2012 these emissions continued to fall by an average of 0.6 per cent per year, which was also much better than the period 2004-2007, during which emissions increased by an average of 2.7 per cent per year.

Taking a closer look at 2012, Taiwan’s economy witnessed growth of 1.32 per cent, but carbon emissions fell by 1.90 per cent, demonstrating that an inverse relationship now exists between economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions.

Diplomatic efforts

The ROC government has actively sought international support to expand its international space, and has initiated pragmatic and constructive dialogue with mainland China, achieving significant results.

In 2009, member countries of the United Nations for the first time invited the ROC government to formally participate in the World Health Assembly (WHA) as an observer, and we have continued to attend every year since.

Furthermore, in September 2013 Taiwan was invited to attend the 38th Session of the Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization as a guest of the President of the Council.

Our participation in these two bodies is of great symbolic meaning and has given us considerable encouragement.

We hope that the international community will take into account these precedents and allow Taiwan to substantively participate in the UNFCCC. This will enable us to receive support from and contribute to the international community.

Stephen Shu-hung Shen is Minister of the Environmental Protection Administration in the Republic of China (Taiwan)

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