The impact of Copenhagen
The aspiration of the Copenhagen summit on climate change has served as a timely environment education for all. This invaluable issue reminds me of the film 2012. In the film, the spaceships, being like Noah’s ark, were built to help people escape from a massive flood. Will this scenario really happen some day?
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in 2007 that sea levels were rising worldwide. What has caused the rise? Melting of mountain glaciers and small ice caps is a primary factor. The pumping of underground water for human use may be a related factor.
The melting of polar ice sheets and the crisis of polar bears’ looming extinction have drawn people’s attention to the issue of climate change. What is it that causes the climate to change? In the Industrial Revolution, machines replaced workers. Since then, the burning of fossil fuels has resulted in emissions of aerosols. The composition of the atmosphere changed because of the addition of greenhouse gases and aerosols. “The changes in the atmosphere have likely influenced temperature, precipitation, storms and sea level,” the IPCC said in 2007.
It is encouraging that the UK and France gave their backing to a global fund. It would provide billions of dollars for the next three years to poor countries to help them fight deforestation and reduce the output of greenhouse gases linked to climate change. (“UK, France back climate change fund,” Nov. 29, page 6). US President Barack Obama will go to the Copenhagen summit to offer the first US plan to cut carbon emissions. (“Obama to make climate pledge,” Nov. 17, page 7) It is a serious subject that we could not ignore. It is also inspiring that effective measures have been taken through a global consensus.
It is urgent that everyone contributes to the protection of the earth with every possible effort.
As Taiwan is not a UN member, it cannot attend the Copenhagen Climate Summit in its official capacity because of China’s opposition. Since 1971, Beijing has been trying to restrict Taiwan’s international and diplomatic space by adopting a zero-sum approach to the issue of diplomatic recognition.
In the past, Taiwan has relied on aid diplomacy to gain and hold on to diplomatic allies. This approach has limited utility, as demonstrated by Taiwan’s experience with Eastern European states such as Macedonia after the end of the Cold War and the Solomon Islands’ fiasco in 2006. Furthermore, aid diplomacy is unlikely to allow Taiwan to gain support from developed Western states since they do not need such assistance.
Capitalizing on the euphoria associated with the end of the Cold War, Taiwan made use of its democratic credentials to differentiate itself from China by promoting democracy in the Asia-Pacific region by setting up the Taiwan Foundation of Democracy and starting journals such as the Taiwan Journal of Democracy. This approach, however, has not resulted in any concrete gains for Taiwan, since as Robert Kagan puts it, “History has returned.” The Beijing consensus has a lot more attraction for developing states in Asia and Africa than Taiwan’s push for democracy.
In order for Taiwan to remain relevant, it needs to have a new value proposition that appeals to international society. Aid diplomacy is not working. Democracy promotion does not endear Taiwan to states that are most likely to remain or become its diplomatic allies.
The French writer Victor Hugo once said: “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” In the present context, addressing climate change is arguably the idea. Climate change affects Taiwan directly. As an island nation, rising sea levels will pose a physical threat to Taiwan. More importantly, rising sea levels will also pose a diplomatic threat to Taiwan.
Twenty-three states recognize Taiwan, including Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Sao Tome and Principe, the Solomon Islands, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Tuvalu. These are all micro-island states that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
On Oct. 8, the leaders of Maldives’ parliament met underwater in a bid to illustrate the catastrophic problems their nation faces because of climate change. Such micro island-states usually have neither financial resources nor the diplomatic experience to effectively get their views heard. Their limitation provides the Taiwan with an opportunity to present itself as a responsible partner that is committed to assisting them confront this problem.
For instance, Canada does not play a major role in international society, yet it has attained a high and positive profile because of its role in introducing the concept of the “responsibility to protect.”
With a coherent environmental policy, Taiwan could do likewise and establish the diplomatic space it needs.
MING HWA TING
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