Dec. 9 marked not only the end of the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), but also the third straight COP since Taiwan officially announced its intention to seek official participation in the UN body.
In the past three years, the US government, the European Parliament and several diplomatic partners have expressed their support for Taiwan’s UNFCCC campaign. Regrettably, little meaningful progress has been made despite the breakthrough of achieving the right to officially participate as an observer in the World Health Assembly (WHA), as well as cross-strait relations being at an all-time high.
The obvious reason has been obstruction from China, which has adamantly opposed the expansion of Taiwan’s international space. China has also carefully stressed that Taiwan’s admission to the WHA does not necessarily apply to other organizations and that further participation would have to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
China’s obstructions aside, the current political landscape might not be favorable for Taiwan’s admission because despite Taiwan’s best intentions to contribute to global environmental protection, it is unlikely that the international community will accommodate Taiwan’s request as they push China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, to play a more constructive role in the international climate negotiations.
Even if Taiwan does gain admission, a key issue that has so far flown under the radar is whether Taiwan’s participation would be meaningful. This question arises because Taiwan’s desired method of admission into the UNFCCC — using a similar model to its participation in the WHA — deals primarily with the method of admission, but not the substance of the participation.
The WHA model, as it is known, has three elements: participation under the name Chinese Taipei, as an observer, with official government representation. While this model minimizes the political sensitivities regarding Taiwan’s participation, it does not address the rights or responsibilities it would enjoy or be held accountable to. As a result, there are serious concerns regarding the meaningfulness of Taiwan’s participation in the WHA.
For the UNFCCC, the Rules of Procedures of the COP merely state that observers can “participate without the right to vote in the proceedings of any session, unless at least one-third of the parties present at the session object.”
So what will be the extent of Taiwan’s participation in the UNFCCC if admitted via the WHA model?
It is clear that Taiwan would not be able to take part in the climate negotiation process because this is a privilege reserved for the 194 parties to the convention. As an observer, it also would not have the right to directly partake in the carbon markets (Emissions Trading, the Clean Development Mechanism and Joint Implementation) of the Kyoto Protocol. Fortunately, Taiwan is not missing out much in this regard, considering the uncertain future of the Kyoto Protocol.
Examining the privileges granted to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) may shed some useful insights because the PLO is also a non-UN member-state participating as an observer in the COP. Representatives of the PLO were able to make formal statements during the High Level Segment (when the heads of states and governments speak) of the COP, an opportunity Taiwan would welcome. However, it is unclear if this privilege would be extended to Taiwan because of their different statuses and level of recognition in the UN system.