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.
The indefinite timeframe of Taiwan’s bid for official participation and questions about its ability to participate meaningfully makes the exploration of other venues for participation all the more prudent. In particular, Taiwan’s private sector should play a larger role in the UNFCCC.
Academic institutions, businesses and NGOs working in the area of climate change should all seek to become civil society observers to the convention.
Just as importantly, the three Taiwanese organizations currently accredited as civil society observers to the UNFCCC must do more than simply send a delegation to attend the annual COP meetings, side events or blog about the conference. Instead, they must deepen and broaden their participation according to the rights conferred to them.
These rights include providing written submissions to support the climate change negotiation process, participating in the UNFCCC workshops that take place throughout the year and seeking to become key players in the UNFCCC’s Technology Information Clearinghouse, the Change Information Network and the One UN Training Service Platform on Climate Change. With Taiwan’s know-how in high technology, technical expertise and human development, there is little doubt that Taiwan’s private sector would be able to contribute meaningfully in all three areas.
Engaging in these activities through Taiwan’s private sector would enhance Taiwan’s visibility in the UNFCCC and demonstrate in concrete terms how Taiwan’s participation can add value to the climate convention. This may help other countries become accustomed to Taiwan’s presence as a positively contributing member of the international climate change system, thus accelerating Taiwan’s bid for official participation in the UNFCCC.
Hsiao I-chun is a commentator based in Washington and Jerry I-H Hsiao is a commentator based in Kuala Lumpur.
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