Taiwan aims for wrong UN body

By I-Chun Hsiao and Jerry I-hsuan Hsiao 蕭義俊,蕭義宣  / 

Wed, Aug 01, 2012 - Page 8

On July 18, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched an advertising campaign supporting Taiwan’s bid for meaningful participation in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). It is therefore a timely moment to assess Taiwan’s drive for meaningful participation in another UN body, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

There are three reasons why little progress has been made in the three years since Taiwan formally sought official participation in the UNFCCC.

First, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) remains adamantly opposed to Taiwan’s engagement with the UN — this has been the case for the past 40 years and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

Second, the UNFCCC is not an “organization,” but a political body that pits developing countries against developed countries over the issue of who is responsible for causing and addressing climate change. Similar to the situation at the Doha Development Round of the WTO, the negotiation process involved is mired in a complex deadlock and most experts agree that there is little chance of a binding treaty, despite the ambitious timeline set forth in the COP17 document, which states that an outcome is to be adopted no later than 2015 and should come into effect from 2020.

Given the difficulty the developed world faces trying to get large developing countries such as India, Brazil and especially China — the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter — to commit to emissions reductions, it is unlikely that the international community will be sympathetic to Taiwan’s cause.

Last, the UNFCCC’s structure does not allow for “observers,” which is how Taiwan participated in the World Health Assembly (WHA). As such, a special exception would need to be granted for Taiwan’s participation. Besides the difficulties in actually achieving observer status for Taiwan, there is also the question surrounding the meaningfulness of this status.

With the benefit of hindsight, Taiwan should perhaps have sought to join the lesser-known World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to address its climate concerns instead of the more “fashionable” UNFCCC. There are three reasons why Taiwan should have sought to participate in the premier institution for meteorology (weather and climate), operational hydrology and related geophysical sciences within the UN system.

First, Taiwan’s technical excellence in meteorology makes it an outstanding candidate for WMO inclusion. Taiwan is a leader in the application and analysis of radar data and has one of the most advanced typhoon surveillance systems in the Asia-Pacific region.

Second, the WMO is a specialized agency of the UN like the WHO, the ICAO and UNESCO.

As such, it undertakes many programmatic activities that Taiwan could engage in as an observer. Being able to participate in these workshops, projects and programs is precisely what will make Taiwan’s observer status meaningful.

Last, and possibly most importantly, the WMO’s structure allows observers to participate in a way similar to how Taiwan participated in the WHA.

This is crucial because only three of 15 specialized agencies of the UN are structured this way (the other two agencies are the WHO and ICAO). It would be prudent for Taiwan to seek participation in all three agencies where this model can be applied.

Taiwan’s entry into the WMO will remain very challenging due to the PRC’s steadfast opposition. Furthermore, there is also the issue of strategic approach.

Should Taiwan seek to participate in several UN bodies at once (a parallel process) or should it wait for a positive outcome in the UNFCCC and ICAO before seeking to participate in other UN bodies (a sequential process)?

Each approach has its merits and flaws, but regardless of the method chosen, it will be interesting to see if President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) policy of viable diplomacy will lead to any breakthroughs in the context of international participation in the second term of his presidency.

I-Chun Hsiao is a commentator based in Washington and Jerry I-Hsuan Hsiao is a commentator based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.