The 18th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) concluded in Doha, Qatar, last Saturday. Media reported that Chang Liang-yi (張良伊), founder and chairman of the Taiwan Youth Climate Coalition, stood out among the young representatives from around the world when he was elected YOUNGO Global South focal point, which means that he will liaise with the UNFCCC secretariat on behalf of the youth constituency in the “global south.” Taiwanese media praised the election, since Taiwan cannot participate in official UN convention conferences or sign UN conventions In short, Chang’s election is a major diplomatic breakthrough for Taiwan.
Although efforts by this group of young Taiwanese are to be admired, there is cause for concern over the indifference Taiwan has shown toward the conference. It is just as Chang said on his Facebook page after the election: “If we lose the battle at the UNFCCC, winning any number of UN focal point elections will mean nothing! We must let every Taiwanese know that we side with all global citizens and that we are going to stop those who call themselves ‘leaders’ from determining our future!”
Indeed. For those whose only concern is how they may be able to step onto the international arena, the Doha meeting seemed to be all about getting media exposure. Chang gives a solid reminder that the machinations of individual countries could mean that the conference will have achieved nothing, while the issue of climate change is becoming increasingly urgent. Let the recent winter typhoon in the Philippines which caused more than 900 deaths and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless be a major warning.
Taiwan is also an island country located close to the Philippines. How are we reacting to climate change and what are our contributions to fighting it? Taiwanese media ran almost no reports on the meeting in Doha.
During the conference, the Climate Change Performance Index published by the German organization Green Watch ranked Taiwan 52nd among the 61 countries in the index, a mere two spots ahead of China, the world’s biggest carbon emitter. This is a clear indication that Taiwan’s efforts to fight climate change are not up to scratch. Taiwan’s performance when it comes to cutting carbon emissions, part of the government’s widely promoted policy to encourage the public to save energy and cut carbon emissions, is deteriorating.
On Monday, the Ministry of Economic Affairs convened a two-day National Industrial Development Conference. One of the items on the agenda dealt with ways to remove the obstacles to industry posed by environmental impact assessments. This highlights the contradictions in the government’s policies for sustainable industrial development: On the one hand, the government announces loud and clear that Taiwanese should all save energy and reduce carbon emissions, but on the other, it wants to eliminate any substantive and necessary efforts toward creating that sustainable development. The policy confusion is worrying, and this is precisely what these young people are saying.
We must never forget that climate change is not hypothetical. It is an existing fact. The crisis that could be caused by climate change will not be something that happens somewhere else: Taiwan is part of a high-risk group that could very possibly be the next victim. Taiwan’s leaders and decisionmakers need to give this fact serious thought.
Chen Tai-an is a lecturer in the Department of Environmental Resources Management at the Transworld Institute of Technology and a lecturer on environmental law at Soochow University’s Program of Green Science and Sustainability.
Translated by Perry Svensson