Energy, investment and global agreements

By Yang Chung-han 楊宗翰  / 

Sun, Nov 29, 2015 - Page 8

The 12th APEC Energy Ministerial Meeting was held on Oct. 13 in Cebu, the Philippines. Ministers agreed to promote dialogue on green energy finance in the region and an APEC Green Energy Finance Initiative was established this year following its proposal by Taiwan.

This initiative aims to overcome the current barriers to financial sustainability in the renewable energy and energy efficiency fields. As the leader of this initiative, Taiwan is to provide a platform on which to share information and knowledge and promote regional public-private partnerships (PPPs) in green energy finance.

The private sector’s role in global energy and environmental governance has shifted from marginal to central. At the 15th UN Climate Change Global Conference in 2009, industrialized nations committed to raising US$100 billion to assist developing countries to address climate change. It soon became obvious that this could not be achieved without private investments. Thus, international energy investment is a crucial catalyst for a low-carbon future.

In practice, international energy investment and environmental protection involve both synergistic and conflicting relations. On the one hand, foreign investment can harness financial and technological resources to promote environmental protection through various policy instruments, such as environmental funds, environmental PPPs, land use inducements and other market mechanisms linked to the Kyoto Protocol.

On the other hand, foreign investment, even “green” energy investments, might adversely affect the natural environment and cultural heritage of the host state (for example pollution, land grabs and destruction of biodiversity).

In September 2012, residents from Miaoli County’s Yuanli Township (苑裡) protested against the construction of a wind turbine by German company InfraVest. Residents were concerned about aesthetics and the density and close proximity of wind turbines to their homes. They believed that long-term exposure to the low-frequency noise produced by the turbines could lead to various health issues.

A number of international organizations have been working on the interaction between international investment policies and environmental issues. The UN Conference on Trade and Development issued this year’s Investment Policy Framework for Sustainable Development. The majority of newly concluded international investment agreements contain specific chapters and clauses that are related to environmental concerns, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. All these efforts ultimately seek to bridge the gap between investment policies and environmental protection.

The nation is now devoted to improving energy resilience at global, regional and national levels. In addition to the recent APEC initiative achievements, Taiwan is signing memorandums of understanding with individual nations for energy cooperation.

However, given the negative impact of energy investment, authorities should also put emphasis on safeguarding and accountability mechanisms for addressing environmental and social risks.

With coherence between investment and environmental policies, Taiwan has the potential to be a worldwide entrepreneur, not only in green energy technologies, but also in regulatory and policy innovations for sustainable development.

Yang Chung-han is a doctoral candidate at the University of Cambridge, and is researching the implications of contemporary international investment law for the regulation of energy and natural resources. He is also a qualified attorney of the International Affairs Committee, Taipei Bar Association.