The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) launched the new “Taiwan Marine Waste Management Action Plan” last month and set a clear policy timetable to achieve the nation’s plastic-free ocean goal by 2030.
To cut a massive source of marine pollution, the EPA is planning to ban all single-use plastic items, such as straws, shopping bags and disposable cups, and to force major chain restaurants and shops to stop providing them to customers from next year.
The EPA is also revising the Marine Pollution Control Act (海洋污染防治法) to increase the maximum fine for ocean pollution.
To implement the law more effectively this time around, the EPA decided to partner with several environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) — Greenpeace Taiwan, the Marine Citizen’s Foundation, the Wilderness Protection Association, Haiyong Studio and the Environmental Information Association — and set up the “platform for the management of marine debris” in July last year.
This platform is a landmark example of harnessing public-private partnerships for marine conservation. It has hosted a series of public consultations and policy forums in the past few months. Under this new initiative, the NGOs are helping the government prevent marine pollution and monitor policy enforcement.
Globally, environmental governance is changing. The key role of non-state actors, such as NGOs and the private sector, has been shaped by their presence at important international environmental conferences, such as the UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972, in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and in Johannesburg in 2002.
The value of public participation has also been recognized by the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, Agenda 21 and the EU’s Aarhus Convention.
It is important for Taiwan to understand what elements make multi-actor alliances work and explore how these lessons can be adapted to Taiwan’s circumstances.
First, creating a flexible and enabling regulatory system is a fundamental condition for long-lasting collaborations among multi-sector stakeholders. The legal framework should stimulate grassroots innovation and meet citizens’ needs.
Taiwan needs to review the possible institutional obstacles of its Government Procurement Act (政府採購法), Civil Associations Act (人民團體法) and other legislation that regulate social enterprises and NGOs.
Second, there is a need to acknowledge the value and power of four technological forces — social, mobile, cloud and “big data.” These frontiers are shaping the theories and practices of nature conservation and pollution management.
In 2012, China was forced to disclose its real air pollution information after the US embassy in Beijing tweeted its data and started an Internet firestorm among Chinese.
Environmental informatics has reformed how people engage with science and democracy.
Third, much of the work on environmental management is being done at a local level. Several advanced policy instruments call for involvement at local, national and global levels. Agenda 21 requires local governments to formulate their own “Local Agenda 21.”
The coordination platform between the EPA and environmental groups also needs to enhance participation from local governments.
So far, Taiwan’s plastic-free ocean initiatives have made progress. The government-NGO platform is a reminder to rethink regulation setting, utilize technological “game changers” and work closely with local institutions.
Yang Chung-han is a doctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance.
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