COP21: Taiwan tells China to decarbonise faster, US to dig deep

This article is part of our special report Crunch time for COP21.

SPECIAL REPORT/ China should commit to faster decarbonisation at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, Taiwan’s Environment Minister has said, after the two countries reached a diplomatic rapprochement.

But the US must dig deep in its pockets to compensate developing countries for the effects of global warming.

Wei Kuo-yen is Taiwan’s environment minister.

Kuo-yen spoke to EURACTIV Deputy News Editor, James Crisp, at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, which finishes today (11 December).

What would be a successful outcome of COP21 for Taiwan?

At the end of this week, if there is a draft finalised then I think that would be good enough.Just think about it. This is the 21st COP. So after 20 years’ effort, finally we got it. It’s not easy.

How likely do you think it is that there will be a final agreement?

The focus, I guess now, is really on probably two problems. One is about how to have a big enough climate fund, and within that fund, who has the rights to use it and through what channels and what procedures the individual country can use. I guess the other thing that’s going on here is what will be the threshold of how many countries are to sign this agreement. I guess that is still in discussion – two thirds of the countries or even more?

What’s Taiwan’s message to the big emitters like the US, or China?

I think these two countries are the top emitters now, but they have different histories. I think if we talk about the historical responsibility of the accumulated greenhouse gas emissions, I think the US is the number one.

But at the moment, China is number one and China is booming, especially in the past, say, 15 years. They have, because of economic growth, burned a lot of fossil fuels. In order to keep the economic growth’s momentum, I guess it’s hard for them to really cut down the use of fossil fuels in any substantial numbers in the near future. So that’s why in their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, 2030 is their big year of emission reduction.

So, to China I would say, if possible, accelerate the decarbonisation. For USA, my message is help as many developing countries as possible.

+Breakthrough+

We’ve recently seen a real breakthrough in Chinese-Taiwanese relations. What sort of impact can that have on energy policy and environment policy in both your countries?

I think that’s an interesting question. I think that the meeting of our president and their president means that we recognise each other as political entities. We can be treated with mutual respect. And then with that as a basis, in the future I think the cross-strait relationship will be improved. Especially in this moment. I guess what we face is not a conflict between two sides of the strait, what we face is the fate of humanity, the future of the earth. So especially here at COP21, I think we should treasure this new development, and then we can do things together, but retaining a sense of competitive efforts to see who can do the better job.

We’re aware that Taiwan is a world leader in many ways in green technology and innovation, especially in LED lighting for example. What else can Taiwan bring to the table when it comes to the fight against climate change?

I think there are two new developments in Taiwan, aside from our technology and previous efforts in decarbonisation. This year, 2015, there are two major events, two major progresses in Taiwan. First of all, we have a new (legislative) act, entitled Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction and Management and, secondly, we also drafted our own INDC, although we are not a signatory party in COP2.

But now we are trying to submit our INDC to different think tanks, institutions and we’re seeking this international visibility. We have a very good legal basis for cutting emissions down, and secondly our INDC has really been based upon true inventory, studies, simulations. I think that kind of experience can be shared with other parties.

Why is Taiwan not a full participant at COP21? Why do you just have observer status?

We don’t even have observer status. Being an observer is what we are looking forward to. We hope the international community can support us for this status. Why? Because in 1971, our new representative right in the UN, was repressed by the People’s Republic of China. So, under the so-called “one-China policy”, mainland China occupied this seat.

I am advocating a new concept there – on the principle of previous Kyoto Protocol. It’s called “common but differentiated responsibilities”. Now, I propose to add two words there: we add “and inclusive” responsibilities. So, let me repeat this once again: “common, but differentiated and inclusive responsibilities”.

What sort of influence can Taiwan have on the talks?

I hope we can play a more constructive role, especially, for example, in the Southeast Asia area. Because in recent years, we really developed the main environmental protection techniques, and implemented the main regulations and laws. Now it is useful to show other countries, for example those surrounding the South China Sea the Indochina Peninsula, Indonesia, Philippines, and so on. They are in developing status, and quickly, they will become major world manufacturers. So, taking Taiwan’s experience, we can shorten their route to have a better environmental protection. Taiwan is willing to show that to all countries, not just those countries I mentioned, but at least those in the area.

+Island nation+

Taiwan is an island nation. Are you particularly at risk of climate change, and rising seas? Is that a problem you see on the horizon?

That’s a good question. Personally, I would say Taiwan’s case is not as urgent as other small island countries – for example in the Pacific or in the Caribbean. Taiwan is a mountainous island – although for some low areas we have the rising waters problem. In my estimation, if success is reached here in COP21, I think in the future probably the sea level will rise only probably will rise by only about 15 cms or even less. So for that, Taiwan is not particularly under threat.

But also being an island nation, you also have to import much of your energy. Presumably, if we have the deal we are hoping for here, there needs to be a change in your country? I believe 90% of your energy imports are fossil fuels.

Exactly, 90% of our energy imports are fossil fuels, about 2% from renewables, about 8% from nuclear power. We are now facing this new demand, the new mission of CO2 reduction. As we are in the process of restructuring of our energy portfolio, I would say the next year will be a very important year for us. Through public participation, through discussion, we will together arrive at an optimal mixture of our energy supply. Also, as Taiwan is an island nation, we have an independent electric grid, so given that, I think the energy security situation is different from some other countries. We have to respect this situation, although it’s difficult, and come up with the best solution for our energy security, which almost equals to country security.

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