Taiwan’s Exclusion from COP is Hurting Climate Action

At COP28, held late last year in Dubai, Taiwan's flag was nowhere to be seen.

Taiwan’s persistent yet unrecognized struggle for climate inclusion reflects a broader narrative of diplomatic isolation, overshadowing its significant contributions to global environmental efforts. 

“I’m from Taiwan,” said Meg J. C. Lin, CEO of the Taiwan Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Partnership, during a panel at the 2023 Conference of the Parties (COP28). It should be a simple factual statement, not a political declaration. But just like Taiwan’s presence at COP, Lin’s statement is far from uncomplicated.  

Due to lack of international recognition, Taiwan is not officially included in the United Nation’s annual climate change conference. Out of 195 countries in the world, only 12 officially recognize Taiwan. China claims Taiwan as a part of its territory and continues to exert pressure on the world stage to further marginalize Taiwan’s standing. This is to the detriment of global efforts to reverse climate change, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

“Due to bias from one single country, Taiwan remains uninvited [to COP],” the ministry tweeted in connection with the conference in late November. “Climate governance must be inclusive – our participation benefits all.”  

COP is not the only world conference excluding Taiwan, notes Huang Wei-ming, deputy director-general of the Climate Change Administration, which comes under the Ministry of Environment. “For Taiwan, our diplomatic difficulties are ever-present,” Huang says. “As COP is a United Nations event, we face the same difficulties here as we do at the World Health Assembly.” 

Taiwan is a manufacturing powerhouse and subsequently punches above its weight in one unfortunate category – greenhouse gas emissions. Although Taiwan is only the 57th largest country in the world by population, it is often in the top 20 globally for carbon emissions. The government is doing its best to decarbonize in step with the rest of the world, but being isolated in its efforts presents numerous challenges, says Huang.  

“The truth is everybody in the world uses semiconductors that are made in Taiwan,” he says. “Taiwan is trying to address this problem on our own. But we should be working together. We all created the problem and we all should be a part of the solution.” 

Deputy Director-General of the Climate Change Administration Huang Wei-ming says Taiwan is doing its best to decarbonize industries, but being isolated in its efforts presents many challenges.

Although Taiwan was barred from official participation, more than a hundred people from Taiwan attended COP28 in Dubai last year, including Huang and several other government officials, as well as industry representatives like Lin, academics, activists, and students. Since Huang and his colleagues can’t access the conference using their official designation, they apply under the auspices of various nongovernmental organizations.  

Veteran reporter Liu Kwang-yin attended both COP21 in Paris and COP23 in Bonn. In the following years, however, she didn’t feel that attending was worth her while, likening the conference to “a carnival of NGOs, governments, and businesses.”  

“To me, the first experience was the most valuable because I was able to see with my own eyes how different facets of society are dedicated to the climate cause,” Liu says. “But I felt a lot of it has increasingly become a show of greenwashing efforts and goodwill rather than action.”  

Liu says her experience could have been affected by the fact that she was limited to the general access Green Zone and not the more tightly controlled Blue Zone, where the actual negotiations among government delegates take place.  

Badges to the Blue Zone can be even more difficult to obtain for media from Taiwan than other countries, says Liu. She notes that her organization is in the process of attempting to obtain a Blue Zone pass for this year’s COP29 in Baku, Azerbaijan. “It’s really, really difficult, but I don’t know if that is in part because we are an organization from Taiwan,” Liu says.  

One of COP28’s chief achievements was the Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge. On December 13, a total of 118 countries pledged to triple the world’s installed renewable energy capacity and double energy efficiency by 2030. If successful, total global renewable generation will reach 11,000 GW in just six years.  

Taiwan was not just left out of the official pledge – it was completely left out of the loop. “We didn’t even know about the pledge until we heard it announced in Dubai,” says Huang.  

Could Taiwan have become an additional signatory to the pledge, or even taken its own separate pledge in support, if it had more time to consider the initiative?  

Taiwan Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Partnership CEO Meg J. C. Lin says Taiwan
needs to work three times as hard as everyone else to reach the same climate goals.

“According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, we have a chance of meeting that target [of tripling renewable energy],” says Huang. “Our policy of building renewables is in line with the International Energy Agency (IEA) recommendations. We are maximizing Taiwan’s wind and solar resources, especially offshore wind.” 

The development of offshore energy has met several obstacles, and several international companies are reportedly contemplating exiting Taiwan due to rising costs, delays, and restrictive regulations. The policy seems stuck, with little effort to get it moving again.  

Perhaps being included in the tripling pledge, or at least being informed and lobbied about it early on, could have been exactly the kind of international pressure that would spur the government to work harder on renewables.  

Limited access 

If anything, Taiwan’s access to information and activities has become increasingly constricted over the years, says Huang, a COP veteran who has attended several conferences over the years.  

“We used to be able to stand in the back of the room with the other NGOs as the negotiations took place,” he says. “Then one time a protestor threw a pie at one of the negotiators, and we weren’t allowed [in the room] anymore.” A similar tightening of security has also taken place at the preparatory meetings, which are conducted months ahead of the conference to iron out the main pledges and announcements.  

Taiwan’s diplomatic allies have proven to be a precious source of support, offering opportunities to gain visibility at the conference. “We are really thankful to our friendly allies who stand up for us,” says Huang. At COP28, Taiwan was able to co-host events at Palau’s country pavilion in the Blue Zone, a rare opportunity to share the Taiwanese experience. 

“The solution to the climate crisis requires everyone’s participation,” said Palauan president Surangel Whipps Jr. during the event. “The 23 million people of Taiwan and the thousands of businesses should not be excluded.” 

Meg J. C. Lin (second left) says that Taiwan’s exclusion from international forums such as COP are detrimental to net zero efforts.

As Taiwan’s number of official allies dwindles, support from sympathetic non-allies becomes increasingly important. At COP28, some were more vocal than others. During the conference’s closing plenary session, Germany’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Annalena Baerbock included Taiwan on the list of countries paying close attention to the outcomes of the meeting.  

The fact that Taiwan was mentioned in an official capacity by a representative from a “like-minded nation” – a term used for non-allied countries sympathetic to the Taiwanese cause – is significant, Huang notes. “It shows that Taiwan still has many friends all over the world,” he says.  

When Lin was invited to speak at a COP28 panel on her work with the Taiwan Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Partnership, she jumped at the chance. “This is a good opportunity to let the world see what we are doing in Taiwan,” she says. “My presence was not political, but I was proud to say, ‘I am from Taiwan.’” 

Lin emphasized that Taiwan is actively working toward decarbonization but needs support. Inclusion in official rankings would help Taiwan measure its progress and encourage further action in decarbonization.  

“We have to work three times as hard to reach the same goals as everybody else, and our factories cannot stop, or the world will run out of chips,” she says. “Yet we’re not even included in the statistics of many international organizations, like the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).” 

In addition to needing assistance, Taiwan can also help. Lin says that during her Ph.D. studies she used to idealize how things are done in other countries. But after traveling abroad extensively for work, she realized that Taiwan also has plenty to offer. For example, Taiwan is especially adept at fast, small-scale manufacturing and is an ideal partner for cutting-edge climate technology. 

“It’s impressive that a country with such a small population managed to attain such a high level of technology,” says Lin.  

Environmental student Lin Jia-you says coming to COP was an eye-opening experience.

She says she values her experiences at COP28, especially the connections she made with curious and encouraging peers in her field. But she still questions why Taiwan remains excluded from an event that ostensibly promotes inclusivity and equity.  

“COP is not supposed to be just about greenhouse gas emissions, but a just transition that includes equity and inclusion,” she says. “We respect gender inclusion and racial inclusion – but what about the people of Taiwan? You say COP is about global sustainability, but you take away our right to speak. Is that aligned with COP’s founding values?” 

For Lin Jia-you, a 22-year-old student at Feng Chia University’s Department of Environmental Engineering and Science, coming to COP was an eye-opening experience. “Most of my studies revolve around water resources and air pollution – it’s great for me to be exposed to cutting-edge thinking from fields such as ocean conservation,” he says. 

At COP, Lin encountered new avenues that could influence his future research as well as valuable networking opportunities. “Coming here I got to see a lot of world trends for myself,” he says. “For instance, in Taiwan, we are very conservative about nuclear energy. But at COP, we see that many countries embrace it and are willing to invest.” 

He emphasizes the importance of Taiwanese people continually participating and learning how Taiwan can improve, adding that he intends to keep attending COP conferences. “One day, if we can actually participate officially, I’m sure we will have even more opportunities to cooperate with the world.”