Taiwan and the Global Fight Against Climate Change

A mountain road to Taipei City in Taiwan. (Photo: Charles Chen Art, Shutterstock)

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, while recovery efforts have started to restore a sense of normalcy to our everyday lives, there are countless repercussions from the storm that will take a long time to resolve. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg noted, "What's clear is that the storms that we've experienced in the last year or so around this country and around the world are much more severe than before. Whether that's global warming or what, I don't know. But we'll have to address those issues." New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told U.S. President Barack Obama that it seems "we have a 100-year flood every two years now."

On Nov. 26, the 165 signatories of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and 30 other ratifiers will gather in Qatar for the 2012 U.N. Climate Change Conference to discuss the impacts of climate change. After Hurricane Sandy, the timing and significance of this meeting cannot be lost on America's political leaders.

As an island nation located on the earthquake-prone Pacific "Ring of Fire," which faces the threat of at least five to seven typhoons every year, Taiwan is well acquainted with the destructive powers of Mother Nature. We also recognize the importance of efficient disaster relief and emergency response mechanisms in the aftermath of natural disasters. We believe that climate change is causing recent extreme weather events and that it needs to be addressed immediately and with coordinated international efforts to protect vulnerable areas all over the world.

This is why Taiwan wishes to become a part of the UNFCCC. Taiwan has a great wealth of experience in collecting and analyzing information pertaining to weather patterns and seismic activity. Its unique geographic location and wealth of data sets from weather stations over the last 100 years make the island an ideal place to observe and monitor changes in both the climate and oceanic ecosystem. It also has nearly 30 years of experience in numerical weather modeling and prediction systems and is one of the few countries in the Asia Pacific capable of issuing effective forecasts for severe weather events. Despite having access to this kind of valuable information, Taiwan is excluded from the UNFCCC. This exclusion not only goes against the UNFCCC's mission to make its global coverage and data more complete, it cuts Taiwan out of the information loop and leaves it open to the effects of natural disasters.

Taiwan is also globally recognized as one of the world's most advanced countries in the fields of seismic monitoring and has the highest concentration of monitoring stations, with about 800 currently in operation. This system evaluates and distributes critical information about earthquakes immediately after they strike, and is currently the fastest of its kind in the world. Last November, Taiwan also built the Marine Cable Hosted Observatory, which can monitor an area off the coast and transmit the data collected to the Central Weather Bureau. This system provides a 10-minute tsunami warning system that could save countless lives while simultaneously acting as an important data collection mechanism. Taiwan is one of the only countries to have invested in this kind of a network and has already drawn up plans to extend the reach of the system from 45km to 200km offshore.

Progress has also been made in gathering and analyzing data related to extreme weather patterns and climate change. Taiwan's government has set up dozens of stations to measure rainfall in areas that are at high risk for debris flows and floods. These stations transmit data to the Debris Flow Disaster Prevention Center, which analyzes the information and issues warnings to local communities. In addition, a project to establish the Ministry of the Interior's Disaster Map began in earnest last year, and has already been used to locate areas susceptible to mudslides, debris flows and flooding.

Taiwan can play a critical role in the international community by contributing to climate data collection and analysis as well as providing climate simulations and projections through advanced techniques. Its participation in the UNFCCC process would conform to the spirit and purpose of the Convention, which acknowledges that "the global nature of climate change calls for the widest possible cooperation." If Taiwan were able to participate as an observer in UNFCCC-related organizations, it would not only help the country protect itself against weather patterns brought about by climate change; it could also provide valuable data to the international community.