Greens from Asia Pacific region meet in Taipei

The Asia Pacific Greens Network Congress took place in Taipei from Friday through Sunday. It brought together members of Green parties and environmental activists from many countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region and also from Europe. I attended the conference on Saturday.

The focus of the day’s talks was climate change, particularly in the light of the failure of the COP15 meeting in Copenhagen last December to achieve a satisfactory outcome. The opening speech was given by Mr Apisai Ielemia, the Prime Minister of Tuvalu. Tuvalu is one of the smallest nations on Earth and also one of the most vulnerable to climate change. The people of Tuvalu must face not just the impacts of climate change but the possibility that their entire country may be submerged by rising sea levels.

Ielemia explained why he believed the talks in Copenhagen were a failure. He put the blame squarely on the USA, saying the Copenhagen Accord was hastily put together to cover over the lack of action by the USA and for President Obama to have something to take home for domestic political reasons.

A problem with the Accord is that it sets a target of below 2ºC for the peaking of global temperatures. “Recent science tells us that a global temperature peak of around two degrees is likely to cause Tuvalu to disappear under the sea. I was certainly not going to sign on to a document that would spell the end of Tuvalu,” Ielemia said.

Ielemia proposed that the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol and setting ambitious targets for this. “The Kyoto Protocol is the only international agreement that binds industrialised countries to emission reduction targets,” Ielemia said. He also said the UK government has expressed support for continuation of the Protocol and he hopes the rest of Europe will follow.

Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva spoke about the impacts of climate change on the Himalayan region where she lives. The Gangotri Glacier, the source of the Ganges, is retreating 23 metres a year and the rate of its retreat is accelerating. Research shows that 75% of all springs and streams in the Himalaya have dried up within the past decade. People in the valleys are increasingly forced to rely on water supplies brought in by trucks. Cyclones are also increasing in intensity and now even reaching to Bhutan. The failure of the monsoon is a further problem and all these factors are creating climate refugees from coastal, mountain and plain areas. “When we are talking about climate devastation, we are not talking about 100 years from now. We are talking about today,” Shiva said.

Shiva emphasized that is important not to accept false solutions like the Copenhagen Accord. Kyoto 2 must stop pollution where it happens. In India the worst polluting industries have actually grown through the clean development mechanism. “I think something has become very wrong when coal become clean coal and nuclear becomes clean nuclear,” Shiva said.

“Genetic engineering is another false solution. It’s not a solution because genetic engineering will actually increase vulnerability to climate change and adds to the industrial agricultural system which has caused a large part of the problem,” Shiva said. About 40% of greenhouse gas emissions come from industrialised farming and globalised trade and food systems. There are solutions for agriculture and her group Navdanya has been working on these. “Soils rich in carbon hold more moisture. Soils rich in carbon are carbon sinks. No system in the world can solve the climate problem as efficiently as living soils,” she said.

A presentation by Marstella Jack from the Federated States of Micronesia in the afternoon session further highlighted the problems faced by the Pacific Island nations. The impacts of climate change are already being felt in Micronesia with freshwater systems becoming contaminated with saltwater a major problem. Changing rainfall patterns are also affecting freshwater supplies. This is forcing people to migrate from the low lying atolls to the higher volcanic islands. These islands also face problems in having development projects forced upon them by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. This produces infrastructure and industries that the people lack the technology and knowledge to maintain. This also leads to the creation of debt that is a burden on the society.

Professor Kao Cheng-yan of the Green Party Taiwan spoke about the Taiwan government’s continuing failure to take meaningful action on climate change. At National Energy Conventions in 1998, 2006 and 2009 the government had very good proposals, but failed to put these into effect. The government policies are inconsistent and contradictory. The government claims that as it is not a UN member so it has no obligation to follow international treaties. The current proposal is to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2050 which Kao considers far from acceptable.

Taiwan has the fourth highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions after Canada, Australia and the USA. Professor Kao put forward his own suggestions for Taiwan’s energy needs based on natural gas and a mix of renewable energy systems. He proposed that cellulose based biofuel produced from fallow land could supply 40% of Taiwan’s petrol requirements. During the question and answer session several people in the audience (including me) questioned Kao’s enthusiasm for biofuel. The use of biofuels threatens food security and biodiversity and it is also not a very efficient energy source.

My one criticism of the discussions is that while many people promoted the use of renewable energy there was no discussion about the very substantial technical and economic challenges involved in implementing renewable energy on a large scale. I think there needs to be more discussion of energy generally with consideration about how it is an integral part of the current economic system and the likely impacts of peak oil which is imminent.

Later in the afternoon there were workshops discussing topics including the effects of climate change in Tibet and the building of the Green Party in The Philippines. I attended a workshop on direct democracy chaired by Bruno Kaufmann of the Initiative and Referendum Institute Europe. I have heard Bruno speak on this topic before and he has visited Taiwan a number of times over the past eight years to discuss how referendums can be developed as a tool for improving Taiwan’s democracy.

Although about 90% of countries in the world have laws for referendums only about 10% actively use them as part of the political process. With regard to Taiwan, Kaufmann said that Taiwan has rights for direct democracy but they’re not working. He suggested that Taiwan should have a referendum to improve the existing referendum law. This would use democracy to improve democracy.

The day ended with a closing speech by Senator Bob Brown from Australia. Brown said that the Green parties cannot change the major parties, but they can displace them and replace them. “Our job in pursuing a planet where human beings turn around the threat of climate change. Stop burning coal, bring on renewable energy, bring on energy efficiency, stop destroying forests, but recycle and use the goods we have more wisely. That will come from us Greens staying green, sticking true to our principles and replacing the current political parties,” he said.

Brown said the Global Greens Charter sets out the principles for the Greens to operate by. “It is that set of principles which binds us as Greens and which binds us into our political future,” he said. “The hope and future for the planet depends on this Charter and our determination to give political representation to what most of the people of the world want.”

Asia is going to become the centre of the world’s economy and political affairs in the coming century. “If this is to be the rising centre of power, then more than anywhere else this is where the Greens need to be growing in power and influence. Like the past start to the Greens in the countries of Australasia and Europe, the baton will pass to the countries of Asia and the Pacific,” Brown said. “We have to predict and work for the dominance of Greens in global politics. Because the alternative is not sustainable. It will fail.”

The conference was a major achievement of the Taiwan Green Party. Hopefully it can provide a boost for the Green parties in many Asian countries where it is often a struggle just to have their voices heard let alone get elected to parliament.

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