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Remarks by AIT Director W. Brent Christensen at the Circular Economy Summit
October 16, 2020

Taiwan Circular Economy Summit
Taiwan Circular Economy Summit

Remarks by AIT Director W. Brent Christensen at the Circular Economy Summit
 October 16, 2020
 (as prepared for delivery)

Deputy Minister Shen, Deputy Minister Tseng, Deputy Minister Huang, distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning. 早安Zǎo ān

It’s a pleasure to be here at the Taiwan Circular Economy Summit hosted by the Executive Yuan, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Environmental Protection Administration, and Council of Agriculture.

I am pleased to be here today to speak about three things: the depth of U.S.-Taiwan cooperation on environmental matters, the growing challenges of waste management, and Taiwan as a force for good in seeking solutions to these challenges, especially during the COVD-19 pandemic.  Environmental protection is an AIT priority and it is also something that is dear to my heart.  During my thirty years in the Foreign Service, I have twice served as a Science Officer – once in South Africa and again later as the Environment Science Technology and Health Counselor at the United States Embassy in Beijing.  In fact, it was during my time in Beijing that we launched the air quality monitoring program that ultimately led China to begin reporting more accurate air quality information itself.

During our AIT at 40 campaign this past year, AIT hosted an environment month in December that included the opening of the Global Environmental Education Partnership (GEEP) Asia-Pacific Regional Center to improve and promote environmental education around the world.  AIT hosted NASA Senior Outreach Specialists who conducted a workshop for educators involved in GLOBE, an international science and education program that connects students, teachers, and scientists for environmental protection, data collection, and science-related activities.  We also put on multiple film screenings of A Plastic Ocean, a U.S. documentary on the shocking amount of marine debris in the ocean.

So, first, allow me to comment briefly on U.S.-Taiwan collaboration on environmental issues, which has a history of nearly three decades.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration began their partnership in 1993.  This partnership now covers a broad range of engagement and technical cooperation to reduce electronic equipment or e-Waste, promote sustainable materials management and circular economy, address air pollution and protect human health, mitigate soil and underground water contamination, promote environmental education, and effectively enforce environmental laws.  These are just some examples of our unwavering commitment and partnership to combat real challenges in the world.

Both the U.S.-Taiwan environmental partnership also includes an ever-growing list of cooperative efforts involving public and private partnerships on both sides that underscore our mutual commitment to protect the environment.

In addition, since 2011, our two EPAs have built global capacity for environmentally sound management of electrical waste and electronic equipment, or e-Waste.

The United States is proud to continue our environmental cooperation with Taiwan through bilateral and multilateral frameworks. The International Environmental Partnership, or IEP launched in 2014, is a joint multi-year effort of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  This partnership has created a platform for the United States and Taiwan to jointly provide technical assistance to, and pursue cooperative efforts with regional partners across the Indo-Pacific and around the world to address environmental concerns.

Second, we all know that proper waste disposal is a challenge for all countries, regardless of their stage of development.  Of the 8.3 billion metric tons of waste produced worldwide, 6.3 billion metric tons are plastic waste.  Of that, only nine percent has been recycled. Most of the rest, —79 percent—is accumulating in landfills or is littering the natural environment.  Consumers dispose of over 50 million tons of electronic waste alone each year – most of which is not recycled.

As one can see, unmanaged waste poses an increasing transboundary threat to health and the environment.  That is especially true for e-waste, which can pose health risks from heavy metals and hazardous chemicals.

Marine debris, mainly consisting of mismanaged plastic waste flowing into the ocean from land-based sources, is another significant challenge.  Marine debris also costs the maritime and tourism industries of Indo-Pacific countries hundreds of millions of dollars every year and threatens food security and human health.  Experts estimate 11 million metric tons of plastic waste enter the ocean every year.  Without immediate and sustained action, that amount will nearly triple by 2040, to 29 million metric tons per year.

Third, the United States is working to find solutions to these complex waste management issues.  For example, in the United States, the bipartisan “Save Our Seas” (S.O.S.) bill, signed into law in October 2018, directs the U.S. government to increase engagement with countries that contribute the most to global marine debris in order to find solutions to their waste management problems.

Solving complex waste management issues is not possible without broad public engagement.  Programs should include public education campaigns to make people aware of the seriousness of the issue, but also highlight innovative options for dealing with the problem with new, more effective waste management tools and environment technology, which means new commercial opportunities for environmental technology companies.

Which brings me to today’s event.  Today’s Taiwan Circular Economy Summit showcases how Taiwan is coping with these pressing challenges and brings together some of the best minds in Taiwan’s public and private sectors and academia to discuss and demonstrate industrial strategies for a green recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic.  Just as the Taiwan Model on managing COVID-19 showed the world how to contain the pandemic, the Taiwan Model for managing waste and marine debris can share valuable best practices for a green recovery.

On November 3rd and 10th, Taiwan, the United States, Japan, and the Netherlands will co-host a Global Cooperation Training Framework virtual workshop on marine debris, and focus on solutions to the global marine debris challenges.  This is an impressive demonstration of what the United States and Taiwan with like-minded partners have accomplished together over the years, as well as the beginning of a promising new chapter in our cooperation.  We often refer to U.S.-Taiwan cooperation as: Real Friends, Real Progress 真朋友, 真進展.

I believe that we all have a role to play in preserving our planet for future generations by conserving our natural resources, creating innovative economic models and new jobs, and reducing harmful emissions.

Thank you all for your contributions to this important initiative.  I wish you a pleasant and productive conference.