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Session A7
Taiwan's Environmentalism: At a Critical Turn in a Critical Zone
彭保羅 Paul Jobin
Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan

During the last decade, Taiwan's anti-pollution movements have been reshaping their episteme to cope with the new challenges of climate change; the fight against industrial hazards now goes hand in hand with efforts to reduce the intensive consumption of energy and of natural resources. This trend suggests that Taiwanese environmentalism has entered a critical turn, and a time of some urgency. According to the German Watch Institute, Taiwan--alias “Chinese Taipei”--is at the bottom of the list of industrialized nations for its poor performance on reducing carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases. The island is also severely affected, ranking in the top ten of the countries most exposed to climate change-related disasters. At the convergence of four tectonic plates, Taiwan is what recent geological research call a “critical zone,” implying that its geological characteristics increase its vulnerability to climate change disasters caused by typhoons, violent winds, heavy rains, floods, rapid erosion and landslides. Taiwan also finds itself in a geopolitical hot spot, faced with growing pressure from China; in that sense, as well, Taiwan is a critical zone. Yet in spite of the Chinese threat, Taiwan has consolidated its democracy, and environmental movements have significantly contributed to this achievement. This paper will first review the main characteristics of Taiwan’s environmental movements during the last decade, through my own observation since 2008 and the abundant existing literature, both in Chinese and English, and will focus on two theoretical schemas that have been particularly influential: political opportunity structure theory and environmental justice. I aim to show that the research on environmental movements in Taiwan not only provides a rich empirical contribution to the literature in environmental sociology and politics; it carries also significant insights for the new challenges ahead for Taiwan and for Taiwan studies.

Keywords: Taiwan, environmentalism, climate change, environmental justice, environmental governance, political opportunity structure, China factor.