In late February and early March, 2016, southern Taiwan was hit by extremely high levels of concentrated fine particulate matter, or dust, which refused to dissipate due to a lack of wind. The issue led to respiratory problems among members of the public. Though some of the dust had blown in from neighboring China, Taiwan’s own factories and other sources of particulate exacerbated the problem.
Fortunately, with help from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Taiwan’s government is working to mitigate air quality issues through new programs and educational outreach to teach best practices to the public. One such program is the “Kids Making Sense” initiative, which educates students and teachers on how to measure, collect, and interpret air quality data to identify sources of air pollution and “lead civic action to protect public health.” Taiwan was chosen to be the site of the first international “Kids Making Sense” workshop in 2014, with funding provided by the Environmental Protection Administration Taiwan (EPAT) in collaboration with the US EPA Office of International and Tribal Affairs.
Ms. Jane Nishida, Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of International and Tribal Affairs at the EPA, recently traveled to Taiwan in mid-February to participate in the second “Kids Making Sense” project at Stella Matutina Girls’ High School in Taichung. Similar to systems set up in some US schools, the students will use devices made in the United States to monitor particulate levels in the air which will then display a color coded alarm to denote when levels become hazardous.
Ms. Nishida told Asia Matters for America that Taiwan was chosen to lead the charge in developing an international component for this initiative because of its growing leadership in the Asia–Pacific region on issues of environmental protection. Central to this growing leadership is the International Environmental Partnership (IEP), launched by EPA and EPAT in 2014. Under the IEP, the United States and Taiwan work together to provide resources for a network of experts around the world to facilitate cooperation on issues such as climate change, air pollution, mercury monitoring, and contaminated soil and groundwater.
Dr. Shyh-Wei “Weber” Chen, Executive Director of the Office of Sustainable Development at EPAT, echoed Ms. Nishida’s observations of the IEP program. Dr. Chen explained to Asia Matters for America that over the 20 years that EPAT and the EPA have been working together, EPAT has been learning best practices and is now working to share its knowledge with countries in the Asia-Pacific region that are experiencing similar environmental issues. In turn, collaborating with EPAT has allowed the United States to improve its own waste management and recycling practices. The IEP has presented a unique opportunity for Taiwan to take a leading role on a central concern of the region without its complicated legal status getting in the way of its participation. Furthermore, by being in the region EPAT can also provide on-the-ground resources for environmental projects that the EPA would be unable to mobilize on its own.
Dr. Chen’s colleague, Dr. Chih-Wei “Andrew” Chang, the Senior Environmental Technical Specialist in EPAT’s Office of Sustainable Development, elaborated on this theme, telling Asia Matters for America that promoting the IEP program as a partnership has led to greater opportunities for collaboration. If the IEP had been seen as a handing down of policy directives from the United States rather than as a joint venture with Asian counterparts, such opportunities may not have come to pass.According to Dr. Chang, the member countries of the IEP are a “family” that cooperates on pollution issues which recognize “no [international] boundary.”
Collaboration between the two agencies has also recently involved another group of school children in an effort to instill environmental awareness at a young age and promote innovative thinking. The EPA and EPAT recently awarded a three-year grant to the National Wildlife Federation which is partnering 85 American schools with counterparts in Taiwan to exchange ideas concerning sustainable practices.
Sarah Wang is the Event Coordinator and a Project Assistant at the East-West Center in Washington.