A Changing Atmosphere: Abkhazia, Taiwan, and the Intersection of Environmental Sustainability and Territorial Conflict

A Changing Atmosphere: Abkhazia, Taiwan, and the Intersection of Environmental Sustainability and Territorial Conflict

. 5 min read

While UNESCO guards Georgia’s Kolkheti wetlands, the coastline belonging to the breakaway neighboring region of Abkhazia inexorably deteriorates, passed over by international protection. This is not due to the eroding coastline being in less need of preservation or because its nearly-extinct birds are uniquely self-supporting, but is instead because of Abkhazia’s political status as unrecognized in the majority of the international community. It is not an overexaggeration to state that territorial disputes have formed one of the most consistent cornerstones in both past and current global conflicts. However, the discord caused by such conflicts often draws attention away from how an existence like that affects the disputed territories themselves, especially in the context of global development.

Recognition in the international community is a critical step to attaining the full development potential of both the region itself and the global community. Particularly in regards to environmental goals and sustainability, lack of recognition seriously exacerbates an already complicated situation. Under disputed status, areas such as Abkhazia and Taiwan are at a disadvantage to reaching sustainability goals, and experience unique complications in pursuing these goals, especially as they often may not be a priority.

That said, these regions are by no means incapable of working toward sustainability, and may require additional support from the international community in order to maximize progress made. In the end, as lack of global integration does not opt certain regions out of global problems, it is necessary to consider how to tackle them—as well as to consider cooperation as a whole—in light of varying levels of recognition.

Environmental Issues and Political Isolation in Abkhazia

Abkhazia is a region in the Caucasus that declared independence from the country of Georgia in 1999. Similarly to Taiwan, the former Soviet vacation haven is today officially recognized by only a few countries, including Russia. Economically, Abkhazia is very dependent on Russia, which holds great influence over it. For instance, in 2016, Russia provided Abkhazia with about half of its national budget, is a crucial trading partner, and has established thousands of troops there.

However, Abkhazia’s relative political isolation in no way disqualifies it from the consequences of cross-national environmental effects, which make no such border distinctions. Atmospheric heating has led to increased rainfall, and the resulting higher water levels could pose serious detrimental effects to infrastructure, agriculture, and the economy alike in the years to come. Specifically, rising water levels can harm architecture just as increased rainfall may harm agriculture, both of which are outcomes that are detrimental to the economy.

In fact, many of Abkhazia’s environmental and structural challenges can be traced back to its lack of political recognition, which has not only exacerbated existing issues, but in fact created some of them. Most generally, its status denies it access to global ventures, projects, and systems that would greatly benefit the region’s environment and sustainability. This is due to Abkhazia’s perceived lack of legitimacy on the global scale. Even for initiatives that may result in consequences for the region, this lack of legitimacy means it is often not consulted about them.   Additionally, the economy has functioned in a restrained state, due to not being fully incorporated into the international community. This has often led to the necessary but unfortunate overuse of natural resources.

Moreover, enormous questions about energy security surround the region, partially because of very low energy prices. These were fixed in that way following Abkhazia’s independence in order to help the economy, but due to the region’s isolation, the prices have not gone up. Over time, this has caused negligence to electrical infrastructure that could be dangerous. The situation is further complicated through a lack of investment, most notably because Georgia has become more self-reliant, having been able to improve its own infrastructure through funding from sources such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

Finally, not having more universal recognition aggravates the lack of international cooperation and the tenuousness of global relationships that contribute to environmental and practical issues in the region. Dams, irrigation, and waste disposal are just a few of the environment-related issues that can become difficult to manage in the face of conflict.

Additionally, pressing environmental topics clearly highlight how critical cooperation is and may even force it to occur. For example, although not easily rectified, the crucial Engeri hydroelectric plant on the border of Georgia and Abkhazia is threatened by potential seismic activity, the knowledge of which has prompted NATO involvement and has made clear the necessity for cooperation between the two on this front. That said, considering their fraught history, further and continued external involvement will likely be the most beneficial to maximizing both their collaboration and the general management of the issue.

Sustainability in Taiwan

Although Taiwan and Abkhazia are vastly different cases with separate histories, resources, and economic situations, both areas face a lack of political recognition that leads them to similar challenges. Only 13 countries still maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, a collection generally comprising countries in Latin America and some island nations, notably not including the United States. However, Taiwan is a crucial trading partner to the United States, as well as economically important in the global community largely due to its production of semiconductor chips, as opposed to Abkhazia, which is much less integrated into international markets.

Because Taiwan is not part of the United Nations, the country has chosen to create a Draft of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of Taiwan, a microcosm of the UN’s SDGs. Furthermore, Taiwan continues to work toward achieving a circular economy, a much more sustainable form of production. Under such a system, focus is placed on significantly reducing waste by maximizing the length of time products are in use, and improving processes in order to lessen the amount of resources that must be used in production. This would increase resource management efficiency as well as heighten Taiwan’s self-sufficiency, which currently is lower than desired. For example, 98.8 percent of its fossil fuels are imported, and its food self-sufficiency rate is 35 percent.

For Taiwan, focusing on sustainability is also a way to keep up with and prove itself as part of the international community, especially following criticism from environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, regarding a perceived lack of action on climate change. Currently, Taiwan’s goal is to be carbon-neutral by 2050.

Climate change itself, as in Abkhazia, is an issue that closely affects Taiwan. Especially as an island nation, rising sea levels pose a great danger. This relevance may make the island more naturally disposed to pursuing sustainability and environmental goals. Taiwan’s view of the pursuit of these goals as a way to more authentically belong to the global community, combined with its importance in the global economy, demonstrate the likelihood that it will continue to make progress in these areas despite not enjoying widespread official recognition.

Thus, for Taiwan, prioritizing sustainability is far more crucial and far-reaching than simply checking off SDGs. It represents a material path for the nation to increase its self-sufficiency and thereby self-determination, cement its status in the international community, and even protect its very livelihood from the encroachments of climate change.

Steps Forward

In a constantly changing world where continued territorial disputes are inevitable, examining the ability of existing disputed areas to work toward global goals is critical, just as is detangling the cycle of the effects that lack of recognition can have on global issues.

However, many goals will continue to face an understandable challenge. By default, they will likely be lower priority to such regions, compared with more practical desires to achieve a fuller sovereignty. That said, as seen in the case of Taiwan, these goals are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Although it is unrealistic to expect that pursuing loftier global visions will immediately absolve the barriers faced by such regions, working toward sustainability and other global goals should not be overlooked, both as a method to increase a region’s own status and to cultivate a more globally united front when approaching crucial issues.

More broadly, it is crucial to find solutions as to how every country can continue to participate in and work toward critical global goals needing widespread cooperation like sustainability, even in the face of added complications, in this case, lack of global recognition. After all, each region, no matter how small or contested, must still participate in—and experience the consequences of—existing in a globalized system, regardless of receiving the recognition that, in the overall scheme of history, is ultimately arbitrary.