The meeting of the Quad leaders were in hindsight seen as quite comprehensive in terms of what was discussed. However, tackling climate change with talking points is not enough.

Harun Talha Ayanoglu, Taiwan Center for Security Studies

The international community has been carefully watching the developments out of the recent Quad summit. Its agenda is often regarded as countering China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region. Thus, as could be expected, heated discussions concentrated on the US-China following the Quad meeting. Similar to other global summits, there were other shared challenges on the table, such as global climate change, the coronavirus pandemic, critical technologies, counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance, and maritime domains. What stood out was the official jargon in which the issue on climate was phrased, lending much to be inferred and little of substance.

“We are united in recognizing that climate change is a global priority and will work to strengthen the climate actions of all nations, including to keep a Paris-aligned temperature limit within reach. We look forward to a successful COP 26 in Glasgow.” underlined in Quad Leaders’ Joint Statement. Nevertheless, climate change and concerns of global water shortages were left in dust, overshadowed by the concerns on China, whereas various parts of the world suffer from drought and other hydropolitics. 

Global climate change is often associated with water shortages; this is particularly significant when water shortage coincides with a growing population. Almost no region in the world is immune to water shortage, and as the UN projections demonstrate, by 2040, global water demand is projected to increase by more than 50%, and by 2050 it is estimated that 5.5 billion people could suffer from water scarcity. 

Water Crisis in Taiwan

Despite not being a formal member or a partner of the Quad, Taiwan’s climate-related water crisis is one of the most daunting cases in the region and as a sub-tropical country. As climate change inherently knows no borders, country-specific issues appear to be a symptom of future climate crises. In other words, climate change, as a structural threat, indirectly affects global peace and stability; hence requiring global attention. 

“Taiwan faces the most severe water crisis in 56 years,” said President Tsai, while she urged people to conserve water. By the beginning of March 2021, water shortages and drought have hit central and southern Taiwan. Waters receded remarkably in reservoirs and lakes in central Taiwan due to lack of typhoons (on average 3.6 typhoons each year) and seasonal precipitation over the last year. According to officials, four of six reservoirs in Central Taiwan are at lower than 15% of their capacities, and the rest are below 20%; and in case of five more meters fall in the water level hydropower generation will be in danger. 

Besides human security, drought also affects semiconductor industries, which Taiwan relies upon economically. Global demand for microchips and semiconductors has already skyrocketed due to pandemics, and the recent water shortage increased the concern over the global supply chain, as the production of semiconductors requires a large amount of water. For example, to meet its operational needs, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) must supply 156,000 tons of water daily. Although companies have decreased their water demand by using recycled water, still, it is needed to order tanker trucks to maintain their operations.

What to expect?

World Water Day coincided with the Quad meetings this year on March 22. Although the formation of the Quad Climate Working Group, which is entrusted with the implementation of the Paris Agreement and global cooperation on enhancing adaptation, resilience, and capacity building, is a promising development, the intensity of geopolitics shadowed the severity of the climate change. Therefore, is not prudent to limit regional and global security within the confines of a hard-security perspective or framework. The aforementioned UN projections draw a highly pessimistic future for not only developing but also developed countries, unless global cooperation on climate change is ensured. 

The Quad has the potential to serve as an essential forum discussing and hopefully addressing other critical issues, within the scope of cooperation with its like-minded members, as well as competitors. As climate is not an issue that nations compete over, especially in times of anthropocene. Although it may be premature, the Quad may yet initiate regional cooperation with China to cope with the climate crisis, as have been inferred from the US-China High Level Talks in Alaska last week. Since all humankind, regardless of the Quad or China, will be victims of any such crisis.