TAIPEI – As Taiwan climbs the list of countries going green, it’s no surprise that one of its leading solar energy companies has found a natural ally in the Vatican under Pope Francis, widely known for his environmental advocacy.

As one sign of that partnership, the company is producing a handful of small solar lamps with the Vatican logo, one way in which it hopes to shed light on the pope’s call to environmental action.

Established in 2002 with the aim of becoming Taiwan’s leading solar energy provider, the SpeedTech Energy company is pushing not only to implement clean energy use at home, but they’re also using new green technologies to assist the poor and disenfranchised.

Among the different technologies the company produces are singular, waterproof lights for fishermen, solar-charged radios, sports fans and mosquito traps. With a presence in Asia, Africa and South America, the company has installed solar panels on the edges of remote roads which, being off the beaten path, would otherwise be completely invisible after dark.

In addition to larger solar systems installed in companies and universities, each year hundreds of mini solar panels are sent by the company to refugee camps and developing nations where children often don’t have access to electricity, making it hard to do their homework.

All kids need to do is charge the small panel under the sun for a few hours and flip the switch when it gets dark, and they will be able to read and finish homework tasks that might otherwise be near impossible to complete.

According to Lucas Chiu, who works with SpeedTech Energy, the purpose of the company’s solar appliances “is not only for business but also for helping people improve their quality of living.”

A solar lamp produced by SpeedTech Energy, a Taiwan energy concern, bearing the Vatican logo. (Credit: Crux/Elise Harris.)

A select few of these portable units bear the Vatican logo, chosen in part because of Taiwan’s Embassy to the Holy See. The Vatican is currently one of just 15 countries who maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and it’s the only nation in Europe to do so.

Taiwan and the Holy See have long collaborated on humanitarian projects, so every year when the embassy orders several hundred mini solar panels to be distributed through different charities, it’s no surprise that the Vatican’s logo is proudly displayed on the accompanying stand.

It’s also unsurprising that their collaboration in humanitarian work also meshes with the push for renewable, sustainable forms of energy, which has been a priority both for Taiwan and Francis.

Francis has been a vocal advocate of the 2030 sustainable development agenda and for combatting climate change, which, following the conclusions of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he says is largely caused by mankind. Themes related to both topics were key talking points in his 2015 environmental encyclical, Laudato Si, the first such papal document ever devoted entirely to ecology.

Earlier this year, in a March 8 speech to participants in an international conference titled “Religions and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Listening to the Cry of the Earth and of the Poor,” Francis affirmed the importance of meeting the 2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and pushed for concrete solutions.

He insisted on “concrete responses to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, concrete commitments to promoting real development in a sustainable way through processes open to people’s participation, [and] concrete proposals to facilitate the development of those in need.”

He called for economic policies focused on the person which promote “a more humane market and society” and which take environmental protection seriously.

On that occasion, the pope also underlined the need for a commitment to “promoting and implementing the development goals that are supported by our deepest religious and ethical values,” and urged participants toward a creative implementation of the goals.

In Laudato Si, released in June 2015 shortly before several key meetings of the United Nations to discuss the 2030 Sustainable Development agenda, Francis praised organizations already fighting environmental degradation and reducing its impact on the poor.

He also pressed for a move away from fossil fuels, which he said should be replaced with renewable energy sources.

“There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy,” he said, singling out solar power as having enormous potential to provide energy to the developing world.

Francis pointed to the growth in clean energy cooperatives as a sign of hope, saying “…while the existing world order proves powerless to assume its responsibilities, local individuals and groups can make a real difference.”

Speaking to Crux, Chiu praised Francis’s environmental efforts, saying “he is a very green pope.”

Chiu will be part of a delegation from his company that will travel to Rome in November for a conference on renewable energies, during which participants are slated to have an audience with the pope.

“For me, it is a huge honor,” Chiu said, insisting that Francis’s vision aligns with his company’s own goals of transitioning to clean energy. During the November conference, Chiu said he hopes to “learn and understand more about the sustainable energy development direction from the pope.”

In addition to the pope’s environmental agenda, Taiwan through an annual health forum has also spoken out on other issues close to the pope’s heart, such as urbanization; the problem of an aging population with a low birth rate; the need for clean cities; sustainable farming and women’s issues, such as healthcare, equality and access to education.

With just 15 formal diplomatic relationships, Taiwan is not a participant in U.N.-level talks on any of these issues.

However, if they are looking for allies to advocate for them on the global stage, the Vatican just might be the one to go to given the many ways in which their priorities seem to overlap.

Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it

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