Tackling climate change

Tackling climate change

A recent forum emphasised the need to address the economic development model to prevent long-term damage

Tackling climate change
(Illustration: Charungsak P. Praphan)

Climate change has caused several negative effects such as intensified extreme weather, rising sea levels and disruptions to food systems all over the world. To raise awareness of climate change and move towards solutions, the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation recently organised the forum "Climate Change: Multidimensional Problems And Impacts On Thailand" at The Berkeley Hotel Pratunam and on its Facebook page MHESIThailand.

Phirun Saiyasitpanich, director-general of the Climate Change and Environment Department at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, said that the average global temperature has risen by 1.1C compared to the pre-industrial era.

"The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has projected that in the next five years, the temperature will likely increase by 1.8C, leading to more severe effects. Therefore, COP28, a climate change conference in 2023, aimed to limit the temperature increase to not exceed 1.5C. However, considering the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by each country, this goal may be difficult to achieve," said Phirun.

Phirun explained that to achieve the goal of limiting global warming increase to 1.5C, the world's greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 43% in 2030. Unfortunately, current greenhouse gas is only being reduced by 10%,which, is far from the goal.

According to a 2019 report by the Climate Watch Data, China, the US and India were the top three countries in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. China emitted 25.11%, the US emitted 12.09% and India emitted 7.02%. Thailand ranked 19th among global greenhouse gas emitters at 0.93%.

Thailand's greenhouse gas emitters come from the energy, agricultural, industrial and waste sectors. Phirun explained that Thailand's Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) under the Paris Agreement had been submitted to the United Nations. These NDCs set ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, including achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and net-zero emissions by 2065. They outline several strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emission, such as alternate wetting and drying in rice cultivation (using less water), reforestation and EV public transportation.

"The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment recently received funds under the Paris Agreement to create an ecosystem for alternate wetting and drying in rice cultivation across 21 provinces, covering 4.5 million rai. This initiative aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 1 million tonnes. While alternate wetting and the drying method requires less water, it changes the way farmers grow rice. We can't simply tell farmers to change their practices to reduce global warming. We need to support them financially to make the transition," explained Phirun.

Two speakers -- Buntoon Srethasirote, an energy regulator commissioner of the Energy Regulatory Commission Office, and Anuson Chinvanno, a committee member of the National Climate Change Policy Committee -- emphasised that climate change is not just an environmental problem. It is now much bigger. Solving climate change requires addressing the economic development model. If Thailand continues to treat it solely as an environmental issue, we will not be able to drive the necessary change.

Buntoon explained that climate change affects many things including agriculture, tourism, energy transition, finance and national security.

Regarding agriculture, Buntoon noted that in the past, agriculture was not considered an issue related to climate change.

"Agriculture is considered our culture and way of life, but it needs to be adjusted due to the impact of unpredictable and uncertain seasons. Thai farmers need to cultivate climate-resilient crops. When farmers encounter extreme events, resilient crops will quickly recover. In addition to alternate wetting and drying rice cultivation, in Thailand, there are many farming practices that promote climate-resilient agriculture, such as organic farming, agroforestry, and integrated farming. These farming methods involve cultivating diverse plants without the need for burning crops," said Buntoon.

The tourism industry is a major source of income for Thailand. Extreme weather events and shifting travel seasons have a significant impact on the environment and tourist spots which leads to decline in income.

"In 2019, coral bleaching, a phenomenon where corals lose their vibrant colours and turn white, caused a drop in diving tourism in Thailand. Additionally, European travellers have been seeking eco-friendly and sustainable travel experiences, searching for low-carbon destinations. If Thailand cannot provide such options, it will miss out on some travellers," said Buntoon.

Buntoon provided an example of a low-carbon tourist event, the Kavee Kita Fest in Samut Songkhram. Held in February this year, the festival was promoted as a culturally carbon-neutral event. The organisers purchased 81 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent offsets from biomass power plants to compensate for the festival's carbon emissions.

Thailand's NDCs aims to use 30% renewable energy, but currently, the country uses less than 1%. Buntoon commented Thailand does not have solid energy transforming strategy and the country should merge climate change and energy transforming strategies.

Buntoon suggested that there should be a business or finance model that supports individuals and SMEs to pursue green activities. For example, people who take out a bank loan for rooftop solar cells could use a contract which commits to selling electricity to the government as their collateral.

Payment for ecosystem service is a system of financial incentives designed to encourage conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. Buntoon mentioned a forest in a community, Baan Ton Tong in Lampang, as an example. It is a forest without fire risk or hotspots because people in the community are caretakers of the forest. Communities like this deserve financial support for their conservation efforts.

Climate change will also affect national security. Because sea levels continually rise, this will affect the border which can eventually disappear.

Anuson pointed out that sea level rise will cause flooding in many areas, including Bangkok.

"People on an island in Vanuatu, a South Pacific country, had to relocate to other areas due to flooding," he said. "In the next 70 to 80 years, rising sea levels could significantly impact Bangkok. Normally, Bangkok experiences floods which later dry up. However, in 30-50 years, rising sea levels could lead to permanent flooding that won't recede. How will people live? Do we have a plan to handle this flooding situation?"

Anuson also raised health security as an issue that may spark interest in climate change. He mentioned news reports about a "zombie virus".

"Frozen permafrost at the North Pole is melting, releasing viruses, bacteria, and fungi that were once trapped in ice," Anuson explained. "As modern humans, we have no immunity to these diseases. Some scientists believe the Covid-19 pandemic originated from this melting permafrost."

Buntoon emphasised that the draft Climate Change Act, which may take at least two years to be launched, is not an environmental law.

"It will be a law that transforms Thailand's economy into a low-carbon economy and promotes climate resilience. It will include long-term low-carbon development strategies. If the law is considered solely an environmental law, other government organisations not under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment may believe that it is not part of their responsibility, even though their roles are related to climate change. If this happens, nothing will be driven forward or changed. Everyone must help transform our country by playing their part," concluded Buntoon.

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