Thai farmers feeling the heat of climate debate
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Thai farmers feeling the heat of climate debate

Country to introduce new climate action plan, emissions reduction targets at Cop24 conference in Poland

Ampai Meelap, 43, a durian farmer on the frontlines of climate change witnesses the threats of unpredictable weather every year.

Her durian plantation in Rayong's Wang Chan district in eastern Thailand has lost yields in recent years after facing drought and changing rainfall patterns.

''The rainy period is supposed to end in September each year. Then cold weather will help the durian flowers bloom and develop into mature fruits," she says.

''But the rainy period has dragged longer, until October or November in recent years. So flowers fall off without any fruit forming.''

Irregular weather also brings insects and plant diseases to her 16-rai durian plantation, which creates new maintenance expenses for her.

In normal weather, her crops produce at least 35 tonnes of durian a year. But recent years' yields have been unpredictable due to the irregular weather. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, Ms Ampai's crops produced 12, 40 and 24 tonnes of durian fruits respectively.

''I don't think one government can solve crop losses. It can't control the weather,'' she told the Bangkok Post.

Ms Ampai is not the only farmer to be affected by global weather changes in recent years. Many other farmers across Thailand are also affected.

Many of them have reported losing crops to irregular weather patterns and unexpected disasters such as drought and flooding. Some even fall into debt due to their income losses.

The topic is among the impacts of climate change expected to be discussed by world leaders at the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or Cop24, in Katowice, Poland this week.

The world leaders will also discuss how to fully implement the Paris Agreement in the post-2020 framework for global climate action.

Countries are likely to attach their plans to achieve post-2020 commitments to the international agreement made at this time.

Tackling climate change is necessary. The failure to limit global temperatures means the world will face severe impacts of climate change in several ways -- from extreme weather and food insecurity, to severe poverty and rises in sea level.

Thailand and Southeast Asia are part of the world's vulnerable areas which are exposed to extreme weather conditions.

During the Cop24 held during Dec 2-14, international rules, guidelines and monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions reductions will also be negotiated.

Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Surasak Karnjanarat is leading the Thai delegation and will give an update on the country's progress in the fight against climate change.

According to the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (Onep) which oversees climate change policy, the Thai energy sector successfully reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 45.72 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent between 2013 and 2016, accounting for a 12% emissions reduction.

This progress has involved several measures, including promoting energy-saving light bulbs and electrical appliances among individual consumers, expansion of public transportation, upgrading energy systems in government and office buildings, and expanding renewable energy, especially solar power, biomass and biogas.

''Thailand is moving in a good direction as we can achieve the minimum target of emissions reduction,'' said Onep secretary-general Raweewan Bhuridej.

''But even with a positive outcome, we won't stop taking action to reduce emissions,'' she said.

In 2014, Thailand pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the energy and transportation sectors by seven to 20% by 2020 under Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions, a UNFCCC mechanism to reduce emissions in developing countries while promoting sustainable growth.

During Cop21 in Paris in 2015, the Thai government pledged another target, which is to cut emissions by 20 to 25% by 2030, or cut at least 115.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in sectors including energy, transport, industry and waste.

To fulfil these pledges, a national committee on climate change policy recently approved the draft action plan on climate mitigation (2021-2030) and the country's first draft of its national adaptation plan, which provides a framework for agencies to integrate climate action into their plans.

Simultaneously, Onep, with support from the Australian government is developing a greenhouse gas emission inventory system.

It's expected that the Thai government will be able to track data of greenhouse gas emissions in some sectors beyond energy, especially the transport sector, by next year.

''But we're aware that this is not enough,'' said Ms Raweewan.

"We must set a more ambitious target. We must do more. However, we must cut emissions in balance with economic growth,'' she insisted.

In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report on "Global Warming of 1.5 °C", saying the targets of carbon emission reduction pledged by worldwide governments in the Paris Agreement are no longer enough to limit global warming to 1.5C.

To meet a 1.5C target would require "deep emissions reductions" and "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society", says the report. Even Thailand is able to reduce emissions in its energy sector.

The Energy Policy and Planning Office's data shows that carbon emissions per capita have increased from 3.21 to 3.90 tonnes per Thai person between 2008 and 2017.

The numbers indicate that individual consumption is rising, especially in the energy sector.

Similar to the trend of major industrial countries in Southeast Asia, the growing middle-class with more purchasing power has raised the consumption demand.

Arpa Wangkiat, a Rangsit University academic who is part of Thailand's fossil fuel phase-out movement and civil society group joining Cop24, said the country needs energy reform.

"Every country must work together to create clear-cut policies and practical work programmes to cut emissions,'' she said.

"This is urgent. We are nearing a critical point."

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