The government is setting out major bureaucratic reforms with the introduction of the Climate Change Act and the founding of the Department of Climate Change, which will be the new legal tool and central agency to oversee the country’s climate actions.
Speaking at the Thailand Climate Action Conference recently, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Varawut Silpa-archa presented the plans to address climate change by focusing on lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in four target sectors and fostering climate-friendly investment in the Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) economy model.
Still, environmentalists said the steps were just glossy campaigns that favour big business players, while largely ignoring the participation of civil society, local communities and smallholders.
As human-induced global warming is posing serious threats to all life on the planet, the international community agreed upon a common goal to limit global temperature rises to well below 1.5º Celsius compared to pre-industrial level at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop21) in Paris.
The member parties of the Paris Agreement are obligated to cut emissions of GHG such as carbon dioxide and methane, which is the root cause of global warming.
However, with the rapid escalation of the climate crisis in recent years, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stressed that all nations need to accelerate their climate actions to reach net zero GHG emissions by 2050 to keep up with the narrowing temperature stabilisation threshold at 1.5C.
Mr Varawut said Thailand is ready to play its part in the global effort to mitigate climate change, as the government has set out its goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and net-zero emissions by 2065.
Tara: Big business gets breaks
“The government recognises the urgency of stabilising global warming at 1.5C, as Thailand has suffered greatly from extreme weather and disasters caused by climate change,” he said.
“Therefore, climate change is another major issue that is incorporated in the 20-year national strategy and national economic and social development plan to lead the country toward climate-friendly growth,” he said.
Thailand also has long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies (LTLEDS) to help lead the way toward carbon neutrality and net-zero targets, he said.
As combating climate change is a complex task that involves many stakeholders, he said close collaboration between agencies, the private sector, and local communities is crucial.
“The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry is designated the focal point for climate mitigation collaboration, so the ministry will open a new Department of Climate Change to specifically oversee work on climate change across sectors,” he said.
“We will also have a Climate Change Act. This law will provide both regulatory measures, such as stricter emission standards, and incentive mechanisms, such as a carbon tax and carbon credit, to help promote a climate-friendly investment and voluntary carbon market,” he said.
Apart from direct decarbonisation in energy and transport, industrial processes and product use (IPPU), waste and the agriculture sector, Mr Varawut said investing in natural carbon sinks by regrowing forests is also important.
He said that as we plant more trees, the carbon being absorbed by new green spaces can be counted as a carbon credit, which can be traded in the carbon market or used as a carbon offset to reduce our net carbon emissions by deducting from the amount of GHG that we currently release.
“The carbon offset and carbon market mechanism are beneficial tools for pursuing carbon neutrality, so the government is encouraging the business sector and the people to reforest and plant more trees to be carbon credits for tackling climate change,” he said.
Kritsada: Policy contradictory
Climate activists are unconvinced. Thailand Country Director for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Tara Buakamsri, said it is doubtful the government’s climate strategies will be a success, as many climate mitigation frameworks heavily favour the interests of big business in the industrial sector, which are a major source of GHG emissions, while the involvement of civil society and youth in climate actions is largely ignored.
“The climate action conference clearly shows civil society has little space in the government’s climate actions, as their presence in the conference was overshadowed by giant industry and energy companies trying to greenwash their reputation via grand exhibitions of their vague climate-friendly innovations,” Mr Tara said.
He said the carbon credit and carbon offset system is another example of the tactics that polluting industries use to resist the steep decarbonisation and keep “business as usual” status, as their carbon credits allow them to keep releasing GHG and pollution into the environment.
“How can we pass on a secure future to the next generation when our climate actions are only the greenwashing efforts of the fossil fuel industry to maintain their status quo?” he asked.
Kritsada Boonchai, coordinator of Thai Climate Justice for All, said Thailand’s climate actions are contradictory, as polluting industries are damaging the environment. The government not only ignores these issues but partners with these big corporates to address climate change.
“Fossil-fuel-based capitalism is the main culprit behind global warming, but the government is trying to tackle climate change with fossil-fuel-based capitalism," Mr Kritsada said.