- Population (2019): 69,625,582 (ranked 20th globally)
- GDP per capita (2019): USD 7,807 (ranked 78th globally)
- Emissions (2018): 275.1Mt (ranked 22nd)
- Earth.Org Sustainability Index Ranking: 154th
Pledges & Targets
- Paris Agreement & NDC: Thailand’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), last updated in August 2020, targets the following:
- An unconditional 20% reduction in emissions by 2030, compared to business-as-usual levels. This could increase to 25%, conditional upon the provision of international support.
- Road to Net-Zero: A net-zero target date of 2060 has been under discussion by the Thai government.
- Clean Energy Goal: The government’s goal is to increase the proportion of renewable energy to 30% (including imported hydropower) of total energy consumption by 2037.
State of Affairs
After updating its NDC in October 2020, the Thai government retains the same goals and provides some follow-up information to demonstrate its commitment towards the carbon neutrality goal in 2050.
Thailand’s NDC report aims to cut carbon emissions by 20% by 2030 and may further rise to 25% with international assistance, including technology development, financial resources and capacity-building support. As of 2017, they have achieved a GHG emission reduction of 14.09%. Although Thailand’s GHG emissions represent 0.77% of global emissions, which is lower than the world average, it is ranked 13th country in the “extreme risk” category of the impacts of climate change over the next three decades. According to the updated NDC, the energy sector contributes the most GHG emissions, including power generation, transport, industries, offices and households. As of 2016, this sector accounted for 77% of total GHG emission. In short, Thailand’s overall target is on track with various plans, which will be presented below.
Thailand announced a proposed mitigation action with financial support. The feed-in tariffs, tax incentives and access to investment funding help promote renewable energy since the most carbon-intensive industries, such as textiles and garments, agricultural processing, computer and parts and automobiles, heavily rely on cheap fossil fuels.
What is more, The Thai government has also announced their first National Adaptation Plan (NAP) to shape a climate-resilient society through water management, agriculture, food security etc. Since then, Thailand has integrated climate change adaptation into key sectoral policies and plans such as the Strategy for climate change in Agriculture (2017-2021), the Climate Change Adaptation Plan on Public Health (2018-2030) and the 20-year Water Resource Management Master Plan. Although the overall pledge sounds broad without the support of concrete data and practical measures, it still shows Thai’s commitment to tackle climate changes with multiple aspects.
Despite Thailand having an ambitious plan and being on track, the financial ability is holding Thailand’s back due to a tremendous investment and operation cost. There has not been sufficient financial investment nor adequate electric infrastructure in Thailand yet. Although Thailand wishes to contribute its NDC plan with financial incentives, its economic situation, such as various business sectors and national wealth, seems unrealistic to the Plan. Besides, Thailand has a lack of technological knowledge and talents to support the ongoing plan. Fortunately, the United Nations Development Programme allocated a total sum of US $481,500 to Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment from 2018 to December 2021. In short, there remains a huge question of whether Thailand’s ability can attain this task without international support.
Climate Vulnerability & Readiness
The ND-GAIN Country Index by the University of Notre Dame summarises a country’s vulnerability to climate change and other global challenges in combination with its readiness to improve resilience. The more vulnerable a country is, the lower its vulnerability score, while the more ready a country is to improve its resilience, the higher its readiness score will be. Thailand’s scores are:
- Vulnerability Score: 0.419 (ranks 91th out of 192 countries)
- Readiness Score: 0.466 (ranks 66th out of 192 countries)
Increased temperatures are threatening the major sector of Thailand’s economy, especially agriculture. According to the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Thailand climate change vulnerability profile, daily maximum temperatures in the country are predicted to rise by 2°C throughout the year and may even rise to 3 °C during the wet season (June to November). For instance, the daily maximum temperature is projected around 34°C and even reaches 38°C during extreme years. Should such increases occur, plantations such as lowland rice, lychee and rubber will be greatly affected. USAID estimates that the rainfed rice yield of northern Chiang Rai province will drop by 4.8%, with total rice production falling by approximately 30,000 tonnes based on an scientific estimation in 2006. The productivity of lychee, also a popular crop grown in northern Thailand, will also be threatened by higher temperatures. In 2009, an average minimum temperature of over 20 degrees affected more than 50% of lychee’s productivity. Some areas will become more fertile under warmer temperatures. For instance, up to 1,000 km2 in higher altitudes will become more suitable for rubber plantations due to increasing temperatures. As 49% of the Thai’s total labour force are currently employed in the agricultural industry, mostly as small landholders with limited socio-political powers, they are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Higher temperatures will directly threaten Thai livelihoods, the stability of agricultural production and global food supply chains.
Coastal Thailand is also severely under threat from sea level rise. Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand with a population of 8.3 million, is built on low lying land with an average elevation of only 1.5m above sea levels. As such, the Carbon Map ranks Thailand as the 12th most vulnerable country to sea levels rise out of 213 nations where data was collected. Bangkok may be completely submerged by 2050 as the sea levels are rising approximately 4mm a year. The city is independently sinking about 25m annually as the weight of the urban landscape puts a strain on the naturally unstable ground soil. Drained aquifers are also exacerbating the speed of sinking. The impacted area of around 1513km2 is expected to suffer GDP losses to the tune of USD$512.28 billion by 2030. In response to this imminent crisis, the Thai government considered relocating the capital city into an inland area in 2019. However, Thailand’s ability to relocate 12 million people (17% of Thai’s total population) inland is highly questionable because these citizens, no matter if they currently live in Bangkok and surrounding rural areas, will relinquish their homelands, workspaces and local communities. The density of the relocated area will increase dramatically, placing further strains on agricultural and water resources. In sum, Thailand is confronting sea level rise because it not only affects the regional socio-economy but also potentially incur a humanitarian crisis in the worst-case scenario.
Finally, climate change may also accelerate the spread of infectious diseases. Dr. Thiravat Hemachudha, head of Chulalongkorn University’s Emerging Infectious Disease Health Science Centre, points out that “climate change not only increased transmission rates and the severity of known infectious diseases, but the ecological changes from rising global temperature could also spawn new harmful diseases”. He also warns that the transmission rate may increase among the Thai’s population because warmer weather provides a suitable environment for the propagation of tropical disease. According to the World Health Organisation’s 2015 climate and health country profile for Thailand, 71 million people are exposed to malaria if temperature increases with the highest emission scenario of 4.3°C. Additionally, heat-related deaths among the elderly are predicted to increase to about 58 deaths per 100,000 by 2080 in comparison to 3 deaths per 100,000 annually between 1961 and 1990. Heat-related morbidity has been accelerating from around 1,020 cases in 2010 to 2,742 cases in 2013. Although these cases may be under-recorded, over half of the total cases are from agricultural workers.
Environmental Policies by Sector
- Renewables made up 22.7% of Thailand’s total energy share in 2017, per IRENA.
- Between 2012 and 2017, the share of renewable energy in Thailand’s renewable energy supply grew by 14.3%.
- In 2017, fossil fuels accounted for 80% of Thailand’s energy production. Renewable energy, such as bioenergy, accounts for 20%.
The Thai government has been promoting renewable energy to replace the uses of traditional fossil fuels, although this is complicated because the large manufacturing sector predominantly relies on cheap and non-renewable energy to maximise the highest production and largest profit. As of 2017, bioenergy is the most promising energy source in Thailand whereas oil is the most popular fossil fuel in Thailand. Since then, renewable energy development such as solar, wind, hydropower plants, biomass and biofuels have become popular energy resources in Thailand. Furthermore, the Thai government strives to establish more renewable energy power plants over the next two decades, increasing the proportion of renewable energy to 30% of total energy consumption by 2037. Despite Thailand’s limited financial ability, they have already called for state-owned enterprises to invest around USD$6.4 billion in smart grids by 2036 to safeguard energy supplies by all means. In a nutshell, the Thai government has to balance NDC and their real economic demand in the future.
- There are more than 37 million registered cars and motorcycles in Thailand. 20 million motorcycles, 8 million passenger cars, 6.3 million pick-up trucks and one million trucks.
- Thailand’s public transportation infrastructure includes 156 thousand vehicles.
- Thailand’s transport sector accounts for 26% of national emissions following the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
- According to the Electric Vehicle Association of Thailand, the use of all forms of EVs rose at least 70% from 2019-2021. There are around 192,000 electric vehicles in 2020. The Association foresees that Thailand will have a total of 1.2 million EVs on the road by 2030.
- The Thai government has been collaborating with tertiary education, qualified academic and international business associations to research cutting edge EV’s battery technology.
- As of 2020, there are 2000 chargers and 650 charging stations in Thailand.
To tackle air pollution, the Thai government’s Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning (OTP) under the Ministry of Transport developed the “NDC Action Plan for the Transport sector” to attain its national mitigation commitment. It plans to reduce CO2 emissions in the transport sector by 41 metric tonnes by 2030 (35% of the overall mitigation pledge). The focus is on the expansion of public transport and fuel efficiency standards for the increasing number of vehicles. Specifically, the OTP has decided to employ concrete mitigation actions, such as parking management, transit-oriented development, and introduction of a public transport fund, the expansion of the railway network and bus fleet upgrades.
Given that Thailand is an important automotive manufacturing hub for Southeast Asia, the Thai government has been working with producers and engineers to research electric vehicle battery technology and relevant solutions. Although the number of electric cars is rising, the number of charging stations in Thailand is insufficient, opening up several opportunities for expansion.
The TRANSfer project, supported by the German Ministry for the Environment, is assisting the OTP in developing a National Urban Mobility Program (NUMP), which will act as a key mechanism to monitor the action plan daily and achieve Thailand’s ambitious goal. In sum, Thailand’s dedicated effort in the transport sector is based on internal and international support to alleviate air pollution, traffic congestion and reduce emissions from the carbon-intensive transportation sector.
- 18.55% of Thailand’s territorial space is protected, as are 4.37% of Thailand’s marine seas are considered Marine Protected Areas.
- Per Yale’s Environmental Performance Index, 51.43% of the Thai’s population is urbanised.
- Yale EPI ranked Thailand 101st in the world in terms of ecosystem vitality, which measures how well countries preserve, protect, and enhance their ecosystems and the services they provide.
- According to the World Bank collection of development indicators, forests covered 39.04% of Thailand’s land in 2018. In 2010, Thailand had 19.1Mha of natural forest, extending over 37% of its land area. In 2020, it lost 119kha of natural forest, equivalent to 68.1Mt of CO2 emissions.
- Per Global Forest Watch, 40% of tree cover loss in Thailand from 2001 to 2019 is due to deforestation. The top 8 regions are responsible for 52% of all tree cover loss in these 2 decades. Surat Thani suffers the most tree cover loss at 305kha compared to an average of 28.2kha. Chiang Mai has the most tree cover at 1.51Mha compared to an average of 250kha.
The Biological Diversity Division of the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP), Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment discussed a draft Biodiversity Act (Draft BD Act) in 2019. Although Thailand is not a member of the Nagoya Protocol, the Draft BD Act will guarantee effective implementation and the fair sharing of genetic resources and associated benefits. Prior Informed Consent (PIC): permission is given by the competent national authority of a provider country to a user prior to accessing genetic resources. Mutually-Agreed Terms (MAT): an agreement reached between users and the providers/possessors of genetic resources on the conditions of access to and use of the resources, and the benefits to be shared between parties.
The Act displays that the entire habitats of important ecosystems will be well-defined and monitored. Some endangered and rare species will also be identified and protected by rule of law. Apart from this, the Draft BD Act also mentions “controlling biodiversity effects”. Foreign species will be recorded for purposes of protection and academic research. Thailand will also conduct genetically modified organisms to capture the transferring genetic materials to the following generation. Even though Thailand has made a pledge to safeguard biodiversity, it will need to invest at least $942 million between 2019 and 2021 to preserve ecosystem and biodiversity resources. As such, 3 crucial government agencies, the Department for National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), The Royal Forest Department (RFD), and The Department for Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) are responsible for over 80% of public biodiversity spending.
- Per the global NGO Earth’s Endangered Creatures, Thailand possesses 730 endangered species, of which 90 are plant species and 640 are animal species.
- Per the research group Animal Protection Index, Thailand has enshrined into law legislation that recognises the sentience of animal species.
The National Legislative Assembly of Thailand passed the Prevention of Animal Cruelty and Provision of Animal Welfare Act on 26th December 2014. This Act is applicable to all domestic, farm and even wild animals. The legislators decided to include 5 species of wild animals under the realm of this Act: the hybrid tiger, ciet, pigeon, wild boar and squirrel. The Act also presents penalties for any person violating anti-cruelty norms, including imprisonment for up to 2 years or fines up to USD$1,300. Any person who does not obey animal welfare standards can be fined up to USD$630. The Court may also decide to deprive animals’s ownership if the owner has violated the Act.
The Act defines animal cruelty as “an action or no action that provides an animal a physical or mental suffering, pain, illness, disability or that may result in its death”. The Act also defines “animal” as “animal that is normally kept as a house animal, an animal kept for usage, an animal kept as a vehicle, an animal kept as a friend, an animal kept as a food, an animal kept for performance, an animal kept for any other purposes, regardless of the presence or the absence of its owner”.
- Per IQAir, in 2020 Thailand averaged 21.4µg/m³ (micrograms of air pollutants per cubic metre of air), ranking 34th out of the 106 countries and territories where data was collected.
- Thailand has twice the PM2.5 concentration of the WHO exposure recommendation. This implies that Thai residents are living in a place with moderate air quality. 32,000 premature deaths relate to PM2.5 in 2019.
- In 2019, Thailand had on average 1.13kg of waste per capita daily while the country generated around 27.8 million metric tons of waste annually.
Overall, Thailand’s air quality is considered moderately unsafe because Thailand’s annual mean concentration of PM2.5 is 26µg/m3, exceeding the recommended maximum of 10µg/m3. Power generation from coal combined with emissions from the manufacturing, refining and mining industries, vehicle emissions and waste burning contribute to poor air quality. Despite various sources of pollutants, there is a lack of official action to tackle air pollution despite its legislation concerning air pollution. As for the farming industry, there is insufficient air quality monitoring or measures for regulating open burning. Besides, there is weak incentive for Thai farmers to adapt alternative farming practices and equipment as the majority of the farmlands are leased. As for the industrial emissions, the Thai government tends to focus on economic growth rather than tackling GHG emission. In short, the Thai government has less determination to alleviate air pollution when economic growth is a priority and financial incentives are lacking at this moment.
Since 2020, Thailand’s highly popular tourism industry has been in decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The decline in tourism has led to a reduction of the total amount of Thai’s municipal waste, yet the rise of e-commerce business and waste from medical masks are dragging the improvement. For example, the waste was reduced from 970 to 840 tonnes per day in tourist hotspots like Phuket, and down to 380 tonnes from 850 in Pattaya. The COVID-19 has changed our habits in terms of our meals due to national lockdown and social distancing. As restaurants are closed and only takeaway businesses are allowed to operate in the midst of a pandemic, we tend to use food delivery service instead. There are at least 5 solid waste items per order from packaging and accessories such as plastic bags, paper, plastic packs separating food types, seasoning packers, beverage bottles, wooden/plastic chopsticks, forks and spoons. Meanwhile, at least 1.5-2 million masks are consumed on a daily basis. Although 50 tons of total infectious waste are collected from different medical centres, only 43 tons of them are treated by effective incinerators. In a nutshell, the fall of tourism contributed to the reduction of municipal waste, yet the rapid growth of food delivery and e-commerce services dragged the entire progress.