By Khan Ram-Indra, Country Representative, Thailand
Looking through the window of my house by San Saep canal, the longest canal in Thailand that cuts through the heart of Bangkok, my thoughts begin to wander. My grandmother once told me about a time when she was young and the canal was her backyard swimming pool. Back then, the canal was crystal clear and clean. In her free time, she often jumped into the water and enjoyed swimming with her siblings and friends in the canal.
It is almost unimaginable to me that people could swim in the canal half a century ago. Today, it is extremely polluted. The color of the stream is so dark that it looks more like a stream of black coffee. Needless to say, it is impossible to see through the water. All that is visible is a variety of trash floating down the canal. The fumes from fossil-fueled express boats make it worse. The windows of my house facing the canal need to be closed at all times to prevent unpleasant smell and pollution coming into the house. This is a just the tip of the iceberg of environmental degradation in Thailand as a result of unsustainable economic growth over the past several decades.
Throughout the last 50 years, Thailand has observed rapid and strong economic growth. The country’s economic size in 2013, in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), was almost 20 times larger compared to the early 60s. The country has transformed from a small-holder agriculture-based economy to a manufacturing- and service-based economy with a strong connection to global and regional supply chains and trading networks, and become an upper-middle income country in 2011.
That rapid economic development comes with a price in terms of environmental degradation and social inequality. Energy discoveries and generation have powered new industry development. Simultaneously, these have led to air pollution, waste and public health problems. Industrial and agricultural development has negatively affected forests, rivers, soil and the country’s rich biodiversity. Unsustainable tourism and urban development have inevitably affected natural ecosystems.
Thailand is extremely vulnerable to climate change, which manifests itself in the form of water shortages, droughts and floods. The country is also a growing contributor to global climate change, ranked 18th in total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2012, which is nearly triple its 1990 levels. Thailand’s energy-intense industrial sector is a significant contributor to its GHG emissions, powered by 49% petroleum and oil products. Additionally, rapid and unplanned urbanization in Thailand is a growing challenge, associated with highly concentrated public services, environmental degradation and regional income disparities.
Although the country’s poverty rate has reduced from 63% in 1986 to 11% in 2014 as income has risen, the national income distribution is worsening. In 2009, the country’s poorest 20% had only 4.6% share of the national income, while the country’s richest 20% had 54.4%.
With this trend to continue, it is unlikely that the country can sustain its long-term economic development while maintaining its competitiveness and enhancing quality of people’s life.
To address these challenge and escape from “middle-income trap”, the Royal Thai Government recognizes the importance of a green growth approach to reaching its full development potential. Thailand 4.0 initiative outlines a new model of growth that relies on a value-based economy, which focuses on innovation, technology and services. Green growth is well reflected in Thailand’s policy and planning documents, including the Twelfth National Economic and Social Development Plan (12th NESDP), Climate Change Master Plan, and international commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) which is the commitment to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions by 20-25% from business-as-usual levels by year 2030 under the Paris Agreement.
GGGI is in an ideal position to support Thailand in overcoming those challenges and achieving their development objectives. Since 2014, GGGI has been working closely with Thailand to achieve these development objectives. We worked together to develop the Industry GHG Reduction Roadmap for the Industrial Sector which was completed last year. Currently, we are working to accelerate NDC implementation, especially in the industrial sector.
Through our recent exercise on Thailand Country Planning Framework (CPF), comprehensive analysis and extensive consultations were conducted in order to identify the most appropriate areas of cooperation between Thailand and GGGI during 2017-2021. While the overall objective of our intervention will be to assist the country to deliver its 12th National Economic and Social Development Plan (NESDP), NDC, and renewable energy and energy efficiency targets, the two potential areas of works are: a) energy in industry; and b) green cities development.
In energy in industry, GGGI aims to work with the country to increase investment in renewable energy (RE) and energy efficiency (EE) in the industrial sector. Since the beginning of GGGI’s presence in Thailand, GGGI has been working extensively on the industrial sector through the work on GHG reduction roadmap and NDC action plan development. With this, it enables GGGI to have strong expertise, experiences and networks working in the sector.
In green cities development, GGGI aims to work with the country to develop low-carbon, climate-resilient and livable cities that contribute to sustainable economic development and fair regional income distribution. Although this is a new area for GGGI in Thailand, GGGI can leverage our strong experiences from our programs in other countries; such as Cambodia, Philippines, and Mexico.
Of course, these two areas are not the only challenges the country is facing. There are many more which strongly requires concert efforts from government agencies, private companies, academia, civil societies, and all walk of life to address. However, these are the areas that GGGI has comparative advantage and strong experience. With this, we truly believe that we can make a difference on the ground and help Thailand transition to green growth.
These are not only GGGI’s commitment but they are also my personal endeavor. I want to proudly tell my grandchildren that I have been part of the efforts to improve the local environment, reduce global GHG emissions, and assist Thailand in transitioning to a green growth pathway, that will benefit them and their futures.
Khan Ram-Indra is GGGI’s Country Representative in Thailand.