Tara Buakamsri

The embattled bureaucrats in Thailand’s Energy Ministry may not be enjoying their jobs much at the moment, with the country in the grips of an energy crisis and the weight of responsibility falling squarely on their shoulders. In their low moments they would do well to remember the Thai people who have already suffered from their wrong energy choices, especially the communities living in the shadow of coal fired power plants and those suffering the impacts of climate change, caused by past dependency on fossil fuels.

Of course we can’t blame the Energy Ministry bureaucrats for all of our energy woes or for the carbon emissions that cause global warming. Successive governments, who have failed to show the leadership needed to formulate and implement an energy policy to give Thailand and her people a better future, must bear the biggest responsibility for leading the country down the wrong energy path. Last year, the Government of Thailand proposed an increase in the country’s dependence on dirty fossil fuels and dangerous nuclear technologies.

The Government’s energy choices in the coming years will determine our environmental and economic situation for many decades to come, in light of the growing threats of climate change. Thailand’s people are already suffering from climate impacts such as reduced agricultural production, droughts and floods, and local communities have been slowly poisoned by polluting coal power plants. Coal is amongst the most polluting of energy sources. However much you wash and scrub it, or attempt to bury its emissions, it still remains dirty and toxic, damaging local communities and exacerbating climate change.

Under the Government proposal, up to 31 more new smoke-belching coal plants are planned.

Many other countries around the world are already reaping the benefits of bold, visionary energy policies to mitigate climate change and to meet energy demand. Germany is the world’s leading wind energy power, with a forecast of 25% of its energy generated by wind alone by 2020. China is the world’s fastest growing wind power, with a realistic forecast of 15% of the nation’s energy coming form renewable sources by 2015. What did Germany, China and other nations do to enable such growth in renewable energy? Governments of both countries understood the threat of climate change and its causes, along with the challenge of ensuring energy security, and took the required policy steps to incentivise investment in renewable energy.

Thailand currently relies heavily on energy imports, and is in danger of taking the panic measure of committing us to a very unsustainable future powered by dirty and dangerous energy. Thailand has good wind energy resources, which, with the right incentives, could quickly be harvested on a small scale, to the benefit of local communities, and on an industrial scale, to the benefit of the whole nation.

We urgently need the Government to lead us down the right road for a sustainable energy future. We need them to divert funding from new build coal and nuclear energy towards clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency; to adopt legislation to provide investors in renewable energy with stable, predictable returns; to guarantee priority access to the grid for renewable generators and, finally, to adopt strict efficiency standards and demand side management programmes. Renewable energies are competitive, if and only if governments phase-out subsidies for fossil and nuclear fuels and introduce the `polluter- pays principle`. Historically, fossil fuel and nuclear power have enjoyed annual subsidies of around US$250 billion.

Renewable energy, especially wind, can and will have to play a leading role in the world’s energy future. There is no technical but a political barrier to make this shift. It is up to our government to seize the opportunity to continue sustainable development, reduce dependence from foreign sources, increase employment, create a stable society and make a significant contribution to the global fight against climate change.

Greenpeace’s flagship, The Rainbow Warrior, is currently in Thailand for the ‘Quit Coal, Lead the Energy [R]evolution’ campaign to reduce Thailand’s dependence on coal and gas and to encourage investments in Energy Efficiency measures and power generation from renewable energy sources like wind, solar and biomass.