Thailand’s Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha delivered a statement at the World Leader Summit at COP26 in Glasgow on November 1, 2021, with one part stating; 

“…I’m here to present Thailand with the enormous challenge of enhancing more ambitious climate action. Thailand should, by all accounts, be able to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2065. I am confident that Thailand will be able to meet our NDC target of 40% with full and equal financial and technological support from international cooperation and UNFCCC mechanisms, including capacity building…”

This section is intended to decode the ambiguous and inadequate statement above in order to better understand Thailand’s place and role in climate action.

Where does the 40% reduction in GHG emissions come from?

The statement above referred to a new target of 40% of Thailand’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) Roadmap on Mitigation. However, the most recent NDC submitted to the UNFCCC on October 20, 2020, maintains the post-2020 greenhouse gas reduction target of 20-25 percent compared to business as usual.

As the Environment Minister, Mr. Warawut Silpa-archa, held a press conference on October 27, 2021, to explain Thailand’s negotiating stance at COP26 he stated that the long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies (LT-LEDS) with a net zero target have already been delivered to the UNFCCC Secretariat on October 19, 2021. He, however, made no mention of the NDC target of 40%.

According to the UNDP study’s findings, Thailand will achieve net-zero GHG emissions as soon as possible in the mid-century, and GHG emissions must peak by 2030. The National Energy Plan is being implemented to achieve carbon neutrality by 2065 by focusing on various measures such as increasing renewable energy mix, using electric vehicle technology, optimising energy consumption through innovation, and restructuring the energy industry to accommodate the energy transition trend.

In other words, the new NDC target of 40% in the Thai Prime Minister’s statement at the Glasgow Summit is likely to coincide with 2030 peak greenhouse gas emissions under long-term low-GHG development strategies (LT-LEDS).

Thailand’s greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector (including transportation), the waste sector, the industrial process and product use sector, and agriculture (excluding land-use, land-use change, and forestry) are expected to be around 555 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2030 if business as usual continues. That means that if Thailand wanted to reduce GHG emissions by 40% by 2030, the amount of reduction would be 222 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Net Zero?

The implementation of the National Energy Plan is central to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions, according to long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies. However, it also aims to offset carbon emissions from land use and the forest sector. Carbon offset is in fact a form of greenwashing. “Net Zero” is simply a strategy for the fossil fuel industry to continue polluting while paying someone to plant trees and trade carbon.

The potential for greenhouse gas absorption in Thailand’s land use and forestry is expected to increase to 120 million tonnes CO2 equivalent by 2037 and remain constant until the end of the century. It also stems from the National Strategic Plan’s 20-year goal of increasing forests and green spaces. In 2050, the Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF) sector will absorb 5.6 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

However, two scenarios for Thailand’s carbon neutrality have been identified. First, carbon neutrality by 2070, which will indicate at least 50% of electricity generation from renewable energy by 2050, and new vehicles on the market will be electric vehicles, with plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) accounting for 69 percent by 2035. Second, carbon neutrality by 2065, which builds on the first scenario by increasing energy efficiency improvements and encouraging investment in high-cost, unproven carbon capture and storage technologies.

Start with Coal Phase Out toward #RealZero

The Net Zero Plan and Carbon Neutrality Goals outlined in Thailand’s long-term, low-emissions development strategy submitted to the Glasgow COP26 climate summit are clearly an accounting trick. It makes no mention of a 100 percent renewable energy system or the phase-out of coal. The goal of Real Zero is to reduce emissions at the source. It is possible if the Thai government demonstrates strong political will.

The National Energy Plan also states that there will be a policy that will not increase the amount of coal used to generate electricity and will gradually phase out coal-fired power plants. Coal-fired electricity is not expected to enter the electric grid before 2050. This is solely a delaying strategy.

According to the Coal Phase-Out and Just Transition in Thailand report, which was analysed by Thailand Solar Fund, Sirindhorn International Institute of Technology-Thammasat University, Health Policy Foundation, and Greenpeace Thailand, the Thai government could phase out coal as soon as 2027, or as late as 2037. It will contribute to the reduction of 129 million tonnes of CO2.

The Thai government should reconsider its “net zero emission” strategy. Any future plan must include transparent strategic goals for reducing emissions from the fossil fuel industry to zero. The industrial sector’s greenhouse gas emission targets must be made clear without relying on the natural carbon cycle. By pushing for carbon offsets, the government will undermine a public effort to protect forests, protect indigenous peoples’ sovereignty, and restore ecosystems.