Voting season needs political will for climate action

Climate change has already hit the Thai psyche. Almost every public opinion polls and surveys in the past years have been pointing in the same direction saying climate change and global warming are high on the Thai mindset , whether or not it is associated with sense of urgency, awareness or simply riding on a trend driven by corporate advertisements. Apart from that Thai people are increasingly aware of the possible affects of climate-change related events such as floods, , sea-level rise leading to coastal erosion in Bangkhuntien area, high incidence of infectious diseases such as dengue fever and Letrospirosis.

In May 2007, over 36 organizations representing almost all sectors – government, media, private sector, entrepreneurs, NGOs and other civil society groups endorsed the Declaration on the Cooperation for Alleviating Global Warming’ in Bangkok. The declaration was supposed to kick start the implementation of the 5-year Action Plan for Global Warming Alleviation (2007-2012). The action plan set a bold target to reduce carbon emissions of Bangkok city by 15% by 2012 with different approaches ranging from improvement of transportation system, promotion of alternative energies, energy conservation , building retrofit, solid waste and wastewater management to expansion of green area.

Now it is time for Bangkokians to cast their votes again to elect a new Bangkok governor and all the candidates are busy showing off their green credentials. And as expected, when the Thai society of environmental journalists organized a conference on “New Bangkok Governor’s Environmental Management Vision”, climate change was high on the agenda of all the major candidates.

Bangkok metropolis like other megacities of Toronto, London and New York is one of the major source of carbon emissions, all of which have started implementing its climate action plan last year. If the current governor of Bangkok-Mr Apirak Kosayothin- is able to retain his post, Bangkok Climate Action Plan should not only be continued but also has to be realigned to gain momentum in order to achieve the targets and practical outcomes. What is going to happen with the climate action plan if we get new political leader is a question that everyone should be asking. It might be changed, re-prioritized, improved or scrapped. That is really depending on political will of the one who is elected, given the fact that environmental policies of other major candidates are not very different.

Since the Nobel Peace Prize-wining Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) put the final nail in the coffin of global warming skeptics last year (2007) as Ban Ki-moon Secretary-General of the United Nations has put it, new scientific findings pointed it out that the climate system seems to be more sensitive to the effects of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations that previously estimated. Climate scientists worldwide are calling for urgent action : global carbon emissions has to peak by 2015 and cut by far more than half by 2050 in order to prevent disastrous climate change from happening. Last but not least, climate change conference in Bali has set the road for a new agreement to be concluded in Copenhagen in December 2009. If we want to avoid disastrous climate change to happen, we will need a very strong and very ambitious agreement to be made by all countries.

In this context, Bangkok Climate Action Plan, if we do it right, will set a good practice in helping world community to combat climate change. The next Bangkok governor, regardless of who it is , will have to exercise the leadership by placing ecological imperatives at the heart of city’s social and economic policy and development. The aim should be to not increase inequity but instead reduce the gap between political elites, consuming class and urban poor, as well as, ensuring participation of impacted communities in decision making processes on mitigation and adaptation options and assist these communities in funding and implementing climate adaptation measures.

In the run up to the election of the new Bangkok governor, all citizens must remember that casting vote is to endorse not only the best political will but defining the future of our Bangkok in the warming world. Collective action is the only way out of the imminent crisis facing us.

Time for Energy Revolution in Thailand

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 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 entirely 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 planned 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, extreme droughts and floods, and local communities have been slowly poisoned by polluting coal power plants. Coal is 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’s proposal, however, up to 31 more new smoke-belching coal plants are planned.

It is time for an energy revolution, a massive shift from highly polluting coal power plants to renewable energy. This is the surest way to ensure future energy stability for the country because the power of the wind and the sun can not run out.

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 nations 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. We should shift these investments to energy sources that will help us stop the dangers posed by climate change.

Renewable energy, especially wind, can and will have to play a leading role in the world’s energy future. There is no technical but only 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.