Climate change swept the planet with each blink of an eye. The wildfire in Maui in Hawaii, landslides in India, flooding in Mexico and other climate hazards wreaking havoc on people’s livelihoods and communities.
In Thailand, the 2011 floods, the worst in half a century, caused an estimated THB 1.43 trillion (US$40 million) in damage. The severe drought in 2019-2020 cost the agriculture sector roughly THB 26 billion (US$733 million). Last year, a powerful Typhoon Noru left a trail of destruction in 22 provinces of Thailand and claimed lives and properties.
In July 2023, UN Secretary-General António Guterres who came from sun-embracing Portugal, has told world leaders: "The era of global boiling has arrived."
A few weeks from now, world leaders, including Guterres, will gather in Dubai, United Arab Emirates for the United Nations Climate Talks to make commitments and plans for addressing climate crisis.
The 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will focus on four primary themes: the energy transition is accelerating, focusing on lives and livelihoods, inclusion, and the most ramping up "climate finance."
COP28 Director-General Majid Al Suwaidi told the media that climate finance has been put at the top of the agenda and that he and his team began early this year talks about the US$100 billion a year climate finance pledge to developing countries until 2025.
“Thanks to support from many countries including Canada, and Germany and maybe France that we have already seen the progress, that they intend to show how they'll deliver on that hundred billion promised this year,” Al Suwaidi said.
“But, that's a drop in the bucket.”
The US$100 billion a year climate fund is expected to help poorer countries confronting climate change. This pledge was enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the accord among nations to address climate change.
In 2021, Swiss Research Institute put Thailand as one of the five most vulnerable countries in the world facing the economic shock of climate change.
The study finds that the relatively low political stability, low risk awareness on climate change, and limited public fiscal resources to build resilient infrastructure, the country ranks weak in terms of adaptive capacity.
Thailand's GDP could decline by 43.6 percent by 2048 if it does not adapt to climate change, a study published by the Bank of Thailand in 2022 says.
Most severe impacts would fall on the agriculture, tourism, and infrastructure sectors. Under a high-emissions scenario, the study estimated that climate change could reduce Thailand's agricultural GDP by up to 30%, tourism revenue by up to 10%, and infrastructure costs by up to 5% by 2050, it says.
Co-work of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank stated that, when placed in a global context, aggregate agriculture production in Southeast Asian countries are projected to suffer a greater decline than most other regions.
Vulnerable with big dreams
Hosted and run by an oil-rich country, environmentalists and minor nations have seen COP28 with mistrust. And they have reasons being so. Carbon market rules will be a major issue of debate. The strongly advocated what sort of human rights safeguards should be needed in fossil fuel offsets hence highly anticipated in this meeting.
Thailand is committed to fulfill its promise since COP26 to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and net zero by 2065. The country's nationally determined contribution (NDC) has been raised from 20% to 40% by 2030. The country aims to increase green areas to cover 55% of its land in 2037, and introduce a carbon taxation, one big examples.
"I will reaffirm our commitments to support access to technology, financial support, and capacity building to ensure that our goals are within our reach" said Sretta Thavisin, Prime Minister for three months.
At the 2023 World Bank-IMF Annual Meeting last month. On the table was a global green transition budgetary scenario. In order to achieve the “goal”, all countries need to invest in reuseable energy and adaptation plans and it is unavoidable for more public debt. Most countries likely require 40-50% of their GDP for public debt by 2050.
Thailand's wet hand raised 12.5 billion US dollars through its "sustainability" bond, to run it’s underground transits and improve the water management systems ,with plans to raise another 2 billion US dollars next year. The public debt has already surged 62.14 % of its GDP.
To contribute to the world agenda with the most minor pain is to find other ways than a hefty pay for adaptations.
Thailand then, no surprise, turns full way to the carbon credit market. The market believes that you can buy carbon credits to offset your greenhouse gas emissions.
Gold rush or new colonization?
According to Thailand Greenhouse Gas Management Organization, Thailand carbon credit selling over the counter reached close to 3 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent this year, worths 273.6 million baht (US$770,000)
The business idea is straightforward. You plant new trees, or a new forest. That could, somehow, you barely know, calculate to be a carbon credit. Like the 55% of green areas of the total land of the country by 2037 that say, could be calculated to 120 million tonnes of carbon credit each year.
To earn that money but don't have your trees and forest. Finding carbon from someone's existing green areas is even more straightforward.
Thailand has so far registered 99 community mangroves to private businesses that will manage and sell carbon credit from those mangroves. One community receives 200,000 baht (USD 5600) for the concession fee then will receive 450 baht (USD13) each year for every rai (0.3 acre) of their mangrove for 30 years.
Supporters of carbon credit markets say that could be a way to channel funds toward forest protection through the community.
Thailand has 1.6 million rai (632,000 acres) of mangrove, or 1.7% of the world's mangroves.
"But what we have seen is this market has been hi-jacked by the rich" says Petch Manoprawaitr conservation scientist and secretary-general of the Green World Foundation, the organization works on environmental issues since 1991.
Several forests and mangroves signed off to private business who enjoy the people’s protection area as their lucrative business spring a penny to the community who have protected the mangroves for generations, then a few penny to the state, he said.
One community was found to sign the contract that gives 70% of the revenue on carbon credit to the private business, while the community takes only 20%. The community members don’t know carbon credit market, don’t know how it works, how much it cost. One community found they were under contract only through the media report.
One carbon business owner proudly claimed he already has 100,000 rais (40,000 acre) of mangrove in hand.
A few weeks before COP28, the global carbon market conference held in Paris, attendees who paid over USD 2000 for a pass were hundreds of carbon traders, buyers and brokers. In COP28, carbon credit major players have their places and stages to speak up, like this.
“There’s no place for the grass root, no place for civil society, no place for the poor, though they are the most vulnerable,” scornfully said Petch.
Though Petch believes carbon credit market mechanism is here to offset carbon emissions and benefit the world, but the injustice of profit sharing is to stop.
That is different from Tara Buakamsri, also an environmentalist. To him, it is not just a hi-jacking but a hoax, a phantom carbon credit that has never been real. No scientific proof.
Being Director of Greenpeace Thailand, and was the one who voiced out opposing carbon credit market in front of the Prime Minister last month, Tara has been extremely skeptical about the way carbon credit market works.
“It is a modern-day wild west gold rush. They rush for the gold, only now it’s not the golden bars but the green ones."
The nine-month investigation by the Guardian and the German weekly Die Zeit, and SourceMaterial the independent investigation entity, found more than 90% of rainforest carbon offsets by biggest certifier are worthless, the claim the carbon credit certifier abruptly and strongly denied.
The latest report from UN Climate Change finds national climate action plans remain insufficient to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and much more action is needed to bend the world’s emissions trajectory further downward and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
“Today’s report shows that governments combined are taking baby steps to avert the climate crisis. And it shows why governments must make bold strides forward at COP28 in Dubai, to get on track,” said the Executive-Secretary of UN Climate Change, Simon Stiell.
“This means COP28 must be a clear turning point. Governments must not only agree what stronger climate actions will be taken but also start showing exactly how to deliver them.”
To Tara, the first thing is Thai government should reconsider the carbon credit market plan, stop it and turn to serious adaptation, phase out fossil fuel immediately, and don’t let the people burden the change like they are doing now.
“If you can’t stop this doubtful trading, at least make sure the market will truly benefit the world and the people, not the lucrative carbon brokers. The country needs to have its regulations to ensure there’s no slippery door for thieves.”
“Otherwise carbon credit market is nothing but a new form of colonization,” he said.
This story was produced as part of the 2023 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security. It was first published by Prachatai English on 23 November 2023.
Banner image: A Thai flag waving with a refinery in the background / Credit: Prachatai English.