Wildfires erupt on a road snaking up towards the mountainous Mae Hong Song province. Wildfires are reported to occur every year due to both natural incidents and humans. Climate experts have expressed concern that the problem could intensify due to climate change. Over the past 10 years or so, there has also been a report on the critical correlation between an increase in lung cancer patients in the North, and the increase in forest fires and PM2.5 (particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter) in the region, the hot spot of forest fires and PM2.5 in the country. The correlation needs to be studied closely.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad


Story: B.Tribune
Photos: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
The Photo Essay series: SDGs I The Depth of Field
JANUARY 8, 2023

At COP26 and COP27, the parties to the UN Climate Change Convention, officially known as the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC), stepped up their efforts to cut Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by almost half or so by the end of this decade, vowing to reach either carbon neutrality or net-zero emissions in the next 30 years, or 2050. Their pledges have been praised as a boon for global efforts to tackle climate change, but whether these are enough to rescue citizens around the globe from climate catastrophe is another matter.

In 2015, almost at the same time that the historic Paris Agreement was adopted to lead global climate action, the global community also reached an agreement on the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs).

According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development, the UN member states expressed their commitment to protect the planet from degradation and take urgent action on climate change in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Paragraph 14 of the Agenda describes climate change as “one of the greatest challenges of our time” while addressing concerns about its adverse impacts that can undermine the ability of all countries to achieve sustainable development. 

As a result, climate action was placed as SDG 13, which aims to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact”. Its prime targets, as lined up, focus principally on the integration of climate change measures, especially those addressed under the UN climate conventions into national policies and planning, strengthening of resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters, improvement of education and awareness-raising and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, and some others.

Thailand has successfully developed and put in place its GHG emission target, known under the Paris Agreement as the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Under this pledging system, Thailand has proposed to cut GHG emissions by up to 40% by 2030 if supported. It has also set long-term goals towards carbon neutrality by 2050 and net-zero emission by 2065. These are addressed under the Long-Term Low Greenhouse Gas Emission Development Strategy submitted to the UNFCCC Secretariat.

Thailand has also submitted its National Adaptation Plans alongside. The only question that remains is whether these efforts of Thailand as well as those of the global community are sufficient to cope with climate change, given the recent evidence of increasing extreme-weather events and impacts worldwide.

As “Noru” hit the mainland Mekong region in late last September, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Seree Supratid, the country’s noted climate expert and author of the IPCC’s reports, realised immediately that the phenomenon was very unusual. In fact, it was the first time that a “Super Typhoon” had ever made landfall on the mainland.

In the region, which is significantly influenced by the weather system of the Pacific, any changes to the system will therefore affect the land and its people.

According to the analysis based on the IPCC’s latest climate models (CIMP6) by UNESCAP (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) last year, the Asia-Pacific region was already encountering the climate impacts. In the previous year, for instance, India faced five cyclonic storms — Tauktae, Yaas, Gulaab, Shaheen and Jawad — in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. Thailand, Myanmar and the Philippines, meanwhile, saw large-scale flooding and typhoons, the UN organisation noted.

“Combined with the worldwide pandemic, these disasters are illustrative of the new normal of cascading risks: a set of disasters intersecting and overlapping, thus creating cascading risk scenarios that exacerbate multiple critical vulnerabilities,” said UNESCAP, adding these are set to increase under the IPCC models.

The organisation ran down data under the IPCC models to present two prime scenarios relating to increasing in warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius and 2C for two periods in the next 20 years (2021-2040) and the next 40 years (2041-2060). Its initial analysis showed that the intensity of weather events, especially heavy precipitation, agricultural drought, surface winds (known to increase tropical cyclones in oceans and sand and dust storms on land), and hot temperature extremes, is likely to increase in the region. The maximum precipitation in the region, for example, will be above the global mean, it said.

In the Pacific, the ocean will be disproportionately impacted by surface winds, leading to more frequent and intense tropical cyclones, especially as the region gets closer to 2C, the UNESCAP predicted, citing cyclones Pam and Winston, which already fit the global pattern for cyclones of proportionately increasing to category 4 and 5 cyclones.

In South-East Asia, a wetter climate seems to be emerging under the least of the 1.5C scenario and will continue at 2C, the UNESCAP projects. The subregion would also be impacted by more frequent tropical cyclones, especially in a 2C climate scenario. In Thailand, for example, climate change has already begun to alter the pattern and intensity of rainfall, the organisation said.

The UNESCAP further projected that these climate extremes would create new ecological openings for biological hazards as well. Tropical cyclones, sand and dust storms, floods, drought, and extreme heat can themselves create outbreaks of diseases, such as malaria and dengue, along with malnutrition, heat syncope and heat strokes, and respiratory issues, it said.

To build resilience, implementing adaptation measures is imperative, the organisation suggested.

At COP26, the Glasgow Climate Pact had highlighted the significance of adaptation, particularly through setting new global targets for adaptation funding and underlining elements that echoed the adaption priorities set by the Global Commission on Adaptation_ranging from strengthening early warning systems, making water and new infrastructure resilient, improving drylands to combat drought and desertification, to protecting mangroves to reduce coastal hazards.

Dr. Seree said Thailand is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and it should set adaptation as its priority. It is currently still focusing on mitigation, which has caused less than one per cent of global GHG emissions, he remarked in recent media interviews.

As of October 6 last year, the Wat Thewaishakunchorn Community by the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok was flooded when the river overflowed again. The community, which is located outside the city dykes, gets flooded almost every year, leaving the residents with two choices: move their belongings to higher grounds, or just simply live through it, submerged in the floodwater for months.
Bangkok has been fighting hard against multiple flood risks_overflowing rivers, run-offs, heavy rainfall in the city, as well as tidal surges and rise in sea level. These have become more and more complex due to climate change, and they are complicating the city’s efforts to protect the residents from the impacts they cause, like the Thewarachakunchorn Community, which has missed out on the city’s protection.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
Several communities by the Chao Phraya River in Ayutthaya province are facing more severe flooding than other areas due to their relatively low topography as well as the narrow channel of the river itself that slows water discharge when necessary. It’s also partly due to the government’s flood management, as they are targeted as flood retention areas to save economic areas, including the city of Bangkok. 
Last year, several communities by the river in Bang Ban district lived amid floods for several months_the period longer than in past years, the residents said. There were reports of unusual rainfall in the Central Plains and the influence of the depression caused by Super Typhoon Noru that hampered the state’s capacity to deal with it.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
The Wat Yom Community in the Bang Ban district of Ayutthaya province had just celebrated the installation of a new statue of Wessuwan — an angel that helps guard against evil from hell, according to Buddhists’ belief — at Thammajak Temple in the community, when the temple and the statue were inundated along with the residents. The locals have barely had a chance to worship the statue as they have been busy moving their belongings to higher grounds.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
Flooding in the provinces of Sing Buri and Ang Thong upstream poses a major test to the state’s limits in dealing with increasingly complicated flood risks caused by climate change. The existing knowledge of flood management and infrastructure of the administration was severely tested, as the region was facing an unusual pattern of rainfall, including Super Typhoon Noru. 
Several embankments were breached by the floodwaters, which flowed fiercely into communities behind the embankments, damaging the residents’ properties and the communities. Tha Din Daeng Village in Tambon Thewarat in Sing Buri, for instance, was entirely submerged by flash floods.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad

Community-based adaptation has long been part of the riverine communities in the Central Plains, but city planning and modern lifestyle have extensively changed it. The knowledge and local wisdom of the past cannot quite keep pace with the change. For instance, the residents in the Central Plains no longer build a stilt house to let floodwaters flow through. As their one- or two-storey houses get flooded, they have to move their belongings to higher grounds or move out of the flooded houses and live in makeshift structures, such as tents_an immediate and short-term solution amid the changing and increasingly unpredictable climate.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad

One of the critical regulators of water from the Chao Phraya River is the Chao Ched sluicegate in Ayutthaya province. It, however, broke as it could not withstand the surging floodwater last year, demonstrating the state’s limits in dealing with the phenomenon brought on by the changing climate. 
Several similar structures themselves impede the efforts to mitigate the climate impacts, prompting conflict between communities in front of and behind them.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad

A swamp in Wat Bang Krating School in Sena district in Ayutthaya province in the aftermath of flooding last year. The floods damaged the school buildings, while its equipment was swamped in mud and fungus. Children could not come to school for months, said Kraisorn Hongviengchan, a teacher, adding the impact of the flooding lasted longer than in past years.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad

As the floods triggered by Super Typhoon Noru were flowing down towards the Chao Phraya dam in Chai Nat province, a main regulator of the water in the Chao Phraya River, irrigation officials were busy analysing the data day in day out in their war-room.
More precise weather predictions and early warnings are strongly recommended as one of the critical elements for climate adaptation amid the changing and increasingly unpredictable climate.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
To solve the problem of climate change, all countries are being encouraged by global conventions to switch to renewable energy so that they can move towards carbon neutrality and net-zero emissions. 
Solar energy and solar cells are among the prime choices for climate change mitigation and they are increasingly popular as the rapidly evolving technology is helping to substantially cut investment costs. From solar farms, energy from solar cells is shifting towards households and communities in several countries including Thailand.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
Khok Samrong Industrial and Community Education College is among the recipients of the Thailand Solar Fund to install solar rooftops to save energy.
Lecturer Chaloemwit Phongoen said the college uses this opportunity to develop and introduce a new curriculum to teach about this renewable energy to its students. Mr. Chaloemwit said the students are encouraged to apply the knowledge to their daily life and families such as installing solar cells to produce electricity for water pumps in their families’ orchards.
Natthakit Kromkhan, an 18-year-old student in his third year, is trying his idea to improve traffic regulation and road safety. He has installed lights made from solar cells into traffic cones to generate better warnings for road users. Mr. Natthakit said this simple but creative application of solar energy can help close a gap in technology education between students in urban areas and those studying in rural areas like him. 
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
Biomass is among the choices for climate change mitigation, as it can help produce electricity from animals’ faeces or industrial waste. In recent years, however, it has been criticised as “Green Washing”, as it is said to have created another so-called leakage or pollution problem.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad

Buncha Vanichsupachai (second from left) is the owner of T Mobile garage in Tha Muang District of Kanchanaburi province. The 56-year-old and his staff make their own EV cars. They are also modifying some old cars or classic cars into electric vehicles and are well known among modified classic car owners.

Mr. Buncha insists that his locally invented or adapted EV cars are working well, with the production and maintenance cost 40-50% cheaper. Buyers can also register the vehicles with the state registration offices, he said. He said locally made EV cars should be supported by the state so that local carmakers can develop the technology and stand on their own feet rather than relying on imported cars and technology. 
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad

A wind turbine farm in Tambon Huai Bong in Dan Khun Tod District, Nakhon Ratchasima province in Northeast Thailand, is up and running to produce electricity with a generation capacity of 797 megawatts. It has also become a new tourist attraction, bringing additional income for nearby residents.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad

A solution could have side-effects or lead to a new problem, and that also holds true for climate mitigation and the search for renewable and clean energy if adequate thought is not given to the effort. Wind energy is among clean energy choices, but it can cause a problem if implemented without proper planning.

At Paniad Village in Lop Buri province, a wind energy generation project is being planned, but the residents there are firmly opposing it as they fear noise pollution. They also claim that the location is improper as it will be sited in the forest reserve from where they collect forest products, thus depriving the community’s right to access resources if the project goes ahead.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad

Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 13: Climate Action)
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy)
Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Since being conceived in 1992 during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, “sustainable development” has become a buzzword that has helped guide development around the world. The goals have followed a steady trajectory of increased emphasis_from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000 to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, strengthening the world’s new development paradigm. At the heart of the SDGs addressed by the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are 17 key goals that call for action by all countries to end poverty and other deprivations. These must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth_all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests, according to the UN. The only challenge is: how to translate all those goals into a strong commitment and action. To flesh out the ideas so that people can understand them easily and therefore take action, Bangkok Tribune has come up with a new project: “SDGs I The Depth of Field”, using its signature style of photojournalism — storytelling through photo essays — to interpret and translate the ideas and challenges behind the goals into powerful visual stories told through the lenses of noted photographers.