PM Prayut while delivering the speech at the World Leaders Summit at COP26. Credit: Thai Gov

EDITORIAL: Thailand’s promise to help tackle climate change should not be an empty promise_nor a broken one

Thailand has earned much applause as it has announced the net-zero emissions goal alongside other countries, and this should not be made an empty promise or a broken one with its current distancing from newly challenging pledges on halting of forest loss, Methane cuts, and coal phase-out

Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha went to Glasgow in Scotland on Monday to attend the two-day World Leaders Summit of COP26_with a big surprise.

He announced the country’s freshly adjusted Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets, cutting short the deadline periods to be in line with major countries including the EU and the US with the most ambitious pledge of net-zero emissions by 2050 if gaining support. He then stressed that commitments the country has made to the international community “have never been just an empty promise”.

But the new proposals to cut GHG emissions days later by the countries attending this high-profiled UN Climate Change Conference will just prove whether the country’s promise is not a broken one either.

“Today, I have come here with a strong will, which is very challenging in itself; that Thailand will level up our climate action in every way and by all means. This is for the country to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and reach net zero emissions by 2065.

“And with adequate and equitable support for technology, finance, capacity building, as well as cooperation under the convention, I trust that Thailand can level up our GHG emissions reduction target (the mid-term target set by 2030) to 40%, which would then facilitate us to reach the net-zero emissions within 2050,” PM Prayut had declared the country’s new GHG emissions reduction targets as reading the statement on the stage on Monday.

COO26 is seen as a make-or-break event to save the world below 1.5-2C of the temperature rise by the end of this century. The UK Presidency is pushing hard for the parties of the Conference, Thailand included, to help cut the GHG emissions as deep as possible so that the goals in the mid-and long term periods could be reached to help keep the global temperature rise below what is supposed to.

Aside from the 45% cuts of GHG emissions by 2030 or in the next ten years, the countries are expected to help reach the so-called net-zero emissions by 2050 or by the mid-century.

Thailand at first had set to declare its mid-term GHG emissions reduction target at 20-25%, and the long-term target to be reached “in the second half of the century” (The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry had initially revealed this deadline as 2090).

PM Prayut just made a big surprise by shifting the deadline and the targets as such.

While joining the world’s front line in reaching the net-zero goal by the mid-century, it just stopped short to move along with the newly emerging pledges. The COP over the following days came up with new and more tangible proposals for world leaders to make a decision to cut GHG emissions as deep as possible. At least three proposals were proposed by the UK Presidency itself, the US, and the EU. They deal with halting forest loss, cutting Methane, and phasing out coal, the prime cause of GHGs. (Read: Thailand fails to commit to new global pledges to help cut GHG emissions at COP26 despite net-zero emissions declared)

All, however, have been distanced by Thailand, which has so far not signed them up in acknowledgement of the challenging pledges inside. Cutting Methane, as claimed by the EU-US initiated Global Methane Pledge, for instance, could help cut emissions up to 30% of Methane globally in the next ten years, which in turn would help reduce the global temperature rise by 0.2 C in the mid-century.

The coal power phase-out, as all agreed, would help speed up the process of the GHG emissions reduction so that the country could reach net-zero emissions in time. Last but not least is the saving of the world’s forests, seen as an integral part of climate action and solutions now as they can help cut GHG emissions by absorbing them enormously while curtaining the climate impacts.

Refusing to commit to all these work approaches therefore cannot be interpreted as anything but distancing oneself from one’s promise.

These pledges have so far come in the forms of the leaders’ declarations and statements, and as being perceived widely, they are voluntary based. Thai officials would argue that they feared that jumping on board too quickly could prompt the country to be at a disadvantage in the world’s climate negotiation, which is highly economically and politically charged.

This sounds justified and valid at first, but as the world is now on the brink of the irreversible destructive path, one’s goal and promise is essentially counted the most and needs to be fulfilled “in every way and by all means”.

A promise that cannot be fulfilled cannot be anything but an empty promise and a broken one.