COP28: What is on the table?

Climate breakdown has been the most severe threat to life for at least a couple of generations. We have reached a point where most governments and peoples agree; this is monumental.

Though climate threat is indiscriminate, devastating both the rich and the poor, the poorest are hit the hardest. Between 1970 and 2021, 9 out of every 10 deaths and 60% of economic losses caused by extremes of weather, climate happened in developing countries. 

There is an urgent need for rapid acceleration of global adaptation. Estimated climate adaptation costs and needs for developing countries range from US$215 billion to US$387 billion annually throughout the coming decade.  

At the UN climate summit in 2009, high-income nations pledged to provide US $100 billion in annual funding by 2020 to help low-income countries adapt to climate change. They have failed to do so.

It comes as no surprise that the most anticipated moment in the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP28, in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, is when the long overdue Loss and Damage Fund will be realized.

Though COP28 Director-General Majid Al Suwaidi told CNN that climate finance has been put at the top of the agenda and that "thanks to support from many including Canada and Germany we have already seen the progress." 

But after a long and exhausting debate, the latest proposal for the Loss and Damage Fund for COP28 does not say where the money will come from. It just "urges" developed countries and "invites" others to contribute.

The World Bank will manage the Fund for at least the first four years, despite low-income nations' worries that would make access more challenging.

The twenty-six members of the "Board of the Fund" will be appointed and are expected to have their first meeting two months after COP28. Twelve of the Board members will come from developed countries.  

The Fund promises to provide financial support for both economic and non-economic loss and damage from the effects of climate change. Some high-income nations are trying to limit access to the Fund to only the most vulnerable countries. 

"We will propose projects for which we need support from the international community, either under Article 6.2 of the Paris Agreement, which allows us to sell carbon credits, or those out of Article 6.2 without carbon credit trading, like the promotion of electric vehicles, low methane rice farming, or the Floating Solar farm," says Phirun Saiyasitpanich, Director of Thailand’s Department of Climate Change and Environment and the leading member of its negotiation team at COP28.

One of the activities for which Thailand expects financial support is to turn the dusty province of Saraburi, a town of rock blasting and a hundred cement plants that emitted 28 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2015, into a net-zero city by 2050 by replacing old cement works, introducing EVs with renewable energy and hydrogen technology, and installing carbon capture and storage facilities in limestone mines. The project is expecting US$3 million from the Global Environmental Fund.

The Swiss Re Institute in 2021 put Thailand as one of the five countries least prepared for the economic shock of climate change. The Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) found that ,between 2000 and 2019, Thailand faced 146 climate abnormalities, leaving the country with a loss of US$7.7 billion.

The country plunged 11 places in this year's Climate Change Performance Index, dropping from a medium to a low performer. Though it maintained a medium rating in energy use, it received low ratings for GHG emissions, renewable energy, and climate policy.

As an improvement, Thailand is drafting its first Climate Change Bill, expected to be made into law in 2024. The bill includes a green taxonomy, which will be transferred to the Green Fund, supporting adaptation and technology transfer for the public and private sectors, including those most vulnerable.

Somkiat Tangkitvanich, President of the TDRI think tank, suggested the government implement a two-tier carbon taxation scheme similar to the EU's Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) for exports to be charged by CBAM and a tax on the fossil fuel energy sector. The carbon tax should go to the Green Transition and Adaptation Fund to enforce mitigation and adaptation activities and help vulnerable groups impacted by the change.

"But the more robust way for Thailand to reach the commitment is to reduce the subsidy to fossil fuels, especially diesel fuel, which are highly polluting and have caused a loss of over 70,000 million baht to our gasoline subsidy fund so far."

Now consuming 152 million litres of gasoline daily, Thailand has pledged to become a carbon-neutral country by 2050 and carbon-zero by 2065. Despite the timeline being more prolonged than most countries, the goal appears difficult.

Surachai Sathitkunarat of the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation, sees technology as a significant force. 

"Technology transfer and development need to work with the private sector, which is ready and willing to change because it has faced world pressure. The state alone cannot make the country achieve whatever goal it is committed to; it should facilitate technology for the private sector and move together," said Surachai, who is in the country's negotiation team on technology transfer and development.

He sees Thailand as having a high potential for renewable energy, especially biomass energy, which will also benefit over 18 million farmers. The country could also access and develop technology like hydrogen technology or carbon capture and storage (CCS) under the mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, he suggests.

Thailand's industry sector knows well the consequences of global regulations. The 2015-2019 "yellow card" from the European Union against "illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing" (IUU) brought the country's commercial fishing fleet  to its knees. 

SCG, a regional conglomerate and Thailand’s biggest cement producer, was a major target of the first CBAM. It started producing low-carbon cement in 2009.  

Oil company Bangchak started its Sustainable Aviation Fuel project using used cooking oil. Meanwhile, the energy giant PTTEP, invested US$ 400 million in carbon capture and storage (CCS) at one of its gas fields. PTT, another of the country's largest energy businesses, invested over 200 billion baht (US$5 billion) between 2021 and 2022 in its low-carbon businesses, including hydrogen energy. One of the country's leading banks, KBank, adopted a policy of no financial support for fossil fuels.

But only some are ready and yet happy.

Twelve hours drive from Bangkok, the capital, on the world-famous island of Phuket, surrounded by the turquoise Andaman Sea, Pichet Pandam from the Bang Rong mangrove community plans to call on other coastal provinces to say no to Thailand’s carbon credit scheme. 

His community just sent a letter to the country's Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, turning down a carbon credit contract for their mangrove forest. More communities will do so, he said.

The Bang Rong community’s mangrove is among the 99 registered community mangroves to be made available to private businesses that will manage and sell carbon credits. One community in a nearby province receives 200,000 baht (US$5600) as a concession fee, and it will receive 450 baht (US$13) for every rai (0.3 acre) of its mangrove each year for 30 years. 

The Thailand Greenhouse Gas Management Organization states that the country has traded 2.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2 eq) of carbon credits since 2015, 309,306 tCO2 eq of which were from forest land, including mangrove forests. The price of forest carbon credits is 500 baht (US$14.2) for each tCO2 eq, the highest in the market.

Supporters of carbon credit markets say that they could be a way to channel funds to communities for forest protection.

Pichet sees it differently. “You sinned, you want to wipe it clean with your money, and we and our mangrove are those who do the laundry,” he said.

Pichet said skepticism is deeply rooted among the locals, who for generations have seen their natural resources, land, and rights repeatedly violated for the benefit of strangers.

"In the 60s, most mangroves faced cooking charcoal concessions that burnt all trees. We could not use or even walk into our mangroves," Pichet said. Then, in the 80s, came the shrimp farm concessions that took away their rights and wrecked the mangrove forest.

"We spent decades bringing them back to life. Now, you will take it for another concession to another stranger who knows nothing about mangroves or us. You have always refused to acknowledge the wisdom to protect the mangroves we inherited; now you want to take the benefit from it."

In COP28, the carbon credit agenda is still identified as vital.

Somkiat from the TDRI said the Institute encourages the use of a voluntary carbon credit market. However, corporations must be transparent, reveal details of their carbon stocks, reduce the cost of verification, which stands as the highest cost of running the business, and ensure carbon credits will not encourage encroaching. 

Phirun understands his country's concerns but is optimistic and confident.

"We would not allow greenwashing but work with the communities and locals to make sure it's not just to make money for someone but benefits all. We will not focus on any one aspect but a holistic one."

"Otherwise, we will not achieve any goal," Phirun says, before heading to Dubai.

This article is part of the media series "COP28 and Thailand". by Prachatai English, published parallel to the COP28 between 30 November-12 December 2023. 

Read part 1: Where is Thailand in the boiling world?

The series 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.

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