Published on December 20, 2007
After almost two weeks of talks at the UN Climate Change Summit in Bali, trying to shape a new global accord that will supersede the Kyoto Protocol, representatives of 187 nations came up with a disappointing four-page Bali declaration. As expected, European countries sought a binding commitment on reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 36 industrialised countries, but their move was blocked by the United States, Japan and Canada. The so-called framework concludes that "deep cuts in global emissions will be required" and provides a timetable for two years of talks to come up with a successor treaty to Kyoto before it expires in 2012. With some of the world's biggest polluters opting to drag their feet on mandatory reductions, the prospect is not good for the global effort to stem the potentially devastating effects of global warming.
Despite the lack of real progress at Bali, there is a growing consensus that the new accord to emerge will require developing countries, which have hitherto been exempted from obligation to reduce emissions, to start doing so. Thailand, ranked 22nd in the world in carbon emissions by the UN Development Programme, must get ready to find ways to bring down emissions without compromising economic growth and competitiveness. Preparations must be made so that Thailand can participate in future climate-change negotiations while also safeguarding its vital national interests. But do Thai officials charged with planning and coordinating the national effort to address climate change and its impacts on the country's economic and social development have what it takes to do their job well?
There are reasons to doubt their preparedness and competence given the fact that successive governments have developed neither a coherent policy nor assigned high priority to this important matter.
At the Bali summit, Environment Minister Yongyuth Yuthavong read out a speech, touching on a range of topics from climate-change mitigation, adaptation, technology transfers, renewable energy, capacity building and planning to make available the resources needed to implement them. But parroting a textbook approach to climate-change control and management, peppered with impressive environmental lingo and technical jargon, did not prove that Thailand is capable of helping reduce emissions or contributing positively to the global discussion.
The performance of Thailand's 50-strong delegation reflected poorly on Yongyuth's leadership. Most members of the entourage were either incapable of engaging effectively in discussion or exchanges of ideas or they simply did not bother to make the most of their time there. "We are here to learn," was the standard response from delegation members when asked by reporters how they planned to make productive use of their time at the summit.
Such a response may have been acceptable back in 1990 when climate change had just emerged as a global policy issue. But the Kyoto Protocol has passed its 10th anniversary and critical issues are already being hotly negotiated in Bali. Many of the Thai delegates had not done their homework on meeting agendas or documentation of topics being discussed at the summit. Apparently, most of them did not get to learn much - because to learn something worthwhile would have required the learner to have done their homework.
Apart from the official negotiation sessions, the summit also included more than 200 side events organised by NGOs, universities, consultants, corporations and international agencies on the whole range of climate-change issues. None of these events was hosted by Thai organisations or NGOs. Few Thai delegates set foot in these side events, which addressed key issues related to the current climate-change debates and cutting-edge technological advancement, even though they might be useful when the time comes for Thailand to implement its national strategy to cope with climate change.
Obviously, Thailand still has a lot to learn and a long way to go. Thailand has set itself an ambitious goal to increase its proportion of renewable energy from 8 per cent in 2011 to 35 per cent in 2020, which in all probability will be impossible to achieve. Even at this late stage, when the negative effects of climate change have become evident, officials have yet to familiarise themselves with the crux of the matter, let alone educate the Thai public about the global menace.