Thailand has been an upper middle-income country since 2011 and has experienced successive decades of remarkable economic growth and social development . However, this strong economic growth has come at a high environmental cost. Soil fertility is being lost, biodiversity is threatened, and pollution and emissions are increasing, which affects quality of life in Thailand and results in high economic costs . For example, the social cost generated from PM2.5 in Thailand has been estimated at 2.17 trillion THB per year, almost 11% of 2019 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) , . Therefore, it is important that Thailand urgently addresses the growing environmental and climate impacts caused by its rapid economic growth .
To date, Thailand has not yet fully tapped into its green economic opportunities, according to the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI). GGGI’s Green Growth Index provides policymakers with a metric to measure the green growth performance of a country. It measures country performance for 4 green growth dimensions – 1. efficient and sustainable resource use, 2. natural capital protection, 3. green economic opportunities, and 4. social inclusion. According to the Green Growth Index, green economic opportunities is Thailand’s weakest green growth dimension. Overall, the country scores a total 64.08 points with highly mixed results ranging from high scores in Access to Basic Services, Social Equity, Environmental Quality and Material Use Efficiency and lower scores in the Green Innovation and Green Trade segments. Green Innovation is the area where Thailand also lags in a regional comparison. This is notable given Thailand’s ambitions to pursue a more value-added economic model, which would be driven by an active innovation ecosystem .
One of the key challenges that Thailand faces is its high vulnerability to the impacts of climate change . Floods are the greatest hazard in terms of economic and human impact in Thailand. For instance, a single flood in 2011 caused a total loss and damages cost of THB1.43 trillion (USD46.5 billion), or equivalent to roughly a 1.1% loss in 2011 GDP. Drought, cyclones, and sea level rise are also major hazards facing the country . At the same time, Thailand is facing challenges related to promoting green growth in its climate actions, such as energy security, energy access, investment, and financing .
Key policies and governance approach
Thailand is in the process of developing its 13th National Economic and Social Development Plan (2023–2027), which will provide the overall development direction for the country. There are four concepts at the centre of the 13th Plan: (i) the sufficiency economy philosophy; (ii) resilience; (iii) leaving no one behind; and (iv) the Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) economic model. This national planning framework also sets out pathways for climate change adaptation and resilience, and decarbonization .
The Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) model is a key mechanism to drive more sustainable production and consumption activity in Thailand . It leverages the country’s strengths in biodiversity and cultural richness and employs technology and innovation to transform Thailand into a value-based and innovation-driven economy . The model has been inspired by the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP), a key pillar of Thailand’s social and economic development which is aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) . The BCG model is being implemented through 4 high-level strategies and 13 measures, and with close collaboration between key government agencies, industries, academia and communities . It aims to promote sustainability of biological resources, strengthen communities and grassroots economy, enhance sustainable competitiveness of Thai BCG industries, and build resilience to global changes . The BCG model focuses on four high priority industries: (i) food and agriculture; (ii) bioenergy and biomaterials; (iii) medical and wellness; and (iv) tourism and creative economy. Specific areas of focus for the model include building value creation with microbial technology and transitioning to a low-carbon and clean-tech economy . The model is expected to create sustainability and inclusiveness to Thailand’s economy, society, and the environment .
Several other government policies also exist in the areas of green economy and inclusive growth in Thailand, such as the National Strategy 2018 - 2037, Climate Change Master Plan (2015 - 2050), Nationally Determined Contribution, Thailand’s Long-term Low Greenhouse Gas Emission Development Strategy, the draft 2nd National Action Plan on Waste Management in Thailand (2022- 2027), and the Draft National Energy Plan, among others .
Successes and remaining challenges
Thailand has developed several strategies, plans and measures related to the green economy, such as the National Economic and Social Development Plan (NESDP), the BCG model, and the Climate Change Master Plan. However, some implementation measures in Thailand remain undeveloped or unclear, as do specific mechanisms for coordination to achieve policy coherence. As a result, Thailand’s green jobs and just transition policy readiness status is uneven, with both viewed as emerging concepts, without widely established definitions or clear institutional mechanisms for developing green jobs. Yet, without the development of the country’s labour force through suitable and up-to-date job skills, greening in Thailand will become difficult to achieve. Currently, there is still limited alignment between the green economy agenda and policies for employment in Thailand. A just transition – achieving sustainability in ways that is “just” to the enterprises, workers and communities involved, so that no one is left behind – requires detailed and inclusive planning, and close alignment between green economy, energy, industrial and employment policies .
In addition, access to green finance remains a high priority for Thailand, but a significant barrier is the lack of investment-ready or bankable projects. Despite an increasing demand for green investment projects, many projects do not meet the private sector investment criteria and, as a result, the required finance is not flowing to green projects. The private sector still sees these green projects as having high implementation risks, and domestic financiers have limited technical capacity to support first-in-line catalytical investments .
Furthermore, the transition towards a BCG Economy and the development of green projects in Thailand is still very much limited to the central government and large enterprises. Local government authorities and small and medium enterprises lack funding and capacity development , as well as access to available technology . Therefore, the Government needs to provide support accordingly . To support green business, the government could also use tax measures to help reduce costs .
Initiatives and Development Plans
The private sector in Thailand has engaged in fundraising for activities promoting biodiversity and sustainable ecosystems. In 2018, TMB Bank issued the 7-year Green Bond valued at 1.85 billion Thai Baht to fund climate-smart projects and activities. The Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) also issued their Green Bond valued at 20 billion Thai Baht between 2020-2024 to fund privately-run afforestation projects that generate income for local communities. The BAAC’s project is expected to increase forest areas by 500,000 rai (800 square kilometres). In 2020, Thailand was successful in crowdfunding during the COVID-19 pandemic. Krungthai Bank (KTB), in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), launched the Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) through the “Koh Tao, Better Together” campaign to generate temporary incomes for vulnerable groups in Koh Tao areas through a Cash for Work mechanism. The mechanism provides small income in return for cleaning beaches and collecting litter. KTB brought QRCode technology to Thailand and was able to raise funds from all sectors within three months (November 2020 - January 2021). Total funds raised reached 92,000 USD, which exceeded the original target of 64,800 USD by 143%. The money coming from Thailand and abroad went to over 200 fishermen .
The first Bio-Circular-Green Complex (public–private partnership) has been initiated under the cooperation of the Ministry of Industry; the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Energy; the Thai Eastern Group; and the Chon Buri local administrative office. This project aims to create 8,000 jobs in three years and 100 billion baht per year in economic value, as well as contribute to grassroots development by promoting community-based renewable energy such as solar-powered water pumps and biogas production from waste .
Thailand joined UN Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) in 2019. In November 2022, PAGE Thailand officially launched the implementation phase of the PAGE Work plan relating to green economic transformation in Thailand. The launch marked an important step in accelerating partnerships and investments towards the green economy and green recovery policies in Thailand. PAGE Thailand is targeting the implementation of the inclusive green economy in five key areas: 1) reduction of carbon emissions and pollution; 2) energy and resource efficiency promotion; 3) biodiversity and ecosystem conservation; 4) decent job creation; and 5) a just transition to equality and prosperity for all. These areas of action are aimed at overcoming the challenges of poverty, social inequality and environmental degradation while generating sustainable economic growth in line with environmentally-friendly and socially just principles .
Goals and Ambitions
The draft National Energy Plan (NEP) 2022 aims to drive Thailand towards carbon neutrality by 2050 , and has the following targets: (i) increase renewable energy to at least 50%; (ii) transition the energy used in transportation to green energy by promoting electric vehicles to reduce GHG emissions and particulate matters; (iii) increase energy efficiency by 30% by utilizing technology and innovation to optimize energy efficiency and management, and (iv) modify the energy business structure to embrace energy transition according to the 4D1E framework (Decarbonization, Digitalization, Decentralization, Deregulation, and Electrification) .
- Unlock green innovation and green trade in Thailand to sustain economic growth .
- Develop definitions and information guidance about green jobs, green skills and a just transition – green job definitions and guidelines on how to establish and assess green jobs in various contexts across the economy should be established and broadly shared. A clear strategy is also required for collecting, analysing, and disseminating data on green jobs and employment impacts of the transition .
- Link skills development with green jobs and the just transition planning agenda – e.g., identifying and developing the appropriate range and volume of skilled individuals to support the energy transition will be a key component for a just transition. Skills development activities will need to be targeted towards those workers and communities currently in carbon intensive sectors to provide the means and access to new labour market opportunities .
- Activate private sector actors for promoting green jobs and just transition – Activating the private sector in developing green jobs will require access to new knowledge, skills as well as incentives (including financial incentives) to spur innovation and to introduce cleaner production and resource efficient activities .
- Individual and institutional capacity-building for just transition planning - To mobilize support and to ensure meaningful participation from workers and business owners, targeted awareness-raising and capacity-building is essential. In addition, capacity-building for policymakers is also critical, since just transition planning will require new sets of skills for each of these groups .
- Blended and concessional green finance mechanisms can play a vital role in developing and implementing green investment projects in Thailand, thereby, contributing to the achievement of climate mitigation and adaptation .
- Develop the policy and regulatory frameworks needed for Thailand to participate in the international carbon market .
- The government should promote green businesses and provide support accordingly. Additionally, the government should provide guidelines and regulations that facilitate reuse and remanufacturing, as well as tax incentives and technological knowledge .
- Identify the best waste-to-resource approach and focus on the development and implementation of viable business models to attract private sector investment. This will increase the flow of private investments for sustainable waste management through sector-specific investment planning, investment project pipeline development, project design and innovative financing instruments .
- Increase recycling and processing final waste streams, with a focus on organic waste, agriculture residues, plastic waste, and hazardous/e-waste .
- Thailand would need to reduce activities in energy-intensive industries, improve end-use energy efficiency, switch fuels, deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies in the power and industrial sectors, expand renewable energy-based technologies and support a renewable energy transition to meet decarbonization goals .
- Low carbon buildings integrating better insulation, tighter building shells, improved designs, more efficient appliances for heating and cooling and transition to natural refrigerants can significantly reduce GHG in Thailand. Shifting to low carbon materials further provide potential for boosting local employment and industries. Greening can also include waste and wastewater solutions and decarbonizing energy demands through solar PV generation that has the potential to cut building energy use and costs .
- Carbon pricing policies such as taxation of carbon intensive construction could promote green building development .
- Green the manufacturing sector in Thailand through activities that reduce resource intensity, new material development and improve the overall circularity in the industry .
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