Thailand and its Climate Change Burden

Image by Remi Deligeon; Thailand Lush Beaches and Boat

Natural Beauty as Far as the Eye can Witness

Thailand, known by many as a place of longing for travel, with its lush beaches, clear water, and tropical temperatures. The rich natural beauty of Thailand is drawing many to its shores, from student backpackers to highly skilled ex-pats. It seems as if Garden Eden manifested on this point of earth and there is hardly anything to compare it with. There is a lot of beauty in the world, but hardly any compares to that of Thailand’s rich nature and ecosystems.

But this eternal beauty is at risk. With vastly rising temperatures and changes in the annual precipitation, Thailand is facing the impacts of man’s made climate change. Thailand’s NDC Status Reports states it as one of 16 countries in the extreme risk category for climate change impacts. Those impacts are already tangible for many Thai, with floods getting more frequent and on average more hot days per year. Those and other effects will worsen over the coming years and with that Thailand, its government, and the population of around 70 million have to adapt [1].

Thailand Jungle Forest Waterfall

Image by Patsakorn Keaophengkro; Thailand Jungle and Waterfall

The Drastic Effects of a Changing Climate in Thailand

There are four main risks of climate change and its impact on Thailand. Those would be drought, flooding, coastal erosion, and landslide.

Drought

Droughts occur in the dry season from November to April. The high temperatures and solar insolation are ideal for agriculture. The crops have to be irrigated and as there is not much rain in that time period, the water has to be taken from dams that save up the water of the prior wet season from May to October. Though saving up water in the dams is not as easy as it sounds. As it is hard to predict the exact amount of rainfall in the wet season and the river’s streamflow, especially in the second half of the rain season, it is more or less a prediction between saving up enough water while also not risking flooding of the dams. Through higher irrigation caused by warmer temperatures throughout the world, precipitation will rise, though most likely not in the dry season. Though the higher water demand of agriculture caused by the hot air will lead to serious trouble with droughts and will potentially lead to a decrease of crop yield, especially the important rice yield [2].

Flooding

As if an increase of drought risk was not enough, due to the same reasons the risk of flooding will rise, and destructive impact will increase. Due to the increase of humidity in the air caused by higher irrigation of surface water throughout the world, the rainfall in the rainy season will intensify. Especially North, North-East and Central Thailand will be affected by floods. As the sloops there are rather gentle, the water stream is rather slow and with increased precipitation, water can build up in the region and flood major parts of the land. This is especially worrisome for Bangkok, which is yearly facing problems with flooding. This will increase with rising river levels as well as sea levels, additionally pushing water back into the city [2].

Fooding Thailand Province

Image by Shanni Wallis; Thailand Province Flooded

Coastal Erosion

Not only the buzzing city of Bangkok is in danger but also the beautiful long coastline of Thailand with its sandy beaches. Beaches are formed through the transportation from river sediments by the water banks to the coastal areas. The Chao Phraya River is the largest river flowing into the Bay of Thailand. Its transport of sediments is strongly hampered through several large dams along the river. Furthermore, it is expected that the rising sea levels will wash away 72% of the total sandy beaches. This is not only a possible, sad reality for tourism but also villages and cities are endangered by the coastal erosions [2].

Landslide

Thailand’s mountain regions in the North and South also face the trouble of increased danger of landslides. The possibility of landslides is increased by higher precipitation and lower land cover. Even though cutting down natural forests is legally banned, traditional slash-and-burn agriculture is kept up in the regions. This and stronger rainfall have increased the chance of landslides. Even though the possible impacts are not studied well enough so far, it can be said that the increase of landslides will mean more sediments in the river and dams, which will then lead to lower water storage capacity and decreased water flow, just adding to the drought and flooding problem earlier discussed [2].

Dry Fields Thailand

Image by Juan Pablo de Vincente Gonzalez; Thailand Dry Fields

Socio-Economic Impacts of the Climate Change

After having a brief understanding of the overall consequences of climate change for Thailand. We can take a closer look at social and economic impacts in different areas of Thailand.

Impact on Rural Areas

Around 30% of Thailand depends on agriculture directly. In 2015, around 12 million Thai worked in this sector. Agriculture is not only affected by floods and droughts, destroying harvests every year, but as mentioned rice is the most important crop for Thai people and needs specific climate conditions to grow properly. The loss of harvest already spans from 25 to 425 million euros per year [3].

Impact on Urban Areas

Urban areas but especially Bangkok face the threat of increased flooding. But Bangkok does not only face the problem of too much water at times but also their freshwater supply in the dry season is in danger. For example, in the droughts of 2014 and 2015, several waterwork stations in Bangkok had to stop because of a lack of fresh water and saltwater intrusion. Another devastating effect on the inhabitants of major cities is the urban heat island effect. This will mean a rise in temperature in agglomerations and will lead to health problems and lower labor productivity due to a higher risk for heat strokes [3].

Impact on Coastal Areas

Thailand is especially at risk of rising sea levels. Due to a high population density around the coast, with an expected seal level rise of 1m, around 1.4 million people are going to be impacted by it directly. An especially sensitive area for rising sea levels would be the Mangrove forests on the seaward side of Krabi’s coastline. With rising sea levels and a change of salinity in the water, much of the forest’s area will be lost [3].

Thailand’s Plan concerning Climate Change Impacts

Thailand is severely vulnerable, as shown throughout the article. Though Thailand’s government is aware of those facts and has introduced several strategies and is working on many projects to adapt to climate change. Thailand’s Climate Change Master Plan (CCMP) is the highest-level policy document guiding the national climate change response from the timescale of 2015 till 2050. It is supported by the Agriculture Strategic Plan on Climate Change, contributed by SCALA, a project by the UNDP for Climate Change Adaption [4]. Thailand’s National Adaption Plan (NAP) has priorities in 6 sectors: water resource management, agriculture and food security, tourism, public health, natural resource management, and human settlements and security. All sectors aim for higher resilience to climate change for the protection of the public but to also secure economic growth in the future [1].

On paper, those plans look like a great idea though the realization of those projects is often difficult. Even though there are studies on the impact of climate change on several regions in Thailand, a general database for the entirety of Thailand’s state is missing. With that, it is difficult to estimate the impact of what projects in one region will have on other regions. For example, the fight against droughts in the dry season. For this, Thailand is planning several more water reservoirs to store the water of the wet season. With that, it could fuel other problems such as the erosion of coastal regions and riverbeds as with the collection of water masses in the wet season and the extensive damming of rivers, the sediment flow will be critically reduced [1]. Overall the country has to start somewhere though it has to keep in mind the manmade impacts as well.

Flooding Thailand

Image by Snorker Shipmate; Thailand Flooded Region

Even the Little Things Add Up

Though the work to minimize the impact of climate change should not only be carried out by the government and its institutes. Travelers should think about this as well when they come to Thailand and enjoy the beautiful nature. Maybe don’t fly several thousand miles to Phuket for a Full-Moon Party and drink as much booze till you can’t stand on your own two feet but rather visit an eco-sustainable hotel and enjoy the beautiful nature. But it does not even need to be that. Prevention of climate change starts with small steps every one of us can take. Don’t buy that many exotic fruits or fish that have been shipped thousands of miles throughout the world. Don’t buy the cheap plastic version maybe opt-out for a sustainable, eco-friendly version. When it is great weather, enjoy the sun and walk or bike. Let your car at home or choose flights that are more eco-friendly due to added environmental costs. There is so much, each and every one of us can contribute every day and it is important we do so, not only to stop climate change and save the beauty and people in Thailand but throughout the world.

Thai Children Walking in Fields

Image by Sasin Tipchai; Thai Children Walking in Field

Sources

[1] Bhuridej, R. (2020). Thailand Updated Nationally Determined Contribution. In UNFCC. Retrieved from  https://www4.unfccc.int/sites/ndcstaging/PublishedDocuments/Thailand%20First/Thailand%20Updated%20NDC.pdf

[2] Kiguchi, M., Takata, K., Hanasaki, N., Archevarahuprok, B., Champathong, A., Ikoma, E., … Shirakawa, H. (2021). A review of climate-change impact and adaptation studies for the water sector in Thailand. Environmental Research Letters, 16(2), 023004. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/abce80

[3] Naruchaikusol, S. (2016). Climate Change and its impact in Thailand A short overview on actual and potential impacts of the changing climate in Southeast Asia Climate Change in Thailand Background on Thailand. Retrieved from http://www.transre.org/application/files/7415/4411/3781/Climate_Change_in_Thailand_TransRe_Fact_Sheet_No._2.pdf

[4] (n.d.). SCALA Thailand | UNDP Climate Change Adaptation. Retrieved October 21, 2021, from www.adaptation-undp.org website: https://www.adaptation-undp.org/project/scala-thailand

 

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