Climate Talks in Bangkok

BANGKOK, 2 April, 2008: This week, climate negotiators are in Bangkok hammering out a workplan which will allow them to reach a new set of agreements by the end of 2009. Contrary to some reports, the Kyoto Protocol does not end in 2012 – it is simply the end of the first commitment period and all so-called Annex 1 (mainly industrialized) countries are legally required to commit to new binding emission reductions targets.

At this early stage, the meetings are low key, but the subterranean current seems to be a continuation of Bali – the rich countries are trying to avoid their responsibilities, while the developing countries are desperately trying to get them to meet their existing commitments on mitigation, finance and technology.

The seemingly arcane discussion about the order of the workplan is key: the EU and the US want to start with a decision on global targets while the G77 and China wants to lead with decisions on finance and technology. Clearly the Annex 1 countries are keen to see some of the major emitters from the South take on ambitious, albeit voluntary, targets as part of a global package, while developing countries want to see the money and the technology on the table before they commit to anything. Given the history of international negotiations, the G77's scepticism is justified.

Away from the UN conference centre, at a panel discussion on climate justice, Witoon Permpongsacharoen – a longtime energy and anti-dam activist from Thailand – highlighted the bizarre disjuncture between the facts of the global warming and Thailand's ambitious 15 year energy plan.The Thai government projects that energy demand in the next 15 years will rise exponentially, with an average increase in peak demand of 1844 MW a year for 2007-2021, despite the fact that the average increase in peak demand in the past 15 years has been only 914 MW a year (and with an actual decline in demand in the financial-crisis years of 1998 and 1999).The plan includes nuclear, more coal and gas-fired power plants, and a huge expansion in 'biofuels' (most of which would be grown outside of Thailand in neighbouring, and much poorer, Laos, Burma and Cambodia).

Inexplicably, renewables, such as biomass, solar and small hydro, are capped at unnecessarily low levels. Witoon projects that under this extravagant energy plan, Thailand's carbon dioxide emissions would double from 2007 levels of just over 80 million tonnes to almost 160 million tonnes by 2021.Underlying this is the assumption that Thailand's economy must continue to grow, and that that growth must be fed by energy. There is no strategy to increase efficiency, reduce demand, manage supply, or maximize the potential of renewables; much less a discussion about the broader social objectives or environmental impacts of endless economic growth. There appears to be no basis for the energy plan, other than the obsession with growth, the megalomania of policy makers, and the greed of the energy industry.

Of course Thailand is not the only country where energy policy is totally out of sync with the imperatives of climate change, but the tragedy is that it need not be so. There are so many viable energy alternatives. It seems that even the reality of longer droughts, hotter summers and heavier floods does not concentrate the minds of Thailand's policy makers, but they are not alone judging from the meagre outcomes of the Bangkok climate change talks. Maybe by Friday there will be some good news.

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