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How does Thailand contribute to global warming?

How does Thailand contribute to global warming?

Sustainable Planet

In the last decade, the idea of carbon reduction has become mainstream as we as humans have begun to note the enduring threats of climate change in our atmosphere. While certain policies work to reduce our carbon footprint, the production of greenhouse gas emissions are essential in many industrial processes, such as the burning of coal and the use of gas-run automobiles. Some of the world is already developed and can sustain modern styles of living; however, in much of the world, the process of industrialization is essential in improving quality of life. In this sense, the production of greenhouse gasses is necessary in bringing modern opportunities to more of the world.

Over the past thirty years, increases in carbon emissions in some South and East Asian countries have resulted in lower unemployment and lower rates of poverty; Thailand, for example, has seen poverty rates, or percentage of those living under the “poverty line”, decrease from 65% to under 7% in the past fifty years, giving rise to an increase in the nation’s overall quality of life.

Other countries may follow in the footsteps of Thailand, but we must find a happy medium in which nations have the opportunity to move forward while still managing levels of emissions. Looking at data from Thailand’s economy over the past sixty years, we can argue that decreasing levels of carbon emissions in developing countries around the world can have devastating economic consequences, lowering the GDP of these nations, increasing poverty, blocking the countries from reaching their industrial potential, and impacting a wider range of nations working together through international trade. 

Located in SouthEast Asia, Thailand is a nation that, in the past thirty years, has relied heavily on industrialization and the production of carbon emissions in their path to becoming a modern, more advanced country.

Displaying one of the world’s great success stories as it climbed from rags to riches, Thailand has used the development of their industry and service-based economy to grow out of poverty, boasting the 8th largest economy in Asia with a GDP of $505 billion USD, or 16.316 trillion baht. In the early 1960s, the Thanarat Regime in Thailand changed their visions of prosperity and began to seek economic rather than military aid from the U.S.; assistance that stemmed from the U.S. and China drove Thailand to establish economic institutions such as the Thailand Board of Investments, which helped to revive their economy and began their path of success into the 1990s.

Figure 1: Thailand: levels of international trade over the past fifteen years:
How does Thailand contribute to global warming?

Despite struggling in the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, in which the baht slightly depreciated in value, further international aid and a focus on industrialization has helped Thailand’s GDP to grow by over 500% since 1980, providing more economic stability and leaving room to improve politically through their monarchical government. The nation, relying on small and medium-sized enterprises to fuel 80% of their employment, continues to rely on industrialization to supply their economic growth, with their GDP continuing to climb since the crisis of ‘97; however, the still-developing nation is nowhere near where it needs to be.

As 44% of the country still lacks access to the internet, the continuation of Thailand’s industrial boom is necessary in giving their citizens higher qualities of life. Thailand has used their industrial strength to their advantage, doing all they can to fuel a more advanced nation; however, if carbon emissions were cut now, the impact would leave the country far short of where it needs to be. 

Over the past three decades, Thailand has seen a 201% increase in levels of carbon emissions.

As a result of the country doing everything in its power to industrialize, chasing their self-coined “Thailand 4.0”. With this increase in carbon emissions, the country has seen improvements in quality of life, with poverty rates decreasing by 500% since 1965 (see figure 2) and unemployment decreasing by over 50% since 2000.

Since the 1960s, increasing levels of carbon emissions produced by the country have brought great economic benefits, with emission levels inversely linked to poverty and unemployment; as one rises, the other, all things equal, falls. Just before their industrial boom in the 1990s, sixty-million Thai citizens lived in poverty; just fifteen years later, emission levels were up 180%, and under twenty-million citizens lived in poverty. Industrialization has been crucial in the success story of Thailand, with industry and manufacturing contributing to 53.4% of their steadily rising GDP in 2018.

Figure 2: Levels of poverty in SouthEast Asian Countries over the past three decades as compared to countries in Sub-Saharan Africa:
How does Thailand contribute to global warming?

However, Greenhouse Gas emissions have been a byproduct of the process; so, as the world continues to see the necessity of carbon reduction, what will happen to those nations like Thailand who may be just beginning their path to success? If strict lockdowns on carbon emissions should be enacted, environmental benefits will come with the consequence of cutting nations short of their industrial potential. A question arises: is there a way to lower overall carbon emissions while still giving younger nations a chance to modernize?

So, how would the process of cutting carbon emissions bring devastating impacts to the Thai economy and the country’s trading partners specifically? While Thailand has made significant industrial progress since 1980, there is still immense room for improvement. As has been mentioned, 44% of Thai citizens still do not have access to the internet; even after recent industrial growth, Thailand is nowhere near its desired level of development. According to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the country hopes to develop into a society that they have coined “Thailand 4.0”; the term refers to a high-income nation with a more industrial society and a focus on growth and development.

On the same note, the country is in the process of developing robotic manufacturing systems, a breakthrough that would give Thailand the chance to transition from cheap human labor to robotic engineers.

While also “opening up the country to trade opportunities with larger nations”, pushing them closer to their desired society. Since the beginning of the manufacturing process in early 2018, carbon emissions have risen by 48%. The pattern is clear: carbon emissions are a necessary byproduct of industrial progress. A complete cut in carbon emissions would preclude the nation’s engineering progress, blocking them from further development into international trade and new forms of labor.

Thailand’s exports comprise 65% of their GDP, and in 2022 the nation has recorded all-time high levels of international trade (see figure 1); as the increase in trade has come with industrial practices, cutting the nation short of emissions would not only hurt their industry-driven economy but also the nation’s trading partners. In 2020, for example, the US imported $38.6 billion worth of Thai goods, with a two-way trading partnership worth upwards of $50 billion; declining industry in Thailand would give the nation an inability to trade at current levels, a detriment to both the US and Thai economies. Overall, whether it be depriving citizens of modern, technology-rich futures or cutting the nation short of their international trade boom, a drastic reduction in carbon emissions would have devastating economic effects on Thailand and the nations with which it is connected through trade. 

So, to tackle the big question: how can we deal with the environmental impact of carbon emissions while also giving developing nations adequate time to build a foundation grounded in industry?

To note, Thailand has seen devastating environmental disasters plague their country over the past two decades; however, a rise in industrial growth and carbon emissions have been the main catalysts of change for the country’s economy, bringing them out of poverty and maintaining a steady rise in GDP. To take this research further, are there any recommendations we can make? Well, the Paris Agreement, signed in November 2016, does a wonderful job of balancing both sides of the impacts of carbon emissions.

Signing of Paris Agreement.

While the agreement aims to reduce emissions country-by-country, it admits that the “fairness of these contributions will be determined by national circumstances”, suggesting that developing nations will be given a grace period in which they may develop an industrial foundation for themselves. The agreement, while requiring great financial contributions from different nations, efficiently tackles the question of climate change while still taking into account those nations that cannot afford to stop industrialization.

Throughout the world, the one hundred countries that produce the least amount of carbon emissions contribute to a mere 3.6% of global emissions, whereas the top three emitters, the US, the EU, and China, are responsible for over 40% of carbon waste. As the Paris Agreement goes into effect, the developed nations that continue to emit excessive carbon gasses, such as the US, must take action; by making a change now, smaller nations will be given a buffer, providing them with the best opportunity possible to industrialize as the world works toward net-zero emissions. 

How does Thailand contribute to global warming?

Written by Thomas Heath

Sustainable Planet

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How does Thailand contribute to global warming?

Sustainable Planet