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Sudden blast of super-hot days a climate wake-up call for Thailand, say experts

Written by World News

The number of “super-hot days” has been increasing every year in Thailand, culminating in double the rate of heatstroke deaths this year.

Global temperatures have been on the rise since the industrial revolution, notes Dr Witsanu Attavanich, a Kasetsart University lecturer and climate-change expert.

“This year, the world is encountering its highest [average] temperature in 175 years,” he said.

In Thailand, at least 30 people died from heatstroke during the first two months of this year’s hot season (March-April), as reported by the Public Health Ministry. This contrasts with 37 fatalities recorded during the entire hot season (March-June) last year.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization estimates that about 14,000 elderly Thais will die due to heat-related issues by 2080.

“We may have survived the hottest day in 2024, but we will have to suffer hotter days for longer periods in the future,” Witsanu warned.

Forecasts suggest that Thailand’s sweltering summers may drag on until October in the future, instead of easing in June with the arrival of rain.

In the past, temperatures would rise beyond 35 degrees Celsius (95F) for just 10 to 15 days per year in Bangkok, pointed out Assoc Prof Dr Seree Supharatid, director of Rangsit University’s Climate Change and Disaster Center.

But current trends indicate the number of super-hot days will likely extend to three months every year in the foreseeable future, he added.

“Climate change is impacting Thailand, and now we have to learn how to adapt and survive in the increasingly hot weather,” he said.

Weather-prediction models indicate that Thailand could hit temperatures of 50C in the next 60 years, smashing the current record of 44.6C.

Global heating worsens inequality

Witsanu said rising global temperatures will also worsen inequality since poorer people will have fewer means to deal with climate change impacts.

For instance, small-scale farmers will not be able to afford new crop species that can withstand hotter weather conditions, or irrigation systems that lessen the impact of drought. Hence, the government needs to step up efforts to cushion the impacts of climate change for them, he said.

“Farms that are in well-irrigated zones can have two or three growing seasons each year.

But farms outside these zones may barely manage just one. After sowing seeds, volatile weather conditions mean they have no guarantee of a successful harvest.”

Other impacts

The list of impacts from climate change runs long. Witsanu warned that Thailand’s tourism industry, for instance, may be badly hit by the climbing temperatures.

“If tourists find Thailand too hot, they will just choose destinations with better weather,” said the lecturer, who also has a master’s in economics.

Meanwhile, coral bleaching from rising temperatures will damage the appeal of Thailand’s many diving destinations, he said.

“When that happens, tourism businesses will feel the pinch.”

Witsanu warned that Thailand is also at the risk of large floods like the deluge that hit United Arab Emirates in mid-April.

The Dubai flood was blamed on the El Niño phenomenon caused by hotter-than-average sea temperatures in parts of the Pacific Ocean.

The higher sea temperature adds more moisture to the atmosphere, making heavy rainfall more likely.

Some areas of Dubai recorded more than 250mm of rain in less than 24 hours, the heaviest rainfall in 75 years.

“We know that similar floods will happen in Thailand. It’s just a question of when,” Witsanu said.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has repeatedly warned of more severe impacts from climate change in the years ahead.

And studies suggest Thailand will rank among the worst-hit countries, given that agriculture remains the backbone of the economy.

“Currently, a third of Thailand’s workforce is in the agricultural sector, which is vulnerable to climate change,” Witsanu explained.

If the country’s agricultural sector falters, its export sector and food security will be in jeopardy too, he added.

‘Carbon credits won’t halt warming’

Witsanu said that though investing in carbon credits helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it would not protect the world from getting hotter in the future.

“Once greenhouse gases are in the atmosphere, they linger there for up to 200 years. So, the impacts will certainly be felt for a longer time,” he added.

However, carbon credits in projects that reduce, avoid or remove emissions could ease the impact of climate change in the long run, he said.

What can Thailand do?

Witsanu said the Thai government is not paying serious attention to combating the climate crisis.

He pointed out that while many countries have targeted net zero emissions by 2050, Thailand has set its target to 2065.

“I’m not even sure if the government will actually pursue it,” the lecturer said.

The government is however preparing a Climate Change Bill.

This draft law aims to lower the emission of greenhouse gases and prepare the country, especially small-scale farmers, for the impact of climate breakdown.

The government has also pledged to achieve carbon neutrality or reduce carbon emissions by 2050.

Drought-flood extremes

Witsanu advised Thai farmers to delay the start of planting season this year because rains are expected to arrive late. Due to El Niño, little rainfall is expected in May and less than usual from June to August.

However, once La Niña arrives in September, Thailand can expect more rain than average.

“Rainfall will likely peak in September, so we’ll have to watch out for floods that month,” he said.

The World Meteorological Organization has underlined the scale of climate impacts over the past half a century.

From 1970 to 2021, the world suffered 3,612 disasters attributed to weather, climate and water extremes, killing 984,263 people and causing US$1.4 trillion in economic losses, according to its recent report.

The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) said March this year was the warmest month the world has ever experienced.

According to C3S, the average surface air temperature for March stood at 14.14C, or 0.73C above the 1991-2020 average and 0.1C above the previous highest March temperature in 2016.

Surface air temperature is measured at 2 metres above ground or ocean surface.

The average global temperature over the past 12 months (April 2023-March 2024) has been the highest on record, 0.7C above the 1991-2020 average and 1.58C above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk

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