Climate Change and Bangkok

It’s increasingly known that to solve a problem like climate change, the international community needs to rally together to reduce our carbon emissions. I am currently in Bangkok and it has been fascinating for me to see the ways that mitigation is, and isn’t, being delivered. The effects of climate change are already being felt across Thailand; in particular, droughts are leading to lower crop yields and higher prices of food, which subsequently pushes the quality of life for rural residents further down. Thailand may even have to abandon an uninhabitable Bangkok by 2200 and has been described as one of Asia’s most vulnerable cities to climate change. So why, in a country which is developing so fast and feeling the impacts of a changing world, are more people not worried about climate change?
One thing is immediately apparent in Bangkok: the car is king. Pedestrian bridges are built infrequently across roads so that traffic doesn’t have to stop when people cross. Where traffic lights do exist, it is a traffic controlling measure rather than a pedestrian aid, so vehicles often disobey a red light. Trains leaving Bangkok even stop to allow the last few cars across the tracks before they carry on. As a result, congestion is a huge problem and air pollution can be a very serious issue. You would have thought then that public transport would be the best way to get across such a vast city, but the new economic heart is not at all well connected to the old city (something we hadn’t thought when booking a hostel in the former!).

The car is king!

Bangkok does at least make very good use of their river and canals, with express boats operating like trains (although 100x more exhilarating!). But the recently developed SkyTrain (a vast concrete metro system that runs 20m above major roads) has just 2 lines and the underground metro just one. Ask any local what the best way to your destination is and you’ll be shown the nearest taxi or tuk tuk.

I’m no town planner and I know very little about the development of Bangkok, but from having eyes on the ground for a few days now, cars and motorbikes seem deeply embedded into the running of the city and it seems silly to live here without one. This is precisely the kind of social behaviour that must be changed in order to combat the climate problem. I get the impression that as Bangkok becomes more developed it is looking to drastically improve its public transport, but the short-term additions of CO2 from the huge infrastructure that needs to be created will be massive.

Bangkok’s reliance on air conditioning – like many other hot cities in the world – is creating an unsustainable way of consuming energy. I’ve often wondered why major hot cities that rely so much on artificial cooling don’t have solar panels on their buildings to power them. Simple answer is the cost. Thailand is stuck in a grey area of wanting to develop , but not having the capital to do so sustainably. Should it be our role, as fellow citizens of Earth to provide this capital? Many think not, but for the sake of our changing climate, perhaps it’s the only way.

Please note: These are solely my observations as a tourist to Bangkok. Feel free to get in touch @LTaylor1995 to discuss!


One comment

  1. Great post and opinion. When I was in that city several years ago the air quality was very poor too – lots of smog and pollution from still air conditions. Most of it must be a result of the traffic pollution and it would certainly make sense to build a clean urban transit system although these are very big multi million dollar investments which is always a challenge in any city whether it be developed or rapidly developing. It is highly likely that Chinese money will pay for many schemes over the coming years.

    Integrating solar in any development would make sense too – it makes more sense where much energy is expended on cooling in the day time.


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