Opinion: Thailand Faces Polycrisis: A Closer Look at the Multi-Faceted Challenges

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In September, the Global Shaper Bangkok Hub hosted the SHAPE APAC 2023 conference to highlight that Thailand is also facing a ‘polycrisis.’

But what is a polycrisis?

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2023 used the term to explain how “present and future risks can interact with each other to form a ‘polycrisis’ – a cluster of related global risks with compounding effects, such that the overall impact exceeds the sum of each part.”

Jonathan Wong, Schwab Social Innovator and Chief of Innovation, Enterprise & Investment at UN ESCAP, said during the seminar that the polycrisis is acute in the Asia-Pacific region because the region is the most disaster-prone area.

At the heart of the report is the annual Global Risks Perception Survey (GRPS), which brings together insights from over 1,200 experts. When asked to rank the most severe short- and long-term risks over the next 2 to 10 years, respondents identified the cost-of-living crisis as the most severe immediate risk but saw the failure to mitigate the climate crisis as the biggest risk 10 years from now. These include:

2 years:

  1. Cost of living
  2. Natural disasters and extreme weather events
  3. Geo-economic confrontation
  4. Failure to mitigate climate change
  5. Erosion of social cohesion and social polarization
  6. Large-scale environmental damage incidents
  7. Failure of climate change adaptation
  8. Widespread cybercrime and cybersecurity
  9. Natural resources crises
  10. Large-scale involuntary migration

10 years:

  1. Failure to mitigate climate change
  2. Failure of climate-change adaptation
  3. Natural disasters and extreme weather events
  4. Biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse
  5. Large-scale involuntary migration
  6. Natural resources crises
  7. Erosion of social cohesion and social polarization
  8. Widespread cybercrime and cybersecurity
  9. Geo-economic confrontation
  10. Large-scale environmental damage incidents

Looking at Thailand, we are already facing the cost of living crisis due to income inequality, where the rich continue to get richer while the poor continue to be poor with a low quality of education in public schools.

The impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic and rising global oil prices after the Ukraine-Russia conflict have led to more debt and higher living costs, which is why low-income earners are asking for higher wages and debt moratorium measures.

Natural disasters are now a norm with annual flooding and drought, while the upcoming El-Niño phenomenon is expected to exacerbate the drought problems over the next 3 years, and possibly even 6 years if we hit the worst-case scenario.

Meanwhile, our capital, Bangkok, is sinking, and we have yet to even imagine that we might have to relocate our capital the same way that Indonesia is going to move its capital from Jakarta to Borneo by 2045.

The erosion of social cohesion and social polarization is more than evident, and the problem is being made worse when the people’s mandate was once again robbed by appointed officials after the election in May. The country is now divided between the conservative establishment that happily mingles with the military, while pro-democracy believers continue to hope that one day there will be major political change that they aspire for.

The current government has failed to mitigate this social and political division since the start because they are a part of the problem, and from the look of it, the problem will continue to grow with more and more people being put into jail because their beliefs are different from the conservative government and the military.

Widespread cybercrime certainly already exists in Thailand, and the problem is getting worse every day, with more and more people being defrauded by online and call center scams. State agencies are being hacked left and right, and if poor cybersecurity continues to exist at the governing level, the hackers will hit the motherlode one day.

Large-scale involuntary migration is already happening next door in Myanmar, and if the Thai government continues to ignore the genocide while happily working and compromising with the Myanmar junta, the problem will eventually grow bigger and will impact Thailand even more, with more Myanmar soldiers crossing over their borders and more drugs flowing in from the Shan State.

The experts at the World Economic Forum might not always know what they are talking about, but the warning against the failure to mitigate climate change and the failure of climate-change adaptation are certainly sound, and the government should continue to work to address them.

Supporting electric vehicles is a good start, but we also have to think about how to support renewable energy. More money needs to be put into the cure for our fossil fuels addiction. For example, more subsidies are needed for the installation of solar rooftops for households, businesses, and factories. If the earth is going to get hotter, solar is the answer for Thailand, and we should try to wean off oil and gas as soon as possible.

New terms such as ‘poly-crisis’ will continue to be invented to address the same problems, but the idea of getting people from all fields to come together to help solve these problems that have been mentioned is still useful to some extent, as witnessed at the SHAPE APAC 2023 conference.

“SHAPE APAC 2023 serves as a rallying point for our collective mission: to proactively address a spectrum of risks, and work collaboratively towards resolving these common challenges,” said Khun Kongphan (Tri) Pramoj Na Ayudhaya, a co-founding curator of Global Shapers Community Bangkok and Director of Sasin Entrepreneurship Center.


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