Thailand’s LNG addiction derails its climate actions


Despite commitments to increase the share of renewable energy to combat climate change and promises to adhere to the 1.5°C target outlined by the Paris Agreement, Thailand’s appetite for liquefied natural gas (LNG) tells a different story, putting the country’s sustainable future in jeopardy.

In 2023, Thailand experienced a notable surge in LNG imports, reaching 22.9 million cubic meters (MCM) by October, a significant increase from the previous year’s record of 19.8 MCM, as reported by Kpler. This surge propelled Thailand from the eleventh to the eighth position among global LNG importers, reflecting a growth rate of up to 25% compared to the same period in 2022. Interestingly, Thailand distinguished itself among Asian nations by expanding its LNG imports, in contrast to others that reduced their purchases due to price hikes following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

The primary driver behind Thailand’s spike in LNG imports, which have surged by 127% since 2019, is its heavy dependence on LNG for electricity generation. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), natural gas constituted roughly 62.2% of Thailand’s total electricity output in 2021. IEA data also indicates a notable surge in the utilization of LNG for power generation within the country, marking a 78% increase from 2000 to 2021, with overall gas imports experiencing a staggering 685% rise over the same timeframe. One contributing factor to the consistent growth in gas-based electricity production in Thailand stems from the diminishing reliance on coal-fired power generation in the national energy mix, which decreased from approximately 20% in 2022 to around 16% in 2023.

According to findings from Ember, an independent energy research institute, while the decline in coal-fired electricity generation led to a reduction of about 2.5 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) during the initial 8 months of 2023 compared to the corresponding period in 2022, this accomplishment was counterbalanced by a simultaneous increase of over 5 million tons of GHGs from gas-powered generation during the same period. Therefore, despite Thailand’s halt on coal power production, the country’s power sector’s emissions remain as high as ever.

Oil and gas-exporting nations have actively advocated for natural gas as a viable energy option amid the shift towards cleaner energy, emphasizing its significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions compared to coal when used for power generation. Consequently, many developing and advanced economies in Asia, such as Thailand, consider it a crucial interim fuel, enabling them to reduce carbon emissions while keeping power and energy prices affordable.

Thailand has adopted liquefied natural gas (LNG) as its primary energy source, largely due to the discovery of offshore natural gas reserves in the Gulf of Thailand following the oil crisis of the 1970s. This has prompted the establishment of an extensive gas transmission infrastructure, featuring a robust network of national gas pipelines linking onshore and offshore gas fields to power plants, gas separation plants (GSPs), and industrial users.

Since 1998, Thailand has been importing natural gas from Myanmar, and since 2011, it has begun importing LNG from countries abundant in fossil fuels to offset its declining gas reserves. Despite the decline in domestic gas production, Thailand aspires to position itself as a regional LNG hub, as outlined in its Natural Gas Management Plan 2018-2037. For instance, PTT Public Company Limited, a Thai state-owned oil and gas company listed on the SET, announced a $2.86 billion investment in ‘clean energy’ in 2023. However, it was revealed that the majority of this investment comprises the construction of additional LNG import terminals and pipelines.

Amidst the surge in natural gas prices following the Russo-Ukrainian conflict and political unrest in Myanmar, Thailand’s heavy reliance on liquefied natural gas (LNG) has become increasingly precarious, potentially locking the country into continued LNG imports despite price volatility. With the ongoing decline in the costs of renewable energy and storage technologies, Thailand’s investment in gas appears economically unwise and increasingly untenable.

Recent findings from the Ember Global Electricity Review reveal that Vietnam’s recent endeavors in rapidly deploying solar and wind energy have proven effective in meeting the escalating demand for electricity while simultaneously reducing reliance on fossil fuels within the generation mix. In 2021 alone, the country experienced a remarkable 337% surge in solar generation, contributing to notable declines in both coal and gas usage.

Moreover, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has reported that renewable energy projects initiated by emerging economies in 2020 are anticipated to yield savings of up to US$156 billion over their operational lifetimes. This underscores the significance of accelerating the adoption of renewables, offering a more cost-effective and expeditious pathway to decarbonizing power systems compared to the construction and eventual decommissioning of fossil fuel infrastructure.

The Thai government’s energy planners are poised to unveil an updated Power Development Plan (PDP) aimed at bolstering support for and advancement of renewable energy sources. This forthcoming plan, slated for the period spanning 2023 to 2037, will supersede the prior PDP introduced in 2018. Originally scheduled for release in mid-2023, its unveiling has been delayed by several months, likely attributed to the country’s recent electoral processes.

The revised PDP sets forth ambitious targets, envisioning renewables accounting for 50% of the nation’s energy portfolio by 2036. A significant leap from the mere 11% share renewables held in the energy mix back in 2011. Additionally, the new plan contemplates the incorporation of nuclear energy into Thailand’s energy landscape, although uncertainties persist regarding the feasibility and complexities involved in kickstarting a nascent nuclear power sector.

Despite Thailand’s high vulnerability to climate change impacts, the country has not shown strong commitments to addressing the issue. According to the long-term climate risk index by Germanwatch, an independent environmental organization, Thailand ranks ninth in the “extreme risk” category, indicating its susceptibility to future climate change impacts over the next three decades. Particularly concerning is the threat posed by rising sea levels to its capital, Bangkok. Additionally, with the agricultural sector contributing 6% to GDP and employing around 30% of the total workforce, extreme weather events like floods and droughts are especially worrisome, particularly for vulnerable rural communities.

According to the Climate Action Tracker, a thinktank monitoring government climate actions, the country has a history of showing too little commitment despite its good intentions. More recently at COP 26 in 2021, the Thai government set a goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and a net‑zero GHG emission target in 2065, placing it among laggards. It, however, did not sign an agreement to end deforestation by 2030.

Despite Thailand’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions accounting for less than 1% of global emissions and per capita emissions being lower than the world average, there is a growing sense of urgency for more ambitious climate policies. Given its status as the largest economy in mainland Southeast Asia and the second-largest economy in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Thailand is often seen as a regional leader capable of setting examples in the transition to a low-carbon economy and climate policy implementation. Therefore, Thailand’s substantial reliance on LNG raises concerns among proponents of renewable energy in the region.  


As a communicator and researcher at Climate Finance Network Thailand, Kongpob brings a dynamic background in journalism, specializing in human rights and environmental issues. With an educational background in International Relations and Applied Economics, he has seamlessly merged a passion for reading and outdoor activities with a commitment to understanding the intersection of finance and climate change.