Is Thailand’s ‘Clean Air Act’ Sufficient to Eradicate Pollution?

Is Thailand's 'Clean Air Act' Sufficient to Eradicate Pollution

Explore if Thailand's 'Clean Air Act' packs the punch to eliminate pollution. Discover its impact on air quality in this insightful analysis.

Thailand’s air pollution problem has long been a concern for environmental groups, who have been advocating for new legislation to address the issue. Finally, the kingdom’s Cabinet has given its endorsement to a bill that aims to improve air quality.

Earlier this month, Thai lawmakers approved the bill, paving the way for parliamentary debates on the draft legislation. This is a significant step forward in the fight against Thailand’s poor air quality.

The need for such a law is evident when considering the alarming pollution levels in the country. Both Bangkok, the capital, and Chiang Mai, a northern city, have frequently ranked among the most polluted cities in the world in 2023.

The main cause of this pollution is the burning of stubble by farmers in preparation for the next crop season. This practice releases PM 2.5 dust, which contains a high concentration of fine particulate matter, posing a serious health risk.

With the new legislation, Thailand aims to tackle this issue and improve the air quality for its citizens. While the full operational details of the law are yet to be determined, it represents a positive stride in addressing the nation’s air pollution issue.

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Thai PM places emphasis on clean air legislation

After the Cabinet approved it, the proposed law must still undergo debates and overcome several obstacles before it can be enacted.

However, Pravit Rojanaphruk, a respected journalist and analyst in Thailand, remains skeptical that a new law alone would provide a definitive solution.

“Over the past few years, the Thai population has grappled with a pressing issue—air pollution, specifically the concerning presence of PM 2.5 microdust particles. Expressing a note of caution, it may be premature to anticipate an immediate resolution to this challenge with the impending passage of the draft Clean Air Bill,” he asserted.

The World Health Organization advises that the annual average concentration of fine particulate pollution should not exceed five micrograms per cubic meter of air. A microgram stands as a diminutive counterpart, measuring a mere thousandth of the weight attributed to a milligram.

According to the Ministry of Health in Thailand, approximately 2 million individuals sought medical treatment in 2023 due to air pollution.

Recognizing the adverse impact of poor air quality on Thai citizens, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has prioritized the clean air bill.

IQAir, a Swiss-based air quality company, reports that cities in Thailand rank among the most polluted globally.

Bangkok was ranked among the top 5 cities last year. The main causes of urban pollution in the capital city are heavy traffic, ongoing construction work, emissions from factories, and the burning of trash.

Pravit highlighted that, despite the increasing popularity of electric vehicles, the number of gasoline-powered vehicles and their exhaust emissions continue to rise.

He further emphasized that vehicle emissions and dust from construction sites are major contributors to Thailand’s air pollution.

Pravit mentioned that there is currently no dedicated NGO or civic group solely focused on addressing this issue.

He explained that one reason for this could be that the problem is seasonal, primarily occurring during the dry season from November to April. Once the rainy season begins, the issue subsides. Additionally, some individuals perceive the problem as too complex to be effectively solved.

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Finding solutions to Thailand’s pollution problems

Kornkanok Wathanabhoom, the Mekong Legal Coordinator at EarthRights International, emphasized the need for a decentralized approach to address Thailand’s pollution problems. She pointed out that the central government’s perspective from Bangkok may not be applicable to all areas in Thailand, as each region has its own unique challenges. To effectively combat pollution, Kornkanok suggested granting more power to local authorities or governors to develop strategies for fire prevention and other methods to reduce burning.

In addition, Kornkanok highlighted the importance of adopting new technologies. She proposed that if consumers are willing to pay a higher price for end products, there may be no need for stubble burning. For instance, instead of burning sugar cane, which is a common practice due to its convenience, farmers could opt for alternative methods that do not involve burning. By increasing the cost of products and raising awareness about the need to protect our health, the demand for air purifiers or face masks could potentially decrease.

Environmental groups have also been advocating for the implementation of the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) in Thailand. This database would provide information on pollutants released into the atmosphere by factories, including air, water, and ground pollutants. Kornkanok fully supports the establishment of the PRTR, as it would enable people to access crucial information and develop preventive measures specific to their affected areas, with the guidance of the Ministry of Public Health.

However, if Thailand were to implement the clean air law, it would still face obstacles in holding individuals or businesses accountable for exceeding the limits set by the legislation.

Thailand shares borders with several neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, such as Laos and Myanmar.

According to Rojanaphruk, one of the contributing factors to air pollution is the burning of agricultural waste, not only in Thailand but also in neighboring countries like Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. Convincing these countries to take action may prove challenging if they are not willing to cooperate.

Kornkanok also expressed concerns about enforcing the regulation. Maize agriculture poses a challenge due to the transboundary haze it causes. The burning of corn feed for animal seeds and the cultivation of sugar plantations in Laos and Myanmar influence pollution in the northern region of Thailand.

Furthermore, there is difficulty in taking legal action against individuals or businesses outside of Thailand. It would be challenging for them to appear in Thai courts. Effectively enforcing a law is crucial because a law holds no meaning if authorities cannot enforce it in reality.

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