Thailand is facing a significant air pollution problem, particularly in urban areas such as Bangkok. The primary sources of air pollution are vehicle emissions, construction activities, industrial processes, and burning of agricultural waste. The country also experiences transboundary haze from neighboring countries. Fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, is the most concerning air pollutant as it can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause serious health issues, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. During past years, Thai government has implemented various measures to combat air pollution, including promoting the use of public transportation, restricting heavy vehicles during high pollution periods, and enforcing emission standards for factories and vehicles. However, the problem remains a significant public health concern and more action to mitigate the harmful effects of air pollution in Thailand is called for by many stakeholders. What more should be done to help with the problem?
Pictures showing the problem of PM2.5 in Chiang Mai on March 2023, which was named as the worst city by AQI in the world (taken from Climate Change Data Center Facebook)
It is known that the causes of air pollution in Thailand are complex and multifaceted. While vehicle emissions and industrial activities are major contributors to air pollution, other factors such as construction activities, agricultural burning, and natural sources like dust and wildfires also play a role. The effects of air pollution in Thailand are wide-ranging and serious, including respiratory problems, cardiovascular diseases, and premature death. The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution is responsible for over 50,000 premature deaths in Thailand every year.
Current Scheme on Air Pollution Control
Over the past few decades, Thai government has implemented a range of policies and regulations to address air pollution. These include measures such as fuel quality standards, vehicle emission standards, and regulations on industrial emissions. The government has also introduced initiatives such as public transportation systems and bike-sharing programs to reduce the number of cars on the road. Despite these efforts, however, air pollution in Thailand remains a serious problem, and the government is under pressure to take stronger actions to protect public health and the environment.
Most of the stakeholders agree that it is necessary to set better regulations to control businesses or activities that release toxic or hazardous substances, pollutants, and smog since it is the only way to control the root causes or sources of smog before they are released into the air. By referring to other countries as example, many people in this country think that the air pollution problem should be dealt by making regulation that deals specifically with air pollution problem.
Discussion on Introducing New “Act”
Such an idea has resulted in creation of five versions of the Clean Air Act, including two versions proposed by political parties and three versions proposed by public organizations. Each version aims to control and manage air pollution for the benefit of the public, including controlling and addressing the root causes of air pollution. The five versions proposed are as follows:
- draft “Clean Air for the public Act”, proposed by Bhumjaithai Party on July 9th, 2020;
- draft “Management for Clean Air Act”, proposed by 12,000 people on July 13th, 2020;
- draft “Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTR) Act”, proposed by Move Forward Party;
- draft “Supervising on Management of Clean air for Holistic Health Act”, proposed by Clean Air Network; and
- draft “Clean Air for the Public Act”, proposed by Palang Pracharat Party in December 2021.
After consideration by Prime Minister, three versions of the Clean Air Act, namely the versions proposed by the Bhumjaithai Party, Move Forward Party, and the public, were rejected and canceled due to conflicts with the Financial Act. Only two versions remain under consideration. However, it should be good news that all five versions of draft Clean Air Act have a lot of similarities and only differences in some sections: the purpose of the Clean Air Act in all versions is to provide Thai people with clean air to breathe and to reduce air pollution in the upper atmosphere.
Clean Air for the public Act and Management for Clean Air Act
The proposed Clean Air for the public Act by Bhumjaithai Party and Management for Clean Air Act proposed by people have a lot of sections in common and are closely related, especially in the establishment of a state system to manage the environment and clean air for the people. This is a fundamental factor for civil rights to legal protection, the right to use their rights in court to protect themselves, and that to sue those who cause illegal air pollution. It also includes improving measures and projects to keep up with changes in the environment every 2-3 years. In addition, both versions of the Act also stipulate that the government, state-owned enterprises, and individuals must submit survey reports on air quality or projects and plans to be implemented and must be called if any of their projects or measures adversely affect air quality or environmental quality.
As for the punishment section, both versions of the Act provide for penalties for violations. The proposed Management for Clean Air Act specifies a penalty of not more than 5,000 bahts, while the proposed “Clean Air for the public Act” by Bhumjaithai Party specifies a penalty of imprisonment for not more than 6 months or a fine of not more than 5,000 bahts, or both. Only major difference is that the draft Management for Clean Air Act also suggested beneficial financial instrument such as tax, excise, and investment promotion for those who comply with the management plan for clean air approved by the cabinet. This provision makes it a finance-related regulation and is the main reason for the rejection of the draft.
The Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTR) Act proposed by the Progressive Party emphasizes the analysis and compilation of databases on the release of pollutants, with a focus on comprehensive solutions to air pollution problems. Individuals, legal entities, and the government sector will be required to collect and report the quantities of pollutant releases and transfers, with the Pollution Control Department responsible for compiling the database and disseminating information to the public regarding all hazardous substance transfers in a convenient and efficient manner, except for confidential commercial information.
This draft of PRTR Act also includes penalties for noncompliance. Those who fail to report or comply with the orders of the Director General of the Pollution Control Department will face penalties of up to 1% of their annual income in the year of the violation. For first-time offenders in the business sector, fines will not exceed one million baht, and if they fail to comply, fines will increase by 20,000-50,000 bahts per day. If there is a cover-up of the offense, there will be a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000-1,000,000 bahts or both.
Supervising on management of “Clean air for Holistic Health Act” and “Clean Air for the Public Act”
Other 2 versions of Clean Air Act that are still under consideration and were presented in the parliament are the Supervising on Management of Clean Air for Holistic Health Act, and Clean Air for the Public Act, which can be summarized below,
The Supervising on Management of Clean Air for Holistic Health Act aims to protect the respiratory rights of everyone, especially vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant women, the elderly, chronic respiratory patients, and outdoor workers in areas with high air pollution. They should be entitled to freely access to healthcare in hospitals without any cost. The draft regulation specify that the government is responsible for collecting data on air quality and monitoring the release and movement of toxic smoke. They must listen to complaints from the public, collect and process data and notify the public, as well as receive and give guidance to the complainants so that they can receive compensation and relief for any damages in environmental lawsuits related to toxic smoke.
In case the authorities fail to act in accordance with provisions of this draft law, the draft law provides that they will be considered as intentionally neglecting their duties, which is a criminal offense under Article 157 of the Criminal Code, punishable by imprisonment of up to 10 years, or a fine of 20,000 to 200,000 bahts or both.
Draft Clean Air for the Public Act stipulates that the government must establish an environmental management system to provide clean air for the people and acknowledge that clean air is a basic necessity for people’s livelihoods. In addition, there is also the designation of air pollution control zones. If there is any area where air pollution is likely to have a serious impact on health and environmental quality, the Air Pollution Control Committee has the authority under this act to designate such area as an air pollution control zone. This draft act also specifies proactive measures that enable officials to inspect, control, or order the cessation of activities that cause air pollution. If anyone violates and obstructs the use of such authority by officials, they will be punished with imprisonment for not more than 6 months, a fine of not more than 5,000 bahts, or both.
With Thailand’s general election coming up on the next month, all political parties announced that their own version of the Clean Air Act would push on the first year of the new government. We will soon see that which one of these drafts will come true.