Getting from (PM)2.5 to Zero: Towards Solutions Part 1
Since August, Circular Design Lab (CDL) and Thailand Clean Air Network (Thai CAN) have been organizing “From PM2.5 to Zero” Digital Roadshow to share knowledge about air pollution problems — and their potential solutions — in Thailand. Throughout the past 3 months, we have clearly seen the complexity and expansive impact of this invisible enemy especially following our previous webinar on October 7 about the “gaps that remain” in sustainably tackling the problem (read more here).
Air pollution is a systemic problem, and it is undeniable that a “structural” change is required. In the case of Thailand, this can mean a Paradigm Shift in the way the country sees the issue. As Assoc.Prof.Dr. Kanongnij Sribuaiam (Faculty of Law, Chulalongkorn University), Thai CAN’s legal team lead, has always said; “We need to revolutionize legal structure and processes to really ensure effective infrastructure and mechanism to bring about clean air for everyone”.
Legal protection of the Right to Breathe Clean Air for all was the main topic of webinar held on November 11, 2020 as part of the Digital Roadshow, featuring legal experts from Thai CAN sharing about the Draft Act on Regulating the Integrated Management of Clean Air for Health; a citizen-driven draft legislation being pushed for parliamentary consideration by Thai CAN with support from CDL.
Assoc.Prof.Tanachai Suntonanantachai, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Law, Huachiew Chalermprakiet University, opened the discussion by sharing that the key objective of the legislation drive is to introduce the Right to Breathe Clean Air concept to all people in Thailand. The right to breathe clean air is an important part of the basic human rights that should not be violated. However, the prevailing national policies in Thailand have focused largely on economic and industrial growth with little regard to adverse impact on air quality. One possible reason may be due to the complexity and invisibility of air pollution problems, which can be likened to an iceberg: where the problem is apparent (or above the water), but the underlying causes are not readily visible.
The most important basis of the Draft Act is the assurance of the Right to Breathe Clean Air for all people, both in terms of the Substantive Right and the Procedural Right. On the substantive right, the Draft Act stipulates clearly the right for all people to live in a clean air environment without risking premature deaths and the obligation of the government to protect, respect, and fulfill such right in manners no different from the upholding of basic human rights. The stipulation of such substantive rights makes a definitive connection between air pollution and the human rights issue.
In terms of the procedural rights, the Draft Act further stipulates 3 rights that the government is obligated to provide for the people; namely (1) the right for people to have access to information about air quality, its health impact, and government’s work in maintaining the quality, (2) the right for people to participate in setting policies related to clean air, and (3) the right for people to receive environmental justice. These 3 procedural rights will ensure that people know about air pollution and can protect themselves against it, have a chance to set national environmental strategy, and can judicially claim remedies from air pollution impact or call for actions and corrections from responsible entities. The stipulation of such procedural rights will thereby ensure concrete protection of the people’s right to breathe clean air.
“To talk about the Right to Breathe Clean Air is to raise the question as to whether the government can provide clean air for its people, by policies that prevent too much economic growth with adverse effects on the environment and our health.”- Assoc.Prof.Tanachai Suntonanantachai
Protecting people’s right to breathe clean air, however, does not come without cost. As such, another important part of the Draft Act is the section on Economic Tools and Measures for Clean Air. This section of the Act was summarized for the webinar by Dr.Theeravuth Temsiriwattanakul, Finance & Tax Lawyer, who shared that the Draft Act stipulates 7 financial planning mechanisms that, when enforced on various goods and services that cause or are related to air pollution, can provide market signals to incentivize change towards clean air choices. These tools would be applied to fuel and fuel-based products, vehicles, constructions, and agricultural activities with open-air biomass burning, for example.
Not only will taxes, fees, and tradeable permit schemes disincentivize polluting, but the funds generated from these economic tools and measures will be brought into the Clean Air for Health Fund as an important asset to help with regulating, managing, and maintaining air quality as well as to provide financial support for a judiciary process to ensure environmental justice for all.
However, even with air pollution sources in Thailand eliminated or reduced, another key source of air pollution that cannot be forgotten is the transboundary haze from neighboring countries. As pointed out by Mr.Matthew Perkins (UN ESCAP) during the webinar on October 7 (summary here) and by this data science article, transboundary haze contributes significantly to air pollution in Thailand and needs to also be managed.
Experts at Thai CAN did not disregard this transboundary haze issue, and they have ensured the Draft Act has another important section to address it. The associated section on the Draft Act, modeled after Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014, stipulates both criminal and civil liabilities on the sources of transboundary haze affecting people in Thailand. This section will ensure that people in Thailand, having been affected by transboundary haze, can receive legal support to press charges against owners or occupiers of air pollution sources outside of the country.
In summary, this Draft Act is a major legislative step forward to create a paradigm shift in the structure and process to ensure the Right to Breathe Clean Air for all people in Thailand. If the Draft Act garners enough support from Thai citizens and gets passed into law by the parliament, a monumental (positive) change in the management of clean air is certainly inevitable.
For Thai citizens, you can join the call for #Right2CleanAir and pushes for the Draft Act on Regulating the Integrated Management of Clean Air for Health to be considered by the parliament by registering your support here.
For Non-Thais, you can support the cause by spreading the word among your Thai (and non-Thai) peers to help the movement gain momentum! Also, Thailand is not the only country struggling with air pollution so there are opportunities to share lessons and tools across borders in the region and beyond.
Next Up: Join us to learn how you can protect yourself from air pollution with DIY Air Filter on Saturday November 28 at Na Cafe Bangkok 1899.
Learn more at www.right2cleanair.com.