The haze sent the city of Chiang Mai to be listed among the world’s most polluted cities in early April, as measured by IQ Air. Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad

Govt introduces draft Clean Air Act to tackle “toxic” PM2.5 haze

Work synergy among concerned committees as well as timely and proportional management plans pose a critical challenge to the new act

The Strategic Transformation Office (STO) tasked to draft new acts in urgency has introduced the government’s draft Clean Air Act to the public for review after months-long drafting and consultations. According to Dr. Buntoon Srethasirote, Chair of the working group drafting the act, the PM2.5 haze issue should no longer be taken for granted as the fine dust is actually toxic and the issue has been on a national agenda for some time already.

This government, he added, has also thrown support to the national agenda that addresses this problem and it should be time to have a new act to address the issue and management of it.

“This toxic PM2.5 haze is just a symptom of the problem, just like the tip of an iceberg. There are root causes that need to be seriously tackled in order to solve it,” said Dr. Buntoon during the on-site hearing on the draft act on Thursday.

Throughout its comprehensive studies of the problem with nearly 20 meetings and field trips since mid-last year, the working group has learned about the root causes of the PM2.5 haze that it’s resulted from the country’s poorly functioned bureaucratic system, the structural economic problem and inequality in access to natural resources, as well as the current free market that exacerbates the problem.

So, the act is aimed at tackling it at its roots.

Under the draft content, 9 general provisions plus one special provision with 99 articles were drafted to help create new management bodies and systems and plans, scopes of management areas, management tools and measures, plus penalties. (Read: The draft Clean Air Act)

According to Dr. Buntoon, this act tries to make use of or improve existing mechanisms, especially through the improvement of work synergy among government agencies and committees.

New national committees on clean air policy and management will be established with its members possibly drawn from existing national committees concerned such as the National Environment Board, the National Pollution Control Committee, the National Forestry Policy Committee, the Agricultural Development Policy Committee, the Energy Regulation Commission, the National Disaster and Prevention Committee and others. At the same time, provincial and specific zone committees will also be established to implement the national policy and plans and their action plans accordingly.

l Dr. Buntoon chaired the public hearing held both online and on-site. Credit: STO

They will take a precautionary approach, with plans and budgets rearranged and focused primarily on prevention against the PM2.5 sources rather than mitigation, according to Dr. Buntoon.

Meanwhile, the overhaul of certain agricultural production will be of the focus as well as the improvement of the right to natural resources in the target areas especially land use rights in forest areas. Private entities, on the other hand, will also be invited to take part in and scale up several PM2.5 prevention and mitigation initiatives to help improve the situation, according to Dr. Buntoon.

Last but not least, the right to clean air and the duty of public members will be addressed for the first time under this act, and this will allow them to join the state in tackling the problem up to a policy and decision-making level.

“Such a right and duty are already addressed in our Constitution. We have just made it clearer in this new act,” said Dr. Buntoon.

Some participants at the public hearing, however, were concerned about work synergy during the making of policies and plans among concerned bodies.

Some said the work should not be too top-down like other conventional acts, but it should rather be more bottom-up as areas are with the problem in the first place and they know better how to handle it. A two-pronged approach was proposed during the hearing, with more work synergy up to the policy and decision-making level between national committees and area-based committees.

Dr. Buntoon said the working group will consider all the views and rewrite the draft before submitting it to the government for further legislative procedures. 

The draft act is among the urgent agendas of this new government as it has noted the challenge in its policy announced before the Parliament in September.

It’s expected that the draft act will be taken up by the government immediately once submitted. Another draft act pushed by the civil society led by Thailand Can is already with the government, according to Thailand Can’s representative. The government opposition, meanwhile, is also drafting its own version expected to be pushed into the Parliament alongside.

Last year, Thailand endured the PM2.5 haze, especially in the North, where its root causes were heavily studied and unveiled. Part of the problem was pointed to farm-based livelihoods which are dependent on the use of fires in forest areas for various agricultural proposes.

The activity sent the accumulated hotspots beyond 170,000 with over 65% found to have occurred in forest areas, especially in the North. Over two million people were reported getting sick by the haze as a result, prompting serious concern among all parties and the government to rush to tackle it before its season this year has arrived.

Also Read: ถอดบทเรียนวิกฤติ PM2.5 และอนาคตอากาศสะอาดของประเทศไทย I The Lessons Learned from PM2.5 and Right to Clean Air