Bangkok Air Pollution: Policy, Civil Society, and Business

28 Jun 2022
Thailand is currently the seventh-most polluted country in the world, according to the research on the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC). A combination of exhaust fumes caused by traffic jams, agricultural burning, and plastic production from companies and factories contribute to the air pollution problem in Thailand. EPIC recently shared a study from AQLI that finds that air pollution can lead to strokes, heart disease, and lung cancer. It also reduces the global average life expectancy by 2.2 years, making it more dangerous than smoking cigarettes, which cuts the life expectancy by 1.9 years. With this in mind, Sasin Sustainability & Entrepreneurship Center hosted a fireside chat – Bangkok Air Pollution: Policy, Civil Society and Business on June 20, with speakers Weenarin Lulitanonda, the co-founder of the Thailand Clean Air Network (Thailand Can เครือข่ายอากาศสะอาด); Chadchart Sittipunt, Governor of Bangkok; Ma Jun, renowned environmentalist from China and Director of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE); Soranun Choochut, Founder, CEO, Chief sustainability officer at ETRAN joining in the Zoom meeting. “Ultimately, pollution is a deep structural problem; there is no entity in the policy-making realm responsible for it, so the issue is like a hot potato being tossed around,” said Weenarin. Understanding the complexity of the problem, Weenarin co-founded the Thailand Clean Air Network (Thailand Can เครือข่ายอากาศสะอาด) in 2017-2018 with a group of volunteers gathered together to draft legislation to combat air pollution in Thailand. The group includes experts from different fields, including environmentalists, lawyers, economists, mass communication experts, and medical doctors, bringing together collective knowledge from other countries and adapting it to Thailand. Weenarin believes that transparency, dissemination of air pollution problems in Thailand, and public pressure is the solution. When it comes to transparency, environmentalist Ma Jun, who received The Skoll Award for Social Innovation, is known for creating the Blue Map application or an interactive map to track pollution in China. “Air pollution was a cause of premature death of up to one million people,” he said, “We have made some progress in China with PM 2.5 particles having dropped from [around] 90 micrograms to 33 last year.” Ma Jun explained the steps he used in solving the drastic air pollution in China by getting the public to become aware of the problem and increasing pressure on the government and companies to solve the problem. The first step in reducing pollution was to monitor and disclose the air pollution levels in China through the China Pollution Map, the first environmental public database. The second step was creating the Blue Map application, which people can use to visualize pollution through their mobile phones, showing air pollution violators in red color. After the public identifies the violators, the information can be shared on social media such as Twitter, bringing the problem to the eyes of international stakeholders, citizens, government, and corporations. “Air quality data was the first challenge, and at the time, it was incomplete,” he said. At first, the government did not report the PM 2.5 levels, so he initiated the air quality transparency index in 2013, monitoring and disclosing the levels of PM 2.5. “I remember that in the first month with the revelation of the appalling air pollution, it has aroused national attention and triggered a national clean air action plan,” said Ma Jun. His organization, along with 25 other NGOs, launched the Total Transparency Initiative, calling for the disclosure of real-time publication of data from key, problematic polluting enterprises. The last step in reducing air pollution was to stop emissions. Ma Jun faced challenges tackling companies in violation of emitting air pollution. He explained that a list of large enterprises in Shandong did not comply with air regulation standards. They did not respond to his communication, so instead, he got Blue Map users to share the companies’ violation records on social media, alerting the authorities to the problem. It resulted in the director of Shandong province announcing that companies were burning 400 tons of coal, persuading people to join in the effort to cut down emissions. Governor Chadchart, the recently elected Bangkok Governor, whose expertise is in engineering, commented that the air pollution in Thailand is a seasonal problem that usually exacerbates during the winter time and ends in around five months, but with the governor’s mandate to decrease air pollution, he hoped that Thailand could find a way to disseminate information to the public and reduce carbon emissions. “We don’t have that much information about what is happening as there are no elaborate programs to identify sources of the problem,” said Governor Chadchart. He added that although the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, Ministry of Transport, and other environmental organizations are responsible for dealing with air pollution, they should coordinate to solve the problem. Another important step is to increase and promote access to public transportation in Thailand. “There is still a need for the feeder to connect from the main line to homes and promote public transportation, making it affordable to the public as mass transit is quite expensive compared to wages of the average Thai workers,” said Governor Chadchart. Soranun, the founder of ETRAN, is ahead of many others who were just dissatisfied with breathing carbon monoxide. From his personal experience traveling in Thailand, he was motivated to build a startup that creates electric motorcycles. “I started thinking about air pollution seven years ago when I was sitting on a motorbike. I feel terrible when I can smell bad air, not just from your bike but from other people who share the same road,” said Soranun, adding that electric vehicles should become a mandatory alternative to diesel cars. Looking at how developed countries abroad deal with air pollution, he believes it’s time that Thailand adopts some of the ways they effectively manage their transportation system. Transparency in solving the air pollution problem in Thailand, getting the public to put pressure on companies violating air quality, and collaboration from different governmental departments to help increase affordable and sustainable transportation are mandatory for a breathable, cleaner air.  
Share this article
You might be interested in...
Contact Us