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In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, countries around the globe are working towards recovery plans for the time after the lockdown. Most of these plans are highly debated in terms of aligning economic stimulus packages with climate and energy transition targets or other sustainable goals. KAS RECAP (Regional Project Energy Security and Climate Change Asia-Pacific) has launched a series of virtual workshops in Asia-Pacific in order to identify and examine those debates. In cooperation with KAS Thailand, a discussion took place on June 15, 2020, with Thai experts from various universities, non-governmental organizations, and state agencies.
The current worldwide coronavirus outbreak shows how much human activities impact the environment, the Thai experts acknowledged. Thailand would miss an opportunity to address environmental and climate protection if it adopts a short-term approach prioritizing traditional industrial sectors and unsustainable infrastructure projects. In order to boost growth and create jobs after the crisis, the participants recommended focusing political will and state incentives on following challenges instead:
- Sustainable tourism: Tourism is a key issue for Thailand’s economy and a lot could be done to welcome millions of tourists differently in the next years, according to several experts. One suggestion was to build on Thailand’s tradition of nature protection and a strong network of protected areas.
- Green rural development: Many experts emphasized the need to reduce energy consumption and the use of chemicals in the agricultural sector. They welcomed the government’s recent decision to ban two chemicals found in pesticides or insecticides (paraquat and chlorpyrifos) and generally considered toxic to humans.
- Clean energy and industry: Beside energy efficiency, experts pleaded in favor of responsible energy production, the expansion of renewable energies, and environmental regulations for the industry. They recommended introducing WHO standards for power plants’ and factories’ emissions, and developing solar energy. This approach would also help tackle the issue of air pollution in the country.
- Circular economy: This concept belongs to the “BCG principles” currently emphasized by the Thai government (BCG stands for Bio-Economy, Circular Economy, and Green Economy). The further development of circular economies, especially for plastic, waste, and water, would protect the environment and create jobs, many scientists from the panel said. But, it requires new technologies and education on the ground for the people to adapt.
- Pro-environmental human behavior: Changing production and consumption habits could also have a positive impact on the environment and the labor market. To reach this goal, educational measures and community engagement are key, so many experts. New technologies could be useful to reach out to the citizens and help them adapt. For example, many projects are currently focused on helping farmers to find alternatives to crop burning in Northern Thailand.
All in all, the experts agreed that both poverty and weak infrastructures (e.g. in the waste, water, and energy sector) are long-term challenges that need to be addressed successfully. Otherwise, it will impede real improvements in terms of environmental and climate protection. Also, a green economic recovery will only be possible if three actors are committed to the strategy and willing to work together: the government and the administration, the production sector (industry, agriculture, services), and the citizens.
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