‘We have upset the balance of nature’, Thai environment minister warns amid green recovery efforts from pandemic
BANGKOK: Thailand’s Environment Minister has warned that urgent action is needed to rebalance humans’ relationship with nature, or mankind may not live into the next century.
In an address to diplomats, politicians and journalists on Friday (Aug 7), Mr Varawut Silpa-archa compared the challenges of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic to World War III, against an enemy “we cannot see with our own eyes”.
The event in Bangkok, hosted by the Dutch embassy, was held to promote discussion about the ways Thailand is approaching a green and sustainable recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is like Mother Nature is knocking on our door. We have been messing with her home, for decades, for generations. We have upset the balance of nature,” the minister said.
“She is knocking on our door and saying it’s time for us to do something. Otherwise, human beings may not survive into the next century.
“It is time we came together to do something. Somehow along the way, from now on, we have to make sure people in this world realise if we don’t do something about our environment, our nature, our natural resources, we won’t survive. We will not prevail,” he said.
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The minister outlined the approaches Thailand has taken to promote sustainability in the wake of the pandemic, and tackle some of its biggest environmental challenges, including air pollution, plastic consumption, forest management and the protection of wildlife.
He has overseen measures such as the enforced annual closures of national parks, countrywide attempts at reforestation and limiting burning of sugarcane plantations, which cause annual air pollution problems.
Mr Varawut said the government was actively encouraging public agencies to maintain work from home measures into the future and was looking at ways of untangling complex barriers to the spread in use of electric vehicles and charging stations.
He acknowledged that improvements in air quality and drops in PM2.5 - tiny particulate matter caused by cars and industry - experienced during recent months were unlikely to be long-lived.
“In Thailand, it’s evident that the level of PM2.5 has significantly declined. Greenhouse gas emissions have also reduced. It’s a pity though that this is merely an ad-hoc measure, not a structural reversal,” he said.
Mr Renaud Meyer, the resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Thailand, noted that 2020 had promised to be one where progress on addressing climate change would have been significant.
Instead, countries are having to balance their climate change commitments with the need for steep economic stimulus packages to counteract the impact of COVID-19, he said.
Still, he encouraged the Thai government to put environmental considerations at the forefront when making decisions about economic assistance packages.
“We need to push and push and make decisions that don’t always make people happy,” he said in his address. “If we take action without looking at the big picture, it will lead us to a dead end.”
“It’s not only a matter of money, but it’s also a matter of wisdom. This is something Thailand has a lot of.”
He argued that the discussion about Thailand’s energy mix and transition away from a “coal addiction” was an important one that needed more attention.
The Thai economy is forecast to contract by up to 9 per cent this year, according to the Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking. As part of its response, the government approved a record fiscal stimulus package worth about US$60 billion in June.