In a bid to mitigate increasingly intensified conflict over natural resources between the state and the people, new mechanisms for long-term overhauls of the natural resources and environmental management would be introduced as part of needed long-term natural resources and environmental reforms.
Mechanisms would include an environmental court as well as environmental polls.
The natural resources and environmental reform committee held a press conference for the first time yesterday to update the public about their work progress after having 12 meetings to define the committee’s work goals and framework.
The committee is among 13 reform committees set up following the stipulation of the charter and the new national reform law promulgated over a month ago. The committees are to develop reform plans to pave the way for the country’s long-term change in line with the national 20-year strategy.
The committee’s chair, Dr Royol Chitradon said the committee has set four prime work goals to guide its work. They include maintaining natural resources and their health to provide a foundation for the country’s social and economic development; balancing conservation and uses of natural resources to mitigate development impacts on natural resources; protecting the environment to minimise pollution and other public health and environmental impacts; and boosting effectiveness in managing natural resources and the environment to minimise conflicts and inequity, based on public participation.
Royol said the committee, along with its alliances, have extensive experience already while a number of similar plans have been developed and are available, so it would not take much time for the committee to develop its reform plan to be submitted to the government by this December.
“What we particularly look at is how we can develop participatory environmental management and put it in place in the future. If not, our reform of this sector is unlikely to hit a success,” said Royol, adding public participation would be at the heart of the committee’s work, with at least four major public hearings to be held for the public to share views on its reform plan before the December submission.
The committee has divided its work into six sub-sectors, covering land resources (land, mining, forests and wildlife), marine and coastal resources, water resources, biodiversity, environmental quality, and natural resources and environmental management.
Dr Buntoon Srethasirote said the challenge that the committee has tried to address is one of the country’s critical fundamental problems: conflict over natural resources between the state and its people, which in recent years, has seen the trend become intensified.
Buntoon said Thai courts have in recent years taken care of around 4,000 environmental conflict cases, and the numbers of cases have been increasing in the administrative courts.
In 2014, the number of administrative court cases was around 6,000, but last year, the number reached 10,000, reflecting the intensifying conflict between the state and the people over natural resources.
Speaking as chair of the natural resources and environmental management reform panel, Buntoon said the panel has addressed its primary framework, which should help lead to environmental governance, sustainable development, environmental public participation, decentralisation, and environmental responsibility.
Buntoon’s panel determined five prime reform issues, which would see new environmental management mechanisms introduced, including the Strategic Environmental Assessment, the Environment Court, environmental polls, and such.
The reform issues the panel would work on include environmental management tools and innovations, environmental organisations and authority, state authority’s practices and governance, environmental budgets, and environmental law and justice reform.
“The panel’s work will be a cross-cutting sector of our other five work areas. So, I see this as quite challenging [to make the others embrace the panel’s proposals on structural and law reforms],” said Buntoon, suggesting some currently redundant as well as overlapping committees and laws in regard to natural resources and environmental management may be dissolved or integrated.
In regard to the land resources reform, Kwanchai Duangsathaporn, the panel’s co-chair (and also the now-defunct National Reform Steering Assembly’s public health and environment reform committee member), said the challenge of his panel is how to stop deforestation. Forest over-cutting, had been increasing over the year, until the junta took the issue seriously and introduced encroachment suppression orders 64/2557 and 66/2557 in 2014.
Kwanchai said the committee has determined five reform issues to be worked on for the forest sector. They include reforms of relevant organisations and laws, area-based management approaches, reorganising land uses and ownership in forest areas, participatory management and wildlife management.
For land and mining, the panel has specially proposed application of His majesty the Late King’s guidance in overseeing this sector to achieve sustainability and self-sufficiency. Where mining is allowed, it must also include holistic rehabilitation plans to mitigate impacts, said Kwanchai.
Dr Theerapat Prayurasiddhi, advisor to the biodiversity reform panel, and also vice chair of the committee, said reform of the biodiversity sector would help support reform work on land resources, as it would focus on how to increase value-added concepts.
More detail would be further worked out as the sector is intricate, but the work would focus initially on protection and maintenance of genetic resources, and ecosystems, while trying to come up with value-added products from the country’s rich biodiversity.
For their part, the marine resources reform panel has determined three main reform issues: reforms of databases of the country’s marine and coastal resources (with zones redefined based on provincial boundaries); overhauling sectoral organisations, their work structure and their laws; and marine resources and coastal resources protection.
The environmental quality panel proposed five key reform issues to ensure that the country’s impacts of pollution could be minimised and properly managed. They include reforms of concerned organisations and laws, origins of pollution management, database management, economic tools, and carbon trade supporting mechanisms.
And for water the sector, Royol, who also chairs the panel working on water resources management reform, elaborated on the panel’s framework of five issues. They include large water-project management, area-based management, integration of waterways and city planning, efficiency in water management tools and human resources, and introduction of tangible examples.
Royol said the committee modestly hoped that its work would help bring some “changes” to the environmental reform sector, although it may not yet cover all that needed to be done.
What is of more worry, he said, is there is no start at all.
Dr Thorn Thamrongnawasawat, a marine resources reform panel vice-chair, and also a national strategy committee member, said nobody could ascertain about the difference between "reform" and what are conventional improvements made by the various agencies.
But Thorn said he hoped that the reform could at least introduce “a beam point” to conventional approaches and what should be done.
"That's how conventional approaches are moved, and changes begin," said Thorn of what the reform means.