In the digital age and in the present context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), we often hear about ‘big data’ and the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), which to some may sound highly technical and virtually digital. While Thailand is fully aware of the opportunities and challenges that come with modernity, we also seek an all-encompassing human dimension of inclusive development, particularly during our year as ASEAN Chair. This is why we came up with the theme ‘Advancing Partnership for Sustainability’, to promote the ‘Sustainability of Things’ (SoT), which means sustainability in all dimensions.
Sustainable development is an overarching concept that is directly related to the SoT. However, the first aspect of sustainability that usually springs to mind for the public is environmental sustainability, which is a significant component of the concept and part of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are simply grouped into the so-called ‘5Ps’, with the ultimate goal of saving the planet, fostering peace, creating prosperity, enhancing partnership, and nourishing our people.
With regard to the planet, fresh air and clean water are among the fundamental essentials for human beings and all other creatures that share this world with us. Sadly, Mother Earth has been harmed and taken for granted by human beings more than anyone else throughout history. The fact that several SDGs attach importance to the rehabilitation and conservation of our planet reflects rising environmental concerns and the call for more balanced development, widely known as the concept of ‘circular economy’, which is gaining ground globally.
Thailand assumes that enhancing environmental sustainability is inextricably linked to social and economic development, and it is one of the key conditions for sustainable development. We have therefore adopted measures to conserve, restore and manage our natural resources and environment in a more sustainable manner, and included these elements in our 20-Year National Strategy Framework (2017-2036).
For instance, Thailand has launched the Nationally Determined Contribution Roadmap on Mitigation (2021-2030) to ensure that we meet our targets on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 20% to 25% by 2030. Some progress has been made so far. Last year, we managed to reduce the emission of 45.72 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, or 12% of the target, i.e., 20% by 2020. Moreover, about 24 hectares of coral reefs and 880 hectares of mangrove forest were rehabilitated, and the use of over 435 million plastic bags was reduced since 2017.
Beyond our national undertakings, Thailand has consistently advocated co-operation with the global community on environmental issues to derive long-term benefits. An example is our firm commitment to the Paris Agreement to address climate change. At the same time, Thailand has been co-operating with all partners to exchange knowledge, experiences and best practices.
Sustainable development is a global agenda that requires concerted efforts, and Thailand is in a position to drive it forward this year. In addition to being ASEAN Chair, Thailand is also ASEAN Coordinator on Sustainable Development Co-operation, actively identifying the complementarities and promoting closer coordination between ASEAN and the United Nations. One substantial outcome is that of the complementarities between the ‘ASEAN Community Vision 2025’ and the ‘2030 United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development’, which identifies potential synergy and means to strengthen ASEAN Community-building while simultaneously attaining several SDGs.
A recommendation from the Complementarities Report that will be fully realised this year is the establishment of the ASEAN Centre for Sustainable Development Studies and Dialogue in Thailand. The Centre will be funded by the Royal Thai Government and will help to coordinate activities and projects related to the Complementarities Initiative, while linking up with similar centres in ASEAN member states to form a network of centres in support of regional sustainable development efforts.
During Thailand’s ASEAN Chairmanship, one of the sustainable development agendas that will be addressed is that of the marine environment. Thailand is greatly concerned with the problem of marine debris and its impact on the environment. We truly believe that urgent action is needed. Researchers have found an area of marine debris or ‘garbage patch’ in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that is larger than Bangkok. This debris is eaten by fish, which are then consumed by people, causing severe health problems. News reports of sea animals such as whales and turtles suffering as a result of eating indigestible waste cover only a fraction of the 100,000 deaths of marine animals that occur annually as a result of this problem. In addition, marine debris affects the promotion of environmentally friendly tourism and thus affects the contribution of the tourism sector to national development.
Research by Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment found that rubbish that is thrown into the sea can travel all over the world. It is therefore imperative that we have a platform for discussion and collaboration to tackle the problem. A technical working group meeting among ASEAN members was held in November 2017.The Special ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Marine Debris and the ‘ASEM High-level Meeting on Marine Sustainability’ were hosted on 5 March and 7-8 March 2019, respectively. Thus, Thailand is advancing partnership in this field by starting with environmental sustainability, and is willing to expand to other areas throughout the year.
The benefits of sustainable development are countless but each country should embark on its own path and determination to achieve the goals. In Thailand’s case, the ‘Sufficiency Economy Philosophy’ (SEP) has been adopted as its home-grown approach. This philosophy, conferred by His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, proposes a ‘thinking process’ consisting of three parts: analysis of the cause of the problem, identification of practical solutions, and implementation of the selected solutions.
SEP is mainstreamed in Thailand’s policy, at both the national and the international levels. It has been a guiding principle in Thailand’s national economic and social development plans since 2002 and its application to achieve sustainable development. Thailand has shared this philosophy with many countries as an alternative approach to attaining the SDGs, through the provision of training courses and the establishment of several co-operative projects in Asia and Africa.
In conclusion, Thailand’s commitment to sustainable development is steadfast, as demonstrated in our past achievements and contributions, both nationally and internationally. We are committed to doing more. The agenda will be particularly important during our ASEAN Chairmanship, and Thailand looks forward to working with colleagues in ASEAN and beyond in a global partnership as set forth in the 17 SDGs.
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