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In brief

Thailand is taking the next step towards strengthening the legal framework on air quality control as the Cabinet approved in principle the Draft Management for Clean Air Act (“Clean Air Bill“), which was proposed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MONRE) on 28 November 2023.


In depth

Background

Thailand’s current legal framework to manage air quality can be seen in many existing laws that regulate the monitoring and treatment of air pollution, and specify air quality standards. There are many governmental agencies acting as regulators for the purpose of air quality control, including the MONRE, the Ministry of Industry, and the Ministry of Public Health. However, there has been no specific legislation overarching air quality control as a whole.

In recent years, citizens in several main cities in Thailand, including Bangkok and most northern provinces, have been suffering from low air quality, without sufficient and effective measures to tackle air pollution, especially those caused by the PM2.5 particles. Against this backdrop, several draft laws aiming to put in place a legal framework for “clean air” were proposed in previous years. With the awareness of the importance of the issue by the government as well as a need to ensure that Thailand’s attractive tourism spots will not be affected by air pollution, the Clean Air Bill was quickly approved within the same month that its public hearing was completed.

The Clean Air Bill

The proposed Clean Air Bill introduces comprehensive measures to manage and control activities and potential sources that generate air pollution, including point sources (such as factories and business places), open burning, vehicles and transboundary sources from neighboring countries. The draft also prescribes economical tools and measures to encourage the private sector and citizens to take roles to mitigate air pollution. Some noteworthy points of the Clean Air Bill are as follow:

  • Citizens’ rights – The government has the duty to warn or provide significant information in relation to air pollution which may affect the public. The government must also determine the rights of the citizens whose health is affected from air pollution to receive health care services without cost. All citizens may collectively exercise their rights, as prescribed under the Clean Air Bill, to participate and work with the public sector in determination of policies, preparation of plans and implementation of the plans in relation to management for clean air.
  • Standards for clean air and control of air pollution sources – The Management Committee for Clean Air will be established and empowered, among others, to determine standards and indices for clean air quality as well as standards to control air pollution sources. The Pollution Control Department will be mandated to monitor air quality and prepare an annual report on air pollution at national, regional and provincial levels. The implementation of the plans for improving air quality will be mainly supervised by the MONRE and the Ministry of Interior.
  • Regulating air pollution sources – The owners or possessors of air pollution sources which are subject to control standards under the Clean Air Bill will be required to have in place systems or instruments for treatment of such air pollution. The release of exhaust air which does not comply with the air pollution control standards is subject to a regulatory fine of up to THB 50,000.

Open-burning, which is generally conducted as an agricultural process for certain crops, is also prohibited unless approval is obtained from the provincial governor. In this regard, the MONRE is empowered to issue the criteria and measures to manage the open-burnings.

Interestingly, the Clean Air Bill also prescribes measures to control transboundary air pollution through collaboration with other countries and international organizations, where the MONRE and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are mandated as responsible governmental agencies. The owners or possessors of air pollution sources outside of Thailand that cause or contribute to air pollution in Thailand will be treated as conducting the offence in Thailand, and such persons will be liable for the relevant damages and will be subject to regulatory fines. The regulatory fine in this case can be very high, up to THB 2 million and a daily fine of up to THB 1 million, while the total amount of the fine is capped at THB 50 million.

  • Economic tools and measures – The Clean Air Bill also introduces economic incentives and measures to encourage behavioral changes to prevent air pollution, including clean air tax, air treatment charges, determination of rights and the transfer of rights to release exhaust air, and subsidies for activities that promote clean air.

Other developments

In parallel to the Clean Air Bill, Thailand continues to promote other measures to prevent air pollution from the agricultural sector. On 4 December 2023, the Cabinet approved the budget of approximately THB 8 billion for a project to subsidize sugarcane farmers who can cultivate “good quality fresh sugarcanes”, which are not burned or contaminated. The subsidy aims to help alleviate PM2.5 particles issues which normally occur during the dry season (around November to March) in Thailand, overlapping with the cultivation season of sugarcane.

In addition, the Cabinet approved the strategies for allocating the national budget, to be proposed early next year, which includes strategies to address environmental issues, especially PM2.5 particles, as an urgent national agenda.

It remains to be seen whether the Clean Air Bill and other measures can effectively address Thailand’s specific air pollution issues, but these developments do pose a significant step for Thailand to bring back clean air for citizens.

Author

Nam-Ake Lekfuangfu is a partner of the Employment & Compensation Practice Group in Bangkok. He is experienced not only in employment laws but also, corporate and commercial law, mergers and acquisitions, environment and trade regulations. Over the past year, Nam-Ake was lead lawyer for a wide range of employment matters involving high profile clients. With his extensive legal knowledge, combined with insights on industrial knowledge and practices and Supreme Court rulings, Nam-Ake assists clients on employment and immigration works, ranging from day-to-day advice to complex matters, such as advising on employment trends impacting employers globally, including global mobility, the use of modern workforce and gender pay gap.

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Bulin joined Baker McKenzie in 2000 and became a partner in 2012. He is active in the Corporate and M&A Practice Group and is a lead partner in the Healthcare & Life Sciences Industry Group, the Industrial Manufacturing and Transportation Industry Group, and the Sustainability Group.

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Peerapan is a Corporate and M&A partner and heads the Sustainability Group and Healthcare & Life Sciences Industry Group in Bangkok. She also co-heads the Investigations, Compliance & Ethics Practice Group in Bangkok and is currently a member of the Firm's Global Executive Committee. Peerapan has nearly 40 years of experience advising on transactional and regulatory matters in highly regulated industries. Peerapan is exceptionally fluent in regulatory matters relating to healthcare, consumer protection and product liability.
Peerapan also has extensive experience advising on compliance issues, risks facing companies across various industry sectors, and regularly assists clients in practically managing and mitigating those risks. She has been consistently recognized as 'Leading Individual’ in Corporate M&A by the Asia Pacific Legal 500 for eight consecutive years (2013-2020) and has been inducted into the Asia Pacific Legal 500 Hall of Fame in Corporate M&A in 2020-2023. More recently she has been shortlisted for Corporate and M&A Lawyer of the Year by the Legal 500 Southeast Asia Awards. Peerapan was also awarded ‘Client Choice winner’ for Healthcare & Life Sciences 2019 by Lexology.
In October 2022, Peerapan was elected to join the Global Executive Committee and serve as chair of the Asia Pacific region. In this role, Peerapan works alongside the Firm's leadership to drive forward the Firm’s business strategy and prioritized actions.

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Varutt Kittichungchit is a Legal Professional in Baker McKenzie, Bangkok office.

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Narawit Rujanant is a Legal Professional in Baker McKenzie Bangkok office.

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Muanjit Chamsilpa is an Environmental Specialist in Baker & McKenzie Limited, Bangkok office.

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Dhiranantha Rithmanee is an Environmental Specialist in Baker McKenzie Bangkok office.

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