by James Kemsey
As the Environment Ministers of Mekong Region countries met in Chiang Mai, Thailand in early February, to approve the Asian Development Bank Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) Core Environmental Program Strategic Framework and Action Plan 2018-2022, Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) of Thailand has emphasized the importance of balancing development with the environment.
“We must work together to ensure our actions have an impact on the ground,” stated Permanent Secretary, Dr. Wijarn Simachaya. “Thailand is implementing the 20-year national development strategy, including natural resources and environment, as well as government structural reform that will lead to sustainable development. Our national sustainable development committee brings together different ministries to work on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). MONRE focuses on five environment-related SDGs, including climate change, water, forest & biodiversity, as well as coastal marine and sustainable consumption & production. Our Ministry Working Group then reviews the Government Action Plan of these areas and looks at key performance indicators to measure the progress”.
The inter-Ministry cooperation has also led to environment-related pilot projects on the ground, that in turn engage the government policies. Dr. Simachaya points to the SEI Asia’s Centre’s SUMERNET programme as an example, “We learned a lot of lessons from the research projects that have pilot studies on the ground with local communities, like what SUMERNET has been doing. The information these studies provide can help us make sound policies that are grounded in science.”
MONRE and universities in the Northeast of Thailand collaborated with SUMERNET to assess policy options for drought management. This resulted in the investment of more 200 million Thai baht (6,284,000 USD) for groundwater development in Khon Kaen province in 2017-2018. SEI Asia Centre Director Niall O’Connor presented on lessons learned from SUMERNET’s work in a capacity development session on day two of the meeting.
Following on this collaborative knowledge-sharing, Permanent Secretary Dr. Simachaya points to his government’s efforts to expand their environment work beyond Thailand’s borders. A bi-lateral MOU on protected areas and biodiversity cooperation with Cambodia has already been signed, and technical assistance is being provided to other countries in the region. “We are cooperating with Lao PDR on temporary air quality monitoring, along with capacity building on environmental management & pollution control, and have also provided a mobile air quality monitoring system and capacity building on environmental monitoring to Myanmar,” states Dr. Simachaya. Thailand plans to continue providing equipment and capacity development activities beyond its borders as the regional rapid development continues to foment new environmental challenges.
“We need partnerships at the regional level, continental level, and global level to help limit transboundary spin-offs of environmental impact,” concluded Dr. Simachaya. Dr. Chayanis Krittasudthacheewa, SEI Asia Centre Deputy Director and SUMERNET Programme Manager agreed, stating, “I am delighted to see the firm commitment by all governments to work closely under this new strategic framework. Knowledge networks such as SUMERNET can contribute to this effort by working in several countries and sectors to provide reliable evidence on alternative and robust strategies that improve environmental quality and climate resilience across the region.” The SEI Asia Centre delegation continued to foster these connections throughout the meeting by holding a series of dialogues with potential partners on Centre priorities, including gender, agriculture and environmental policy.
Read more information on "stories of change" from SUMERNET.
Watch SUMERNET short films on climate change and water insecurity.