The Thai Chamber of Commerce has proposed PM2.5 ultra-fine dust pollution be elevated to an urgent national agenda item, noting it affects the health of residents and dents confidence in tourism, particularly among long-term visitors and groups visiting the country to mix work and leisure.
Sanan Angubolkul, chairman of the chamber, said Greater Bangkok and Chiang Mai are plagued by PM2.5 pollution annually between November and March.
The main causes are the burning of agricultural waste, exhaust fumes from cars, forest fires and construction activity.
The pollution has worsened this year according to the Air Quality Index. Bangkok is ranked among the 10 worst cities for air pollution in the world and Chiang Mai is ranked 13th as of March 15.
"If this problem is not solved for the long term, it will impact the health of residents and affect the confidence of potential tourists, especially long-term visitors and groups that come to work and relax," said Mr Sanan.
"Data from the Tourism Authority of Thailand indicated the PM2.5 crisis caused some tourists to cancel hotel reservations in Chiang Mai, with a cancellation rate of up to 10-15%."
Various organisations have proposed and implemented measures to reduce PM2.5 pollution, such as seeking cooperation and stricter enforcement of laws on open-air burning, limiting the hours when trucks with more than six wheels can enter Bangkok, and fining owners for vehicles that emit noxious black fumes.
Yet most of these measures have not been effective in reducing PM2.5 levels, he said.
Mr Sanan said the government should provide channels for the public to report on activities that cause air pollution as well as share photos, monitoring such activities.
Real-time data should be used to analyse and develop appropriate measures to address the crisis, while social media should be used as a tool to report and monitor activities causing air pollution to the government, he said.
The government, businesses and the public should focus on genuine cooperation, with promotional measures and strict penalties issued that can be enforced, said Mr Sanan.
Clear regulations and measures can help alleviate the problem over the long term, he said.
In terms of impact prevention, Mr Sanan said the PM2.5 problem involves multiple sectors and is a complex issue that cannot be solved by any individual or organisation alone.
There should be collaboration among organisations at the community, provincial and national levels, including academic institutions, technology engineers, the business sector, social and environmental groups, and local government agencies, to jointly develop comprehensive measures to prevent the air pollution, he said.
This requires systemic cooperation and increased efficiency in management and budget allocation to achieve practical results, said Mr Sanan.
Additionally, a curriculum should be developed for students to understand and participate in environmental preservation so future generations in the country can continue to maintain environmental sustainability, he said.
The chamber believes reducing air pollution over the long term requires addressing the agricultural segment.
Mr Sanan said the government should motivate farmers to increase the value of harvest leftovers, promote the expansion of community power plant projects in areas with agricultural raw materials, and reduce the burning of agricultural waste by using it as fuel in closed systems at power plants.
In addition, he said the government should promote access to low-interest funding for farmers' cooperatives and community enterprises to purchase agricultural machinery, providing services to small-scale farmers via sugar-cane harvesters, rice combines, corn harvesters and hay compressors.
The state should also promote land management plans, including cropping schedules and land combinations, to accommodate the most appropriate and cost-effective use of agricultural machinery, such as sugar-cane harvesters.
To reduce the amount of burning, the government should develop plans for harvesting rice straw and corn, similar to those for sugar cane, said Mr Sanan.
A national goal was established to eliminate sugar-cane burning by 2022.
The chamber agrees with the state's punishment measures for farmers who burn their fields, such as withholding state aid.
TRANSPORT AND VEHICLES
The chamber agrees with strict measures to detect all types of vehicles emitting black smoke, such as trucks, vans, buses, minibuses and motorcycles.
These measures include conducting emissions tests on vehicles used to transport goods before they are allowed to operate.
The chamber proposed mandatory inspections for trucks and cars that are seven years old or older, increasing the frequency to twice a year.
A review of time limit measures for vehicles and cancelling the permits for all types of public service vehicles that reach the end of their service life should be encouraged to nudge operators towards using cleaner energy vehicles, according to the chamber.
Incentives should be offered to encourage owners of older cars (a minimum of 10 years old) to switch to hybrid or electric vehicles (EVs), said the chamber.
In addition, more EV service stations are needed, said Mr Sanan.
The chamber plans to continue to encourage all sectors to inspect their vehicles to ensure they are in good condition, maintaining their emission control devices in good working order.
The private sector's auto service centres will provide advice and services to reduce emissions, he said, while supervising partners that transport goods to ensure the vehicles they use are maintained and do not emit black smoke.
The chamber wants to promote methods to reduce fuel consumption and encourage the shift to using electric systems.
Mr Sanan said there are many construction projects in Bangkok and its suburbs.
The chamber proposes the government strictly supervise construction sites in areas with high levels of air pollution, in accordance with the law.
Construction operators must follow environmental impact assessment plans to prevent the sites from emitting large quantities of air pollutants, he said.
Mr Sanan said the private sector is open to a discussion with construction operators on changing their methods, such as using precast concrete parts assembled on site to reduce the dust generated by transporting raw materials and using machinery.
Operators can also spray water to prevent dust from spreading within the construction area, he said.