What Government Leaders Can Learn From Thailand at the World Economic Forum Conference This Week.
Article Written by Jett James Pruitt
Starting tomorrow, the World Economic Forum will host its annual conference in Davos, Switzerland (January 16 - 20, 2023). Since its inception in 1971, the WEF has served as an international platform for thousands of government leaders and businesses to address contemporary issues and outline goals for the following year.
Today, international pundits have a bleak outlook for 2023. With decades-high inflation strangling consumers, talks of recession petrifying investors, and disruptions to the global food supply launching entire countries into acute hunger, many are concerned we have entered a new ‘polycrisis’ era.
As explained by Tristan Bove of Fortune, a large aspect of this polycrisis centers around ecological decay.
Indeed, over the past several decades, many of Earth's ecosystems have been destroyed by human exploitation. Timber harvesting has cleared swathes of land in the Amazon Rainforest; overfishing has disrupted food chains in aquatic ecosystems around the world; illegal poaching has driven animal species to the brink of extinction.
Among these case studies, deforestation in particular has immense consequences for climate sustainability.
Forests remove excess carbon from Earth’s atmosphere. As such, destroying these biomes directly increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, contributing to warmer surface temperatures around the world.
Furthermore, researchers at University College London (UCL) discovered that deforestation facilitates the spread of infectious diseases (including COVID-19) from animals to humans in destroyed habitats.
But perhaps most critically, deforestation immediately destroys the livelihood of human communities; more than 250 million people live in forest and savannah regions around the world, and rely on these habitats for income and subsistence farming.
To address these threats, various governments have established protected areas to reduce deforestation, promote biodiversity, and protect endangered species around the world. So far, these measures have proven to be highly successful.
Near the British Isles, the creation of protected marine areas has prevented the agricultural industry from harvesting kelp to create fertilizer. Because kelp serves as a habitat, many species of fish have been protected by these areas.
In the United States, the creation of wildlife refuges for bison in the Midwest has restored the specie's population from near-extinction. In Florida, the Coral Reef Conservation Program has helped restore coral reefs — a keystone species—in the state's aquatic ecosystems.
With these case studies serving as prime examples, establishing protected areas is universally-accepted as a highly effective measure to promote biodiversity.
However, this may not be enough in certain situations.
As defined by the acronym HIPPCO, there are a number of threats to biodiversity aside from human exploitation. For instance, while protected habitats may help restore a natural specie's population, they may not reduce the spread of invasive species within an area.
This is the case in the Florida Everglades, where Burmese Pythons prey upon American Alligators. Even though the federal government protects this region, biodiversity is still threatened by external forces.
With this in mind, conserving biodiversity requires a continuous effort among governments and international organizations to monitor ecological developments and conceive new solutions as needed. Therefore, while establishing protected areas is a vital component of conserving biodiversity, it is important for entities to be flexible and consider a range of options when seeking environmental sustainability.
This concept is best exemplified by Thailand's efforts to bar human activity near its protected habitats. For context, Thailand is an ecologically diverse nation located in Southeast Asia. It borders Cambodia to the south, Laos to the east and north, and Myanmar to the west.
These nations collectively contain a vast array of ecosystems, including tropical rainforests, rivers, and mountain ranges. In effect, this region is widely considered to be a biodiversity hotspot. Thailand itself is home to more than 1,000 bird species and 15,000 plant species.
With this in mind, international researchers have expressed grave concern about the region's vulnerability to environmental degradation. However, Thailand has done an excellent job at preventing further damage. It has a booming economy with the World Bank classifying it as "one of the great development success stories."
For example, Bangkok in particular has been proactive in its approach to combating deforestation and human exploitation. According to Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation (DNP), protected habitats (i.e., national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and designated non-hunting ranges) constitute 23% of the country's territory.
As indicated by both quantitative and qualitative research, establishing these protected areas has been successful in halting deforestation. While foreign poachers in the country continue to illicitly harvest valuable resources such as Siamese redwood, the degree of misuse and economic exploitation has drastically decreased.
As such, international observers have cited Thailand's creation of protected areas as a blueprint for other nations to follow.
However, Thailand still faces challenges to environmental sustainability. Notably, many protected areas are separated by railroads, highways, and other forms of infrastructure.
As a result, some areas are too small to sustain animal species; organisms in small areas frequently struggle to obtain food, water, and space to mate and raise offspring. To address this, the DNP has enacted a series of measures to mitigate the interference of infrastructure within protected ecological chains. One of these measures involve physically connecting adjacent protected areas to form larger habitats.
This is called an ecological link or ecological network.
Recently, the DNP has established experimental ecological links in two selected sites, the Eastern Forest Complex and the Western Forest Complex. While new information about the program is limited, researchers are optimistic the new measures will enable the movement of species between protected habitats, offer more space and biotic resources to species, and enhance ecosystems' resilience to climate change.
So far, these novel measures have yielded positive results. Eld's deer and tigers from the Huay Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary are expanding their population northward to the Maeo Wong and Klong Lan National Parks. These species are a vital component of the habitats' food chains, offering a glimpse into the potential benefits of ecological links.
A handful of scientists have been criticized for being critical of Bangkok's efforts. They argue ecological networks may facilitate the spread of disease, invasive species, and forest fires. The second item in particular is of great concern to government officials.
Indeed, Thailand contains thousands of invasive species, which disrupt food chains and compete with natural species. One of these invasive species includes pigeons. While they are mainly clustered in urbanized areas, Pigeons compete with native birds for food and space throughout the country.
Moreover, they spread contagious diseases via desiccated fecal matter, posing a health hazard to both humans and other animal species. With this serving as a prime example, some are concerned that the DNP's ecological links will harm — rather than benefit — endangered native species.
With this concession, Bangkok has carefully proceeded with its plans, and the majority of the ecological scientific community backs their current actions. While more information is needed, the country is at the least willing to experiment with a novel idea in order to ensure their work in creating protected areas was not in vain.
Thailand has already done the hard part with conserving biodiversity by creating protected areas. Now, the country is tasked with maintaining sustainability within those protected areas. In other words, the country must now build upon its success.
As the WEF meets this week, it is important for policymakers to recognize that conserving biodiversity does not just involve creating protected areas. Rather, it requires a continuous effort among governments and international organizations to monitor ecological developments and conceive new solutions as needed.
Therefore, while establishing protected areas is indisputably an effective method of conserving biodiversity, it is important for entities to be flexible and consider a range of options when seeking environmental sustainability. This will help the world mitigate current economic challenges and develop a blueprint for future success.
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Born in 2005, Jett James Pruitt is a Native American (Taino Arawak), Pulitzer Prize-nominated author of the book Through The Eyes of a Young American. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of TheGenZPost.com, and is a political strategist specializing in Generation Z voting trends. His next book The Progressive Conservative is due in bookstores late next year.