Thailand is endowed with a rich ecosystem and biodiversity which are important to the livelihoods of local communities and for national development. Key sectors of the economy including agriculture, forestry and tourism (collectively contributing 20 to 30 percent of GDP), are dependent on sustainable management of the country’s natural resources. Investments in preserving Thailand’s biodiversity is clearly aligned with the 20-year National Strategy (from 2018- 2037) in order to ensure that the country achieve its vision of becoming “a developed country with security, prosperity and sustainability in accordance with the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy”.
However, Thailand is facing multiple challenges such as persisting income inequality which is exacerbated by economic shocks (such as the outbreak of COVID-19), technological disruption and rapid urbanization. At the same time, current unsustainable practices, impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss threatens nature’s capacity to contribute to Thailand’s economic growth and wellbeing. Against this backdrop, biodiversity finance must be introduced into mainstream policymaking, as investing in the biodiversity and the preservation of ecosystems will provide the foundation for the country’s progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In the spirit of “leaving no one behind”, Thailand has established a framework for national sustainable development as part of the 20-year national strategy linked to SDG 14 – Life below water, and SDG 15 – Life on land. The country is moving forward with the implementation of its biodiversity finance strategies within the process of drafting its first Biodiversity Act. For Thailand, the financial resources necessary to satisfy the priorities for biodiversity conservation articulated in the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) are substantial. Current funding levels for biodiversity conservation initiatives have been found to be insufficient and Thailand will need to invest at least $942 million (THB31.977 billion) between 2019 and 2021 to adequately restore ecosystems and biodiversity resources.
The Royal Thai Government holds the largest role in providing financing and improving the sustainable management of biodiversity in the country. In particular, three key government agencies, the Department for National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), The Royal Forest Department (RFD), and The Department for Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) account for over 80 percent of public biodiversity spending. These agencies will continue to be instrumental to conservation, managing land-use in protected areas and maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem. However, involving other sectors in mobilizing funds, increasing private investment, employing blended financing and other resources through different forms of public-private partnerships is necessary. Such initiatives require interaction with a broad range of actors with different interests, approaches and modes of delivery. It is time for the private sector, producers and consumers alike, to take responsibility and invest to maintain Thailand’s unique biodiversity and conserve its ecosystems.
The Biodiversity Finance Plan (The Plan) outlines a set of actions which would help to significantly improve the management and financing of biodiversity conservation in Thailand. The Plan calls for an integrated national approach which builds on the economic and business imperative for scaling up action on biodiversity protection in order to meet national biodiversity goals. Without a concerted effort involving both the public and private sector as well as civil society in the implementation of prioritized biodiversity finance solutions, Thailand will not be able to continue to enjoy the benefits of the ecosystem services generated by its national biodiversity. The Plan is prepared in line with the Biodiversity Policy and Institutional Review (PIR), the Biodiversity Expenditure Review (BER), and the Financial Needs Assessment (FNA) in response to the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP).
Implementing the Plan
The Plan aims to deliver a prioritized set of biodiversity finance solutions which explore new finance mechanisms and ways of creating and supporting new partnerships. These finance solutions aim to capture the breadth of options available, for meeting the four results of biodiversity finance as outlined by The Biodiversity Finance Initiative – BIOFIN: 1) Avoid future expenditures, 2) Deliver better, 3) Generate revenues, and 4) Realign expenditures. The prioritized biodiversity finance solutions in the Plan are complementary and promote a combination of systemic and local sustainable financing, policy changes, and other incentive mechanisms within four thematic areas of intervention. The finance solutions can be summarized as follows:
1. Sustainable Tourism Finance Solution: Increasing industry revenue sources for safeguarding biodiversity and environmental management.
User charges are a common way to secure revenues from the users of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Nature-based tourism destinations such as Koh Tao offer the potential for additional revenue generation through the introduction of user charges in order to address the urgent environmental challenges that the island faces. This financial solution is currently being piloted in Koh Tao where it will help to generate a significant flow of revenue to be used for the purpose of protecting and restoring the health of the island’s coral reefs which are a key source of revenue for the island’s tourism sector. The user charge will be collected from visitors and reallocated for investments in the restoration of local coral reef ecosystems. The ability to earmark revenue generated from user charges for specific conservation activities will serve to lay the groundwork necessary to support other nature-based tourism sites, non-Protected Areas and national parks in Thailand. This solution is in line with the objectives of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation to generate greater tourism-based revenues in the face of insufficient government budget.
2. Wildlife and Protected Areas Finance Solution: Introduction of conservation vehicle license plates to support wildlife conservation in Thailand
Thailand now has more than 37 million registered cars and motorcycles and this number is growing. Cars can be harnessed to save Thailand’s wildlife by offering a special conservation license plate at a premium price, car owners in Thailand can contribute directly to wildlife conservation by purchasing. This solution is considered implementable by the Thai Government, as the Department of Land Transport has previous experience in administrating the distribution of special license plates as well as the collection of fees, such as the sales of ‘lucky number’ license plates in Thailand. A recent survey showed that over 40 percent of respondents were willing to purchase a conservation vehicle license plate. Accordingly, the finance solution is expected to generate up to $11 million per year.
3. Government Budget Finance Solution: Enhancing effectiveness and biodiversity impact of local budgets in Thailand
Local administrative organizations (LAOs) under the Ministry of Interior of Thailand, are undertaking and promoting actions for the responsible stewarding of the country’s environment and biodiversity resources. Yet, while LAOs are required to have strategies addressing the conservation of natural resources and the environment, most local authorities lack the resources and expertise to develop and implement comprehensive local biodiversity strategies that are aligned with their budgets and objectives for biodiversity conservation. The aim of this finance solution is to consolidate and/or amend policy guidelines in Thailand to allow LAOs to more effectively incorporate considerations for biodiversity protection into the planning of their activities, particularly through the fiscal budget preparation. Working closely with the main finance and biodiversity actors in Thailand, the solution requires providing technical assistance and capacity development to the LAOs. Overall, the successful adoption of such guidelines will enable LAOs to produce more effective budget justifications and increase the biodiversity impact of local budgets. The necessity of improving existing guidelines is illustrated by the vision of the Royal Plant Genetic Conservation Project under Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn (RSPG) to train LAOs on sustainable biodiversity management nationwide.
4. Private Sector Finance Solution: Mobilizing the private sector and impact investment in support of biodiversity
With the goal of exploring the potential role of private finance to contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, this thematic finance solution consists of a collection of financial mechanisms. Several biodiversity investment opportunities involving the private sector have been identified, including investment in sustainable management of mangroves through the development of ecotourism and market alternatives such as the establishment of nutrient trading management programs. This solution will also support the launch of a new blended finance platform to scale the impact of biodiversity investment opportunities. Accordingly, this solution aims to develop a biodiversity investment prospectus