Thailand recognizes the utmost significance of its biodiversity and remains steadfast in its commitment to preserving and safeguarding its natural heritage. In line with its long-term vision outlined in the 20-year National Strategy (2018–2037), Thailand took a significant stride towards fulfilling its commitments by publishing the National Reform Plan in Natural Resources and Environment (the “NRP”) in April 2018. This crucial document serves as a comprehensive guideline for the government, aiming to harmonize the nation’s development goals with the imperative of sustainable utilization of its natural resources. Consequently, a remarkable milestone was achieved in 2019 with the release of the draft Biodiversity Act (the “Draft Act“) as a pivotal step forward in the realization of Thailand’s conservation objectives as outlined in the NRP. A summary of the Draft Act is provided in the later section of this newsletter.
The Biological Diversity Division, housed within the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (“ONEP“), Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, holds the primary responsibility as the government authority overseeing biodiversity initiatives in Thailand.
Thailand’s biodiversity mission under the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework
Thailand, along with almost 200 other nations, adopted the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (“GBF”) in December 2022 during the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (“COP-15”) in Montreal, Canada. The GBF aims to prompt transformative changes among member nations to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, progressing toward the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 2050 vision of “Living in harmony with nature.” The key goals of the GBF include increasing the area of natural ecosystems by 2050, reducing extinction rates, maintaining genetic diversity, supporting sustainable development, enhancing the benefits from genetic resources, and ensuring sufficient financial resources and capacity for full GBF implementation.
During the COP-15 meeting, a representative from ONEP stated that the targets outlined in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework will be incorporated into Thailand’s Fifth National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (“NBSAP“). Furthermore, they also stated that the fifth NBSAP, which is currently being drafted, will incorporate the 20-year National Strategy (2018–2037), the Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) model (i.e. an economic growth model capitalizing on Thailand’s strengths in biological diversity and cultural richness to transform the country into a sustainable, value-based, and innovation-driven economy), and the aforementioned GBF. The NBSAP will also include efforts to advance the Draft Act through the legislative process to become law. As of May 2023, the fifth NBSAP has not been issued.
Biodiversity Database and Information Network: The TH-BIF
As part of the NRP, ONEP has actively worked on developing the Thailand Biodiversity Information Facility (TH-BIF), a comprehensive database and information network encompassing various forms of living organisms. Recently in April 2023, ONEP signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Institute of Marine Science of Burapha University, with the purpose of sharing information on marine species within the TH-BIF. Recognizing the current lack of an integrated database for Thailand’s living organisms, the TH-BIF aims to become a central hub of biodiversity information in the country. Once fully developed, the TH-BIF has the potential to serve as a vital information network for biodiversity preservation, as well as for accessing and utilizing biological resources.
It is important to highlight that the responsibility for developing a national-level database and information network for biodiversity is assigned to ONEP under the Draft Act. As mentioned earlier, the enactment of comprehensive biodiversity legislation like the Draft Act is a crucial step towards fulfilling Thailand’s goals and international obligations.
In the following section, we will present an overview of the Draft Act, specifically the public-hearing version published in 2020. This will allow practitioners and our interested readers to further delve into its content and explore its potential implications.
The Draft Biodiversity Act (the “Draft Act”)
The Draft Act aims to incorporate two internationally recognized protocols established under the Convention on Biological Diversity: the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (referred to as “ABS”) and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. It should be noted that while Thailand is a member of the Cartagena Protocol, it has yet to become a member of ABS.
We summarize said concepts under said Draft Act below.
Access to Biological Resources and Benefit Sharing (ABS)
The Draft Act aims to establish a robust legal framework that ensures the effective implementation of measures and promotes the fair and equitable sharing of genetic resources in Thailand and their associated benefits. This entails the following provisions:
– Mandating entities, such as research companies, that intend to utilize biological resources of Thailand to obtain permission from the competent biodiversity authority under the Act. Prior Informed Consent (“PIC”) must be obtained before accessing such resources.
– Requiring both the user (e.g., research company) and the provider of biological resources (e.g., local community) to establish Mutually Agreed Terms (“MAT”). The MAT should encompass the conditions governing access to and use of the resources, as well as the benefits, either monetary or non-monetary, to be shared at the minimum to 1) the relevant competent authority; 2) local community from which the biological resource originated; and 3) ONEP.
It is important to mention that in the Draft Act, the scope of the ABS regulations excludes two specific areas. First, it does not encompass the access and utilization of biological resources by local communities for their subsistence in accordance with their traditional practices. Second, it does not cover the utilization of human genetic resources. By implementing these provisions, the Draft Act aims to ensure transparency, equitable collaboration, and sustainable management of genetic resources within Thailand.
Control of Living Modified Organisms
The objective of the Draft Act is to safeguard biosafety through the implementation of measures that govern genetically modified organisms (GMOs) capable of transmitting genetic material to future generations, commonly referred to as Living Modified Organisms (“LMOs”), in accordance with the Cartagena Protocol. As per the provisions of the Draft Act, the possession, importation, export, transfer, use, field testing, and release of LMOs into the environment would require permission from the competent biodiversity authority. Additionally, the Draft Act proposes a general prohibition on the release of certain alien species into the environment for biosafety purposes. This regulation expands the scope of the law to cover alien species across all biological organisms, addressing a gap in existing laws and regulations.
The Draft Act underwent a public hearing in March 2020, and there have been no significant updates since then. However, it is expected that the draft will undergo further revisions to align with Thailand’s recent strategy and international commitments. Nevertheless, it is likely that key concepts such as ABS and biosafety will remain in future versions of the draft, as they are recognized principles under CBD.
Authors: Radeemada Mungkarndee, PhD, LLB, Dharin Nantananate