One Londoner’s Bangkok Perspective

25 Aug 2023
By Cosmin Iftode, University of Manchester – BAEcon , SasinSEC Intern My name is Cosmin Iftode [think, “if toad”] and I’m a student at the University of Manchester. Born in Romania, I grew up in London. I’m here in Bangkok on a six-week internship at Sasin Sustainability & Entrepreneurship Centre. These are a few first impressions of the city. Motorcycles everywhere. That’s the immediate impression a visitor has. I’m told it is quite a common situation throughout southeast Asia. Moto-taxis offer cheap quick transport as well as job opportunities for Bangkokians. The swarming motorcycles and its polluting combustions combined with a climate that is extremely humid, hot with thick air, results in the air quality being on par with New Delhi. London, in comparison, has a centralised and developed public transport network of buses and trains that can accommodate far many more passengers per trip, and with a smaller carbon footprint. Furthermore, many London buses use hybrid engines or are completely electric. Either way, the result is significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions. One way Bangkok could become more sustainable and reach the goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 might be to focus on transport electrification. The government might promote this change through improved infrastructure, or by offering charging stations and cost-based incentives for electric vehicles. Bangkok is the hub of great quality street food. When eating out in Bangkok I noticed a great deal of unnecessary plastics used. From plastic straws to boxes for takeaway food and plastic bags. Many of of these are discouraged or outright forbidden in London, particularly plastic straws. Naturally Bangkok’s heavy use of plastic directly links to costs. However, the problem of sustainability is worsened with the lack of formal recycling in the city. London provides recycling bins on almost every street, which isn’t the case in Bangkok. Naturally, high use of plastic with little recycling creates a lot of waste. The Bangkok authorities will need to expand their formal recycling scheme which will undoubtedly greatly improve the country’s sustainability prospects. Overall, it both cities have a history of pollution issues. The famed Great Smog of London 1952 was a significant turning point on environmental research, government regulation, and public awareness, leading to the Clean Air Act 1956. Whilst London’s air has become much better since then, Bangkok still suffers. But of course pollutants such as plastics and motorbikes are favored by residents, so extensive lifestyle changes will need to be made if Thailand is to reach its goal for 2050. Thailand’s capital already boasts an impressive overhead (BTS) trainline, rivalling in quality some of what the UK’s TFL system offers. As for recycling, a formal collection scheme may not be overly costly to implement in the Thai context. Bangkok has the potential to match London and other western capitals for eco-friendly alternatives. Time and well-managed allocation of resources will make the difference.
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