Early 2020 saw the completion of the milestone Asian Development Bank funded Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of Rayong Province Development Master Plan & Revision of Thai Draft SEA Guidelines project. The project had two primary goals:
- To conduct a provincial wide SEA in Rayong Province, focusing on how the provincial development plan can be used to enhance provincial sustainability;
- To make recommendations and revisions to the Thai Draft SEA guidelines. The draft national guidelines were used and evaluated during the Rayong SEA, with the experience using them informing revisions to the draft guidelines
The Rayong SEA was done at the request of Thailand’s National Economic and Social Development Committee (NESDC) in collaboration with Rayong Governor’s Office. The process highlighted the importance of SEAs in providing insights into provincial development planning by offering trade-off analyses and insights into relationships between economic, social and environmental goals.The lessons learned through the SEA process formed the basis for revising the national draft SEA guidelines, and the Rayong SEA will be a model for future assessments. Rayong Province lies within the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), an area encompassing the three eastern provinces of Chachoengsao, Chonburi, and Rayong. Since the mid-1980s the EEC has been promoted as a strategic industrial growth area. The new EEC Development Plan (2018) focuses on accelerating this growth through encouraging development of new industries, urban centres, expansion of ports and airports and new railway lines and highways. The end goal is to develop the region as an arterial hub for trade, investment and transportation. The Rayong SEA focused specifically on the current four-year Rayong Provincial Development Plan (RPDP), which has an implementation period through to 2021. The results of the Rayong SEA will inform the next five-year development planning period (2022-2026).
The Eastern Economic Corridor and Rayong Province
The SEA – a cross-sector integrated spatial and economic planning process – addressed socio-economic and environmental implications of existing and planned development within the province, the linked river basins, as well as the adjacent coastal and marine environment, seeking to enhance the ecological sustainability and social equity of the RPDP. As outlined in the figure below, the SEA process began with a scoping phase – setting the spatial, temporal and substantive boundaries of the assessment. This was followed by a baseline assessment phase that identified thematic areas, issues of critical concern and formulated sustainable development objectives. Thirteen thematic areas were subject to comprehensive analysis. The thirteen areas were macro-economics; social issues and demographics; energy; industry; transport; urban development; water resources; agriculture; tourism; coastal and marine environment; terrestrial biodiversity; environmental quality; and climate change. The impact assessment or sustainability analysis phase built on the baseline evidence base by projecting the trends for the key issues into the future under two development scenarios: (i) a business as usual (BAU) case, and (ii) a scenario where the RPDP was implemented in full. The penultimate SEA phase defined a sustainable development pathway that outlined measures to be taken across the thirteen thematic areas in order to enhance sustainability in the province. Finally, a phase (which is still in process) concerns the implementation arrangements that will ensure the SEA recommendations are acted on. This includes identifying steps and commitments for implementation.
The pilot SEA phases
As an output of this project, four major reports were produced:
- Vol I – Methodology and Scoping Report
- Vol II – Baseline
- Vol III – Sustainability Analysis Report
- Vol IV – Sustainable Development Pathway Report
In addition, to support scaling-up and improvements in the way SEAs are conducted in Thailand, a training module was developed, based on the Rayong SEA experience and the revisions to the Thai national SEA Guidelines. The training module was developed in the form of an animated Power Point presentation. Primarily, this module will support a training program initiated by NESDC for government agencies and practitioners outlining the key steps in conducting an SEA within the Thai context. The materials are also intended for use by private sector organizations wishing to improve their sustainability performance, consultants involved in conducting SEAs, as well as for individuals or organizations involved in research, teaching or training in this field.
Ultimately, the success of the SEA rests upon the extent to which its recommended actions are implemented, as well as how committed NESDC is to actively following up and working with the Rayong provincial authorities. The sustainable development pathway developed during the Rayong Province SEA provided a roadmap for the government agencies and private sector organisations that have development and resource management interests in the province. The project demonstrated the strong potential for SEA as a strategic planning tool that is suitable for adaptation to any sector, geographical area or issue. With national buy-in for the utility of SEAs, and adoption of the national SEA guidelines, the SEA process and the associated tools can contribute significantly to sustainable development throughout Thailand.