Sukanya Sereenonchai: Communication Key to Environmental Protection

By Wang Fang

In the summer of 2016, Sukanya Sereenonchai finished her PhD in China and went back to Thailand, working in academia as a researcher in environmental communication.

“Obtaining a scholarship for my PhD and research funding was extremely valuable to me, as well as very beneficial to my current career,” Sukanya said. Her experience has helped her better understand environmental communication in China and other developing countries, while also allowing her the chance to get to know other professionals in this field.

Deep Impression of China

In the fall of 2011, Sukanya came to China for the first time. That was also the first time she studied outside Thailand.

“My first chance to learn the Chinese language was during my undergraduate years, when I chose Chinese as an elective course,” Sukanya said.

In 2011, with the help of the China-ASEAN Academic Cooperation and Exchange Program, Sukanya obtained a PhD scholarship for study in China, offered by China and the ASEAN University Network.

“I was both worried and excited at the same time,” she said. “The first September in China was tough. However, when I got used to it, I felt very comfortable and quite enjoyed studying and living in Beijing. What impressed me most was the Chinese people. They are upbeat, diligent, hospitable and kind. As I got to know my Chinese friends, this impression became very apparent to me.”

Sukanya was also impressed with China’s efforts and practices in environmental protection and adaptation to climate change.

“In my view, China’s practices in this regard are very practical, with very clear measures and policies, serving as a good example and reference for other developing countries,” Sukanya said.

She is most impressed with China’s nationwide reductions of plastic bag use and the promotion of commuting by bicycle. In addition, the Chinese government and academics have worked to introduce policies that will help rural people adapt to climate change.

Sukanya said that the Chinese government has launched the National Climate Change Adaptation Plan, an important guideline for China’s regulators as well as its companies. The plan encourages Chinese companies to develop environmentally-friendly technology. The Belt and Road Initiative is another endeavor at the national level to promote green development collaboration among China, ASEAN and other countries along the Belt and Road.

In addition to her scholarship, Sukanya also obtained research funding—provided by the Chinese government—for her to continue her research in China after obtaining her PhD, thanks to ever-closer ChinaASEAN education exchanges and cooperation. The year 2016 is the Year of China-ASEAN Education Exchange. So far, the two sides have jointly built platforms including the China-ASEAN Education and Training Center, ChinaASEAN Education Exchange Week, the China-ASEAN Environmental Cooperation Center and others. Their cooperation in culture, education and other areas has continued to expand and deepen, with more frequent personnel exchanges and more in-depth people-to-people exchanges.

Communication as a Tool

“My interest in communication studies began in my postgraduate years, and I hope to utilize communication as a tool to help improve society,” Sukanya said. She has been interested in environmental communication since August 2009.

In 2009, she became a researcher at the Faculty of Environment and Resource Studies at Mahidol University in Bangkok. Her research there was related to the environment and natural resources.

“From then on, I began to realize that environmental problems have become very serious in our society, not in one particular country, but across many,” Sukanya said. “I began to study and think over how environmental communication can help. The most prominent examples are droughts and floods caused by climate change in many countries. Therefore, I decided to study environmental communication and put it into practice.”

Since then, Sukanya has been dedicated to research and communication in environmental protection. In 2015, as an exchange scholar sponsored by the National Research Council of Thailand (NRCT) and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), she began research on communication and cooperation between Chinese and Thai environmental NGOs on climate change adaptation.

“That experience provided me with the opportunity to present and consult the collaborative research proposals to Chinese scholars and experts,” she said.

Sukanya gained a lot from that experience.

“The scholars and experts all agreed that communication and adaptation to climate change is important and challenging,” she said.

Adaptation to climate change is a relatively new issue, one that the Chinese government has paid attention to and promoted. Meanwhile, the comparative study of climate adaptation communication between Chinese and Thai societies will contribute in both academic and practical aspects.

In her view, Chinese NGOs are a key force in promoting the adaptive capacity of rural people. This is a good example for studying the roles of NGOs, especially the international NGOs which have conducted climate adaptation programs, such as Oxfam and Greenpeace. By studying the climate adaptation communication of these organizations, communication strategies can be analyzed and contributed to effective climate adaptation.

“In Thailand, although environmental protection and adaptation to climate change have been promoted and practiced in all sectors, we are still in the process of developing practical and effective actions,” Sukanya said. “Thai society can also learn from Chinese society the pathway to achieve effective environmental management.”

ASEAN-China Communication

In fact, China and ASEAN countries have cooperated in environmental protection for more than a decade. In 2003, China and ASEAN issued the Joint Declaration on ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity. In 2010, the China-ASEAN Environmental Cooperation Center (CAEC) was established, providing a mechanism platform for environmental cooperation.

“Both the media and communication have a crucial role to play in strengthening cooperation on environmental protection and climate change adaptation between ASEAN and China.”

“According to the ASEAN-China Strategy on Environmental Protection Cooperation (2016-2020), ASEAN and China are going to promote academic and research development for creating a new body of knowledge and methods for environmental management to reduce the impact of environmental degradation,” Sukanya said.

In addition, they will promote biodiversity conservation, including raising public awareness of green development.

“To the best of my knowledge, cooperation at the national level between China and Thailand on environmental protection and climate change adaptation has been greatly enhanced over the past decade,” Sukanya said. “Both governments and academic institutions of both countries have joined this effort.”

For example, a project between the Thai Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, known as the Eco Village (2011-2013), focuses on waste management in rural communities.

“As environmental problems have become an issue across borders, cooperative environmental policy and problem solving are important to protecting people’s health and the ecosystem. Those involved in environmental protection and climate change adaptation should include governments, media, scholars, NGOs, businesses and the general public,” Sukanya added.

“Both the media and communication have a crucial role to play in strengthening cooperation on environmental protection and climate change adaptation between ASEAN and China,” Sukanya said.

ASEAN and Chinese media should collaborate to share and learn from each other in terms of information, media technology, investigative news reporting, special issues coverage and broadcasting, which will help upgrade cooperation in this specific sector to concrete actions that benefit both societies.

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