Wish list: Climate change and taxes

CHIANG RAI, 20 December 2018: As the countdown to the New Year begins, it’s time to jot down a few pointers for the wish list, both big and small picture.

After an almost last-ditch stand, weary climate negotiators limped across the finish line in Poland last week according to a Washington Post report, following days of indecision and discord at an international global gathering of some 25,000 delegates.

They managed to strike a deal that keeps the world moving forward with plans to curb carbon emissions.

But the battles continue and we are no closer to reaching our environmental targets for a cleaner world than we were a decade ago.

Big Picture

The global travel industry is not a bystander when it comes to climate change. We conveniently ignore the fact that we rely on airlines to bring tourists to our shores and aviation is lagging behind other industries in adoption of environmentally friendly fuels. As long as it relies on fossil fuel, travel and tourism is a negative for environmental well-being.

Topping my wish list should be a commitment to doing more to make Chiang Rai province a cleaner place by reducing the use of single use plastic in my home.

Asian countries that are keen to adopt sustainable tourism principles have to take the lead to end the use plastic and foam. But it all boils down to what we do every day at home and that starts with saying no to plastic bags and bottles.

When I first settled in Chiang Rai six years ago restaurants served free water by the glass or pitcher.

Today many of them are now serving plastic bottled water and charging for it too. There is absolutely no valid reason for hotels or restaurants to ditch what was a great tradition of Lanna (north Thailand) hospitality. It’s a step in the wrong direction.

Small picture

My personal wish list for day-to-day enjoyment would lead off with a change in the local taxation on wine. On one hand we present Thailand as a destination that delivers a quality experience and on the other we tax the life out of a bottle of wine.

If I drive the 80 km to the border with Myanmar, in my hometown province of Chiang Rai, I can see the duty-free shops 100 metres over the short bridge that marks the border. There I can find an amazing selection of imported wines; a mix of low-priced bargains and very high-priced wines. But this little known town just over a tiny border river from Mae Sai in Thailand happens to be a haven for wine lovers. Unfortunately we can only bring back one bottle per trip and with the new x-ray machines installed by customs a haversack packed with bottles of bubbly or wine is an instant give-away, with the contents ending in the waste bin kindly provided by customs officials.

I suspect that if the wine allowance doubled to two bottles per person, trips to Mae Sai and jaunts across the bridge to Tachilek, Myanmar, would become immediately more popular and everyone both sides of the border would enjoy the commerce.

Tachilek might not be a world-class destination but I can see quality and great prices just over the border from Mae Sai. For around THB300 I can buy a bottle of Bordeaux red wine from France that in the supermarket in downtown Chiang Rai sells for THB960. Now there’s a difference and I think in the long run high taxation dampens the enthusiasm to splash out on a meal and drinks in Thailand with or without the Michelin stars.

It doesn’t matter if you drink Thailand’s local wine or wines from around the world the price is about the same due to excessive taxation. You would assume that the local wine industry would get a helping hand from government to allow it be more competitive and develop a sustainable customer base.

If the long-term plan focuses on promoting Thailand as a quality destination by targeting up-market travellers then a rethink of taxation on wine would be a step in the right direction. It won’t happen but its my New Year wish.