The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a mostly arid land with habitats, and people adapted to live both little amounts of uncertain precipitation and extremes temperatures with resulting in high evaporative losses to the dry atmosphere (Aspinall, n.d). It is an extreme environment with significant impacts on communities. Nonetheless, people have managed to survive and exploit natural resources in the region. Today, however, the UAE is much drier relative to the previous decades.
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Given such changes in the environment, the UAE leaders such as the late President of the UAE, H.H. Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, have demonstrated their commitments to protect the environment from degradation because of human and natural activities (Property Practice, 2009). UAE leaders have focused on environmental protection and promoting sustainability through various laws and regulations that encourage compliance. The country recognizes that the environment is an integral part of its system, culture, and history. They have survived on both harsh climates of the land and sea.
The available environmental laws in the UAE consist of both Federal Laws and Local Laws, which are administered at the lowest level or municipal level at all the Emirates (Aspinall, n.d). In addition, the UAE has also recognized international laws on environmental protection, and therefore, it has incorporated them within its system. In this research paper, the focus is on the UAE environmental laws from both federal and local perspectives and new developments based on the changes in the global climate laws.
Overview of the environment
The laws and regulations of Federal Law No (24) of 1999 for the Protection and Development of the Environment (“Law No. 24”) form the backbone of the Environmental Law within the UAE (Aspinall, n.d). Modern growth and economic activities have clearly brought about changes in the UAE. As a result, modern laws and regulations to protect and sustain the environment have replaced the old methods of environmental protection, although some are still practiced. Today, high-tech environmental studies and ecological evaluations have replaced old practices. They aim to promote sustainability and as communities focus on exploiting natural resources such as oil and gas, fish, and other wild animals. Education and its subsequent benefits are responsible for such sustainability efforts. Therefore, it is believed that the UAE will continue to strengthen its environmental laws and regulations as new forms of challenges emerge, specifically from human activities.
The UAE and its Emirates, such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah, among others, have developed policies to ensure that they protect and sustain the environment. These laws are important for individuals seeking to make an investment in the region because many of them have been formulated to protect the public and environment from harmful consequences of investment activities, particular from the industrial sector (Webb, 2010).
Environmental Threats in the UAE
For effective protection and sustainability of the environment, it is vital to identify specific environmental threats and then develop effective policies to curb them. These threats could be either man-made or natural and usually have different impacts (Aspinall, n.d). Environmental protection and sustainability initiatives are long-term projects, and thus, they require effective solutions. In the UAE, threats to the environment may take place on a global scale because of the sea.
They originate from “industrial activities, domestic pollution, landfill, eutrophication, reclamation, and sedimentation, hunting, persecution, overfishing and unsustainable harvesting, alien introductions including predators on islands, disturbance, mismanagement, and development” (Aspinall, n.d). The UAE has not been keen on environmental studies to assess the impacts of degradation on a large scale and widespread related loss of vital ecosystem elements. It is believed that laws and regulations should curtail adverse impacts on the environment by reducing or eliminating the above-mentioned environmental threats. The region faces several environmental threats. Fog and highland, for instance, also face threats from “overgrazing, the proliferation of invasive aliens, persecution and socio-economic changes, the latter apparent in the decline of traditional farming and land-use practices” (Aspinall, n.d).
Today, large parts of the desert within the UAE have resulted from degradation associated with human activities, including overgrazing. However, these parts can still be restored. A widespread change of desert rangeland to irrigated grass and cropland has been enforced significantly in some sections of the desert in the last two decades. Consequently, nomadic activities have also declined. The erratic, unpredictable weather patterns (mainly persistent drought) of the region have compounded environmental issues in the UAE and over-dependence on scarce resources. The region often mismanages environmental resources but ignores such wasteful activities of its limited resources. In fact, mismanagement of environmental resources is widespread and dangerous, particularly along the coastal and desert regions.
Today, any investors that seek to do business in the region with critical environmental impacts must conduct environmental assessments to determine the potential impacts of their commercial ventures. In this regard, the Economic Department and ministries of the environment in the respective Emirates must determine license requirements based on outcomes of assessments. The economic departments must ensure that a business obtains all required approvals for them to grant a license.
Investors are required to provide their environmental assessment reports with clearly detailed possible environmental impacts of business activities and the proposed methods to control and lessen impacts on the environment and the public health. The UAE has established Specialised Economic Zones (“ZonesCorp”) under the control of Higher Corporation to act as ‘One Stop Shop’ for investors (Webb, 2010). The Higher Corporation may assist investors in obtaining all the required environmental approvals. The UAE has many broad environmental laws at both federal and local levels. In addition, other laws and regulations are specialized and focus on specific environmental issues.
As global warming continues to cause environmental degradation, attention has changed to major sources of greenhouse gases. In this regard, the oil and gas industry in the UAE is the major generator of carbon dioxide gas. In addition, transport and electricity sectors have also been identified as major sources of greenhouse gases. Further, certain projects such as construction sectors that involve high-rise towers, port activities, oil terminals, and fertilizer manufacturing and petrochemical industries all have waste materials that could present adverse environmental outcomes.
In most cases, however, several issues related to pollution have been linked to oil and chemical spills, ongoing physical activities at the coastal lines, construction, and marine alteration. As a result, these sources constitute major environmental impacts with severe impacts on the vulnerable ecosystem and aquifer.
Given such rising cases of pollution, the UAE has formulated various laws to curb the emission of carbon dioxide (the leading offender within the Gulf region).
The Federal Environment Agency, the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency (ERWDA), and the UAE ratified the Kyoto Protocol in January 2005 are environmental laws that strive to manage, protect wildlife, and reduce carbon dioxide gas emission, respectively.
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As the UAE continues to grow over the years, a focus on environmental issues has become essential. In this regard, different municipalities have created various agencies to implement different environmental laws and regulations that emanate from local orders. Many of these laws and regulations focus on effective implementation and enforcement of the provisions.
It is noted that Dubai has some of the most advanced environmental laws among the emirates. Any entity must obtain permits from the local authority for any activities that may affect water usage, including drainage and sewerage systems and liquid waste, and air pollution. Dubai’s local authorities closely regulate and monitor all environmental regulations. They can undertake any cleanup exercises at the expense of the offender, revoke a license on drainage, and cancel any other permits. In addition, all facilities must conduct monthly reviews of their facilities and submit their outcomes to the local authority.
The UAE has an environmental statute of general applications, Law No. 24 of 1999, regarding the Protection and Development of the Environment (Aspinall, n.d). The provisions in this law cover most aspects of “environmental protection from water, air to land” (Webb, 2010). The law states that all government agencies concerned with “planning, construction, and economic development must consider environmental protection, the prevention of pollution and the rational use of natural resources in carrying out their functions” (Webb, 2010).
In addition, it gives the federal Ministry of Environment and Water authorities to ensure that “all projects with critical environmental impacts are assessed” (Webb, 2010). The ministry, however, must work in consultation with other ministries and agencies to ensure compliance.
The UAE has defined various categories to guide environmental impact assessments, and therefore, any evaluations must focus on such core areas. The project owners must obtain a license from a competent body. Consequently, the developer must conduct an environmental audit regularly to “assess waste management practices and impacts of any discharged waste materials” (Webb, 2010). The UAE law also recognizes that emergencies may take place, and thus, stakeholders are free to establish any plans to combat environmental threats. Generally, the law does not allow discarding of untreated waste materials. In addition, no waste materials should be discarded into the water bodies, and any activities with detrimental impacts on the soil are strictly forbidden (Webb, 2010).
The UAE also restricts potential airborne pollutants. The federal law requires that individuals manufacturing and engaged in activities with toxic materials must obtain a permit from the relevant agency; for instance, the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi (Webb, 2010). In addition, such an individual must ensure that business activities do not cause any environmental damages. The UAE regulation systems offer a detailed approach for “licensing and storage of any hazardous chemicals and transportation of other dangerous chemicals” (Webb, 2010).
In the Emirates of Abu Dhabi, for instance, any interested parties must obtain their license from the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi as the chosen competent body with the authority to issue licenses within the law. To modernize its laws, regulations, and practices, the agency has developed and implemented ‘Standard Operating Procedures.’ These procedures have detailed provisions on its strategies for “permitting for commercial, industrial, light industrial, chemical, hazardous materials, and infrastructure projects” (Webb, 2010). In addition, the UAE federal law states that any individuals acting in a negligent manner, breach the law or intentionally causes environmental damages must bear full responsibilities, including remediation of damages because of their actions and any further claims and charges as compensations related to costs incurred because of the breach of the law.
Compensation is rather comprehensive. For instance, it covers damages to the environment as provided for under the law, the determined costs related to “environmental improvements and costs related to declining of perceived aesthetic values of the environment” (Webb, 2010).
The federal law on environmental protection has provisions for liabilities. In addition, the federal law has created several different offenses with “fines ranging from AED 500 to AED 10,000,000, imprisonment and, in the case of serious and intentional dumping of radioactive waste, the death penalty” (Webb, 2010).
Law No. 24
Law No. 24 has some “clear objectives and certain principles for environmental protection” (Property Practice, 2009). First, the law aims to protect and conserve the “general quality and ensure the maximum balance of the normal environment” (Property Practice, 2009). Second, the law strives to ensure absolute regulation on various forms of pollution and inhibit any possible immediate or long-term detrimental impacts on the environments from activities such as economic development, agriculture, or industrial activities that aim to enhance the quality of life. Third, the law requires various agencies to coordinate their efforts in environmental protection and conservation.
Besides, it states that various competent bodies and other related stakeholders must consolidate their approaches, create awareness and standards to manage pollution. Fourth, it stresses the need to develop “all-natural resources, conserve different biological diversity within the UAE, and use such resources responsibly with consideration for both the present and future generations” (Property Practice, 2009).
Fifth, the law aims to protect society, public health, and other living organisms from any actions, which could be environmentally risky or hinder authorized utilization of a given environmental setting. Sixth, the law was also enacted to protect the UAE region from harmful environmental activities that take place in other regions. Finally, this law also strives to ensure that the UAE meets and complies with “international and regional conventions ratified or approved by the UAE regarding environmental protection, control of pollution and conservation of natural resources” (Property Practice, 2009).
In the year 2001, the UAE published pursuant after Cabinet Resolution No. 37 to reflect the new realities of environmental protection. It comprehensively covered all issues that relate to environmental protection, projects, marine activities, and subsequent pollution. The new resolution also covered “compensation for damages; protection of groundwater; air pollution; disposal of hazardous waste; disposal of medical waste, pesticides, agricultural fixers and fertilisers; nature reserves; the protection of wildlife, as well as the penalties imposed for contravention of any provisions of the law” (Property Practice, 2009).
The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
The Federal Law No. 24 states that individuals or entities that wish to engage in any form of development within the UAE with potential environmental effects must obtain “the FEA approval or the required license from any other relevant local authorities” (Property Practice, 2009). The FEA, alongside other environmental local authorities, usually perform an environmental assessment of a given project.
The law has provided a clear procedure. First, all applications must bear a completed statement regarding the project planned to be implemented. In addition, all relevant pieces of information must be provided based on the Executive Order (Federal and Local Laws). Second, the FEA, alongside another relevant environmental agency, must assess the application and provide the response within a period of one month. Applicants must be notified of the outcomes of their applications.
In case of rejection, the agencies must provide valid reasons for such outcomes. Although a single month is required to evaluate the application, it may be extended if there is a need. Finally, the project owners, once obtained positive feedback, must embark on a scheduled analysis of waste and evaluate waste material properties, potential pollutants, and any other harmful materials discharged from the site. Such materials may also include degraded by-products. Monitoring is a continuous process that requires reports to be sent to the FEA and any other regulatory authorities.
Federal Environmental Agency (FEA)
The FEA was created under Federal Law No. 7 of 1993 for the Establishment of the Federal Environmental Agency (Webb, 2010). It has the following provisions and goals. First, the FEA must protect and develop environmental resources in the UAE. Second, the agency must identify the required environmental plans and policies to protect it against any forms of damages.
Stakeholders of the UAE Environmental Laws
The protection and conservation of the environment go beyond the UAE laws and regulations. As a result, there are several institutional bodies, which collaborate with the country and all the seven emirates to meet environmental conservation, usages, and sustainability needs (Aspinall, n.d). These institutions and other stakeholders continue to evolve and accommodate emerging environmental challenges. In recent, globalization has brought about rapid changes, and in some instances, organizations may be left behind by these changes. Some of the institutions that work together to ensure environmental protection efforts include the following.
All seven emirates have a ruling family. The head may pass a decree, which is considered legal under the law. Occasionally, such laws may relate to environmental issues, for instance, the creation of nationally protected sites and the imposing of the hunting ban on endangering species in their emirates.
There are also several government bodies or agencies responsible for environmental issues in the UAE. These organizations have different responsibilities based on their roles and specific areas of protection. As highlighted above, the role of the federal government has been captured through the FAE. Apart from the FAE, government agencies also include Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries found within each emirate or any other relevant agencies; Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency (ERWDA); Department of Environment and Protected Areas (DEPA) in Sharjah and the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing in Dubai among others (Aspinall, n.d). All these ministries are responsible for specific aspects of environmental protection.
The municipality, locally known as ‘Baladiyat’ in all major cities and towns of the UAE, is important for environmental laws implementation and enforcement. These are the local authorities or councils, which are responsible for several environmental protection activities, including “pest control, managing parks, zoos, city garden, and municipal waste management among others” (Aspinall, n.d).
Academic research institutes
Institutions of higher learning such as Emirates University, Al-Ain have worked together with various stakeholders to promote environmental protection, including conducting studies to determine various impacts and feasibility of projects.
Non-environmental governmental bodies
The UAE also has other bodies such as national companies like the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), and all affiliated companies within the group must observe strict Health, Safety, and Environment standards. For instance, ADNOC has been identified as a major force in environmental matters, including policy formulation, legislation implementation, and adoption of best practices in Abu Dhabi.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
Several NGOs are found in the UAE. They specifically work on issues related to the environment. Some of these organizations include Arabian Leopard Trust (ALT), the World Conservation Union (IUCN), Emirates Environmental Group (EEG), and Environment Friends Society (EFS), among others.
In addition, several other organizations and agencies are also engaged in environmental affairs in the UAE. For instance, the Environment and Wildlife Management section (EWM) is a vital example under this category. The organization is responsible for protecting various wild animals and domestic ones for Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, such as Sir Bani Yas (Vine, 1999).
In protecting the environment, the UAE also works closely with other institutions, both national and international, to ensure effective environmental protection. For instance, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) works together with the FEA to formulate and implement environmental protection policies. In addition, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) also coordinates environmental efforts in the UAE while local organizations, including private and public ones such as FEA and Food and Environment Control Centre (FECC), have developed a close relationship to promote environmental protection.
All these organizations create synergies for environmental protection and sustainability, regrettably, there is much duplication of efforts and roles based on various standards. This is usually a common situation across many organizations and supported by political declarations.
The Gulf region, including the UAE, formed the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (AGCC) in 1981. The AGCC was an intergovernmental agency that focused on issues of mutual interests to the Gulf region, including political, economic, and military affairs. Member countries may take part in discussions involving environmental affairs.
Every year, the AGCC ministers for environments convene to discuss emerging environmental issues. For instance, they have discussed issues regarding ozone depletion, international environmental matters, hazardous chemicals, and the Kyoto Protocol, among others.
Some of the major organizations of the UN, such as the WHO, UNEP, FAO, and UNDP, all are present in the Gulf regions to advise regional governments on environmental affairs.
Still, on the international front, the UAE has also increased its effort and participation in global environmental issues. The country is a party to several international treaties on environmental protection.
The UAE Environmental Education and Awareness
The UAE, through its various agencies such as ERWDA, have embarked on grassroots efforts to educate the public and create awareness about environmental conservation. In addition, several non-governmental organizations also promote environmental education and awareness. Specifically, NGOs such as the Environment Friends Society (EFS) and the Arabian Leopard Trust (ALT) and others have increased their environmental campaigns (Aspinall, n.d). At the same time, the UAE has also introduced environmental education in school curricular programs.
Environmental education and awareness also involve the media, which cover documentaries on both domestic and global environmental affairs.
Every year, the country also organizes conferences on environmental issues. These conferences have found high-levels of support from the government and other stakeholders. They discuss hot topics on environmental affairs such as global warming, ozone depletion, desertification, coastal degradation, and conservation of wild animals such as Oryx (Aspinall, n.d).
New changes to environmental protection in the UAE
The UAE has recognized the dynamics of environmental management. On this note, the UAE shows that environmental laws and regulations must be reviewed constantly to reflect changing circumstances.
Usually, the Ministry of Justice is responsible for enforcing environmental laws and regulations through the judicial system. In this regard, any violators the UAE environmental laws and regulations must bear consequences of the damages caused to the environment. The law, however, does not expressly state whether the affected entities may pursue a private cause of action. Conversely, the law does clearly show that environmental protection agencies may opt for legal action against violation of provisions.
In the recent past, however, the UAE has introduced some changes to the Ministry of Environment and Water (Todorova, 2014). The new laws and regulations give the Ministry more powers to take stern action against environmental polluters. In addition, the ministry will develop new recycling regulations to be implemented.
These are part of the major reforms in the environmental laws that the UAE has been evaluating and considering for the implementation. Under the new laws, the ministry will “bypass the courts and punish offenders” (Todorova, 2014).
The UAE has also focused on reviewing its current laws on waste management, particularly hazardous waste materials, with the aim of introducing ones that are more stringent.
These reforms were meant to give the ministry and local authorities to act immediately and handle cases of environmental provisions violations.
For waste management laws, the UAE aims to ensure that there is a difference between disposal practices of various waste materials based on their hazardous effects on the environment and public health.
The UAE has operated with fragmented environmental laws, which have been sources of major challenges for environmental experts (Todorova, 2014). Currently, several parts of the UAE do not have facilities to handle large waste materials generated. Some of these materials are not suitable for normal open landfills and could cause serious environmental challenges. Hence, recycling is a new approach proposed under these reforms.
For instance, Abu Dhabi intends to treat and recycle all of its wastewater. The recycled water will be used to irrigate farms and parks. This ambitious environmental plan will be realized within the next four years. It currently recycles only 60% and discharges the rest to the sea, resulting in environmental degradation and massive wastage. The UAE has noted that the groundwater is under a lot of pressure and has declined significantly in the last six years, and a similar trend will cause severe water shortage in some regions. Moreover, desalinated water is extremely costly. Hence, the only viable option is cheap, treated wastewater (Todorova, 2014).
At the same time, the UAE wants to construct renewable energy stations under its environmental law reforms to combat massive waste challenges. The country focuses on the first waste-to-energy project, which is expected to be the largest in the region. Under this project, the municipal solid wastes (MSW) will be targeted in the first phase for recycling to generate energy.
The UAE has developed comprehensive environmental laws and regulations to protect and sustain the ecosystem for both the current and future generations. People and organizations in the country will have to adhere to various environmental laws and regulations. These laws and regulations mainly affect investors whose activities may have significant impacts on the environment. Compliance with environmental laws is thus a vital process in ensuring environmental conservation.
It is noted that several activities, including natural and man-made present serious problems to the environment. The UAE, therefore, requires laws and regulations to protect its environment.
The UAE recognizes the relevance of economic progress as well as the environment. Consequently, various organizations from the federal and local agencies work together to formulate, implement, and enforce these laws. In addition, other non-governmental organizations have worked with the government and other relevant stakeholders to ensure maximum efforts in environmental protection.
Further, the country works with both regional and international organizations to facilitate environmental conservation efforts. These collaborative efforts show that laws and regulations alone cannot result in effective environmental management. Instead, effective environmental protection goes beyond enacted laws and regulations to include the participation of all stakeholders. To ensure favorable outcomes, the UAE encourages public education and awareness of environmental issues. These are grassroots efforts to promote environmental conservation at community levels. Largely, environmental conservation in the UAE may be possible because of the widespread engagement of various stakeholders.
The UAE has also realized that its current fragmented laws and regulations on the environment may not adequately address emerging environmental challenges. As a result, it has embarked on widespread reforms on environmental laws. These reforms will ensure swift punishment for offenders, increased recycling, and waste-to-energy initiatives.
Therefore, the UAE must continue to review and improve its environmental laws to ensure that they can meet emerging environmental threats and fulfill desires for economic progress.
Aspinall, S. (n.d). Environmental Development and Protection in the UAE. Web.
Property Practice. (2009). Environmental Law in the UAE. Law Update, Issue 223. Web.
Todorova, V. (2014). Sweeping changes to environmental protection in the UAE. The National. Web.
Vine, P. (1999). Sir Bani Yas. London: Trident Press. Web.
Webb, C. (2010). United Arab Emirates: Environmental Laws in Abu Dhabi. Web.