Legal Agenda recently published a piece (in Arabic) analysing the status of environmental legislation in Lebanon. The post focuses on Environmental Protection Law No. 444 for the year 2002 and poses the question: is this a symbolic law that the government has adopted in order to adhere to international standards with no real will to enforce it? This post presents a summary of the piece.
Some people believe that the value of Lebanon’s Environmental Protection Law is overrated as the government is unable to enforce all of its provisions. However, a Ministry of Environment adviser stressed its importance for providing a framework through which the Ministry can operate. The law, she believes, functions as an umbrella for all environmental issues in the country, defines them and sets stringent penalties for damaging or polluting natural resources. The law also helps Lebanon abide by its international obligations and adopts internationally recognized principles.
Another point of contention between activists and the Ministry of Environment is the extent to which the law is in fact applied. Legal experts believe that over half of the articles in this the extensive piece of legislation can only be activated through the issuance of one or more decrees (legal document adopted by the Ministerial Cabinet). However, until today, and 12 years after the law was adopted, only 4 such decrees have been issued. Many other decrees have been prepared and are ready or adoption but await the political will.
The establishment of the National Council for Environment is cited as one example of the ineffective application of Law 444. Since its establishment in 2012, the council has only met 3 times rendering its usefulness highly questionable.
The most prominent and highly controversial principle adopted by the Ministry of Environment as a direct result of the 2002 law relates to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which became a legal requirement in accordance with Decree 8633 issued in 2012. The main purpose of the EIA is to evaluate any planned development project, private and public, in terms of its potential impacts on the Lebanese environment and decide on whether or not the project is approved by the Ministry. The EIA also puts in place various mitigation measures to minimize the identified impacts and sets them as conditions to going ahead with the development. However, since its adoption in 2012, no project has been rejected on the basis of its potential environmental impacts. In addition, activists complain that the consultant hired by the project owner usually has strong relations with their client and in many cases is the same entity preparing and supervising the project activities, creating a clear conflict of interest.
The Ministry’s adviser explains that the international philosophy relating to EIAs is precaution and therefore the purpose of the process is to ensure that project owners improve their projects to minimize damage and not to reject them completely. She claims that in the last two years, one project has indeed been rejected, and that is Faqra Bridge. According to her, the Ministry’s role is limited to ensuring that information presented about the project are correct and that a public hearing is held.
However, many situations have proven the Ministry of Environment’s weakness in enforcing its own decisions the most recent of which was requesting the halting of construction by the Ministry of Energy and Water of various dams throughout the country, such as Jenna dam. Activists believe that these requests are just “for show” as none of the construction activities were ever stopped and the Ministry of Environment never took any legal action as a result.