Environment Laws In The UAE

20 Apr 2022

Environment Laws are a set of regulations and customary laws that direct attention to human activity’s effects on the natural environment. These laws can also be called environmental and natural resource law and revolve around reducing and controlling environmental pollution. Environmental law majorly works to preserve certain natural resources and build the concept of sustainable development while undertaking ecological impact assessment. 

Environmental laws help in protecting animals, resources, habitats, including air, water, and soil. With these laws’ help, different countries can legislate matters concerning pollution, contamination, hunting, or even response to a disaster. 

In case of these laws’ negligence, other countries have imposed either fines or jail time to make sure people follow the regulations created to protect the environment.

In the United Arab Emirates, Federal law 24 of 1999-Protection and Development of the Environment –is the umbrella law for environmental protection. There are several other relevant legislatures relating to the environment and its conservation:

  1. Federal Law Number 23 of 1999 regarding conservation of aquatic resources.
  2. Federal Law Number 20 of 2006 regarding the use of radioactive materials (which amended Federal Law No. 1 of 2002).
  3. Federal Law Number 16 of 2007 concerning animal protection.
  4. Federal Law Number 11 of 2002 regarding the regulation and control of international trade in endangered species of wild flora and fauna and executive order issued by the Council of Ministers Decree No. 22 of 2003.
  5. Federal Law Number 5 of 1979 concerning agricultural quarantine.
  6. Federal Law Number 6 of 1979 regarding veterinary quarantine.
  7. Federal Law No. 21 of 1981 on the establishment of the General Authority for water resources management.
  8. Federal Law No. 9 of 1983 regulating the hunting of birds and animals.
  9. Federal Law No. 38 of 1992 establishes nurseries and regulates the production, importation, and circulation of seedlings.
  10. Federal Law No. 7 of 1993 on the establishment of the Federal Environment Agency.
  11. Federal Law No. 9 of 2013 on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.
  12. Federal Law No. 12 of 2018 on integrated waste management.
  13. Ministerial decree No. 335 of 2018 on regulating the importation of live animals, their products, and their by-products.
  14. Federal Law No. 9 of 2020 on the biosafety of genetically modified organisms and their products
  15. Ministerial Decree No. (98) of 2019 On using Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) produced from waste treatment procedures in cement plants.


Regulatory Authorities:

The foremost federal regulatory authorities for supervising environmental issues are the:

  1. Federal Environment Agency (FEA). This is a federal government body that frames policies for further protecting and developing a healthy atmosphere and supervising pollution control.
  2. Federal Ministry of Climate Change and Environment. The Ministry manages all aspects of climate change, including implementing climate change policies and initiatives.
  3. Air Quality Department of the Ministry of Environment and Water. This regulates air pollution in the nation by issuing decrees and air standards.
  4. Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. This deals with marine and land environmental matters.


Active NGOs and Pressure Groups:

Apart from these laws and regulatory authorities, various NGOs and pressure groups aim to enforce the established environmental regulations in the UAE. For example, Emirates Environment Group (a Dubai-based organization committed to protecting the environment through education), Dubai Natural History Group (which conducts surveys and research into hazardous activities to the nation’s environment). Emirates Wildlife Society is in association with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) (which aims to protect biodiversity in key sites across the country). Similarly, prominent pressure groups working towards environmental protection are the Environment and Wildlife Management System (EWM), which is accountable for handling wildlife collections and land owned by the Abu Dhabi royal family, and Emirates Health Club, which primarily focuses on the protection and preservation of marine and coastal resources.

Although the law doesn’t expressly state whether these non-government agencies or pressure groups can institute civil litigation against an offender or not. 


Environmental Permits:

Companies established in UAE in whichever emirate are required to obtain the necessary environmental permits from the respective authorities that regulate ecological concerns in that emirate. 

There are two kinds of permits, a) integrated and b) separate, depending on the nature of the business or underlying project and how it affects the environment of that particular area and to what extent. The permit issued by the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) is to be renewed every year so as to ensure compliance and adherence to the laid down environmental laws. Moreover, once a permit is awarded, it is not transferable to a third party. Monetary penalties of up to AED 5000 can be put on non-compliance with EAD regulations.


Environment Impact Assessment:

EAD requires an environmental impact assessment (EIA) undertaking from specific projects like fossil and non-fossil natural resources projects, industrial projects and agricultural projects, etc. Hence, in Abu Dhabi, the EAD grants permit to carry out projects based on EIAs, while the Environment Planning and Studies Section (EPSS) of the Environment Department in Dubai issues permits and a penalty varying from AED 1,000 to AED1 million can be charged in case of non-compliance with an EIA.


Environment Insurance:

There are two types of environment insurances readily available covering environmental liabilities:

  1. Pollution Legal Liability– This policy is made as per the Environmental Damage Regulation 2009 and includes the liability for damaging biodiversity.
  2. Contractors Pollution Liability (CPL)– This policy has been created to protect the contractors, developers, and site owners against the pollution releases and sudden accidents caused at the sites.


Environmental Audit:

An environmental audit is required to be conducted by all companies and sent to the respective regulatory authorities. In addition to this, all environment-related matters must be reported to the leaders to take relevant actions as per the issue.


Environmental Liability and assets/share transfer:

Buyers must undertake the tedious task of due diligence before completing the acquisition to verify compliance with any environmental regulations, permits, or provisions and to seek previous violations. However, The buyer of a company’s shares will not be liable if the sale agreement contains certain clauses that state the former owner will continue to be accountable for the pollution, and alleviating the buyer from past acts, liability, demands, and claims on the company. Such a clause must not be a hindrance to the provisions of Federal Law No. 2 of 2015 on commercial companies. The seller must disclose known environmental information in good faith. While dealing with environmental laws, the UAE has to check various levels of pollution, such as 

*Water Pollution – The UAE’s natural freshwater sources are rare and limited to groundwater. Through its authorities like EAD, the government is increasingly resorting to desalinated water, which has been produced using excess heat from electricity generation. This has caused an impact on the marine environment from discharging highly concentrated seawater to the Arabian Gulf, etc. Parties found violating any of the country’s water pollution laws are liable to civil actions. They are responsible for all costs associated with any damage to the environment caused by their actions. Offenses under the provisions of the Environmental Law also attract stringent criminal and civil penalties. And then they may require to arrange defenders for their court trials. Offenders are liable to fines ranging from AED 5,000 to AED10 million and/or to a prison sentence, depending on the offense’s gravity.

*Air Pollution: Keeping the air quality ambient that falls within required standards has been one of the main challenges of the Air quality department of the Ministry of Environment and Water regulation in the country. Pollution is primarily affected by human activities, fuel combustion for energy, water and transport, and industrial activities. Parties found in violation of any provisions concerning air pollution in the Environmental Law are liable to civil action and are responsible for all costs associated with any damage caused to the environment by their actions. Fines that range between AED 2,000 to AED 20,000 can be incurred by offenders, including criminal charges that depend on the nature and extent of the pollution.

*Contaminated Land: The Environment Agency–Abu Dhabi (EAD) is the competent authority responsible for implementing federal and developing and implementing Emirate-level environmental laws and regulations in the Abu Dhabi Emirate. In conjunction with the Soil Contamination User Guide (henceforth referred to as the User Guide; EAD, 2016), this document is responsive to Recommendations 1-2 (Enhance Guidance for Site-specific Environmental Assessment) and 1-3 (Enhance Guidance for Risk Assessment) in EAD’s 2017 Soil Protection in Abu Dhabi: Regulatory Gap Analysis. 

While in Dubai, the environmental Planning and Studies section of the Environmental Department of Dubai municipality regulates and assesses the contaminated land. All the emirates have a similar investigation and restoration process in place. They all conduct a systematic study of the land and the root cause of the contamination before clean-up works are commenced. A penalty of a minimum of AED 10,000 and a maximum of AED 100,000 can be imposed in case of violation of the environmental law relating to contamination of land. 

To cater to the above mentioned issues, the Dubai municipality is in the process of launching 4 projects: The Dubai Deep Tunnel Storm Water System, the Waste Management Center, the Dubai Municipality Environmental Satellite, and the Dubai Traditional Market projects. Furthermore, UAE has recently become a part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Control and has concluded various international treaties regarding environmental protection like;

  1. 1969 Brussels Convention Relating to Intervention on the High Seas in Case of Oil Pollution Casualties the 1971 Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation in Oil Pollution Damage;
  2. the 1972 London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping from Ships and Aircraft (as amended);
  3. the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora;
  4. Annex 16 on Environmental Protection of the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, the Kuwait Regional Convention for Cooperation on the Protection of the Marine Environment from Pollution;
  5. the 1985 Vienna Convention for Protection of the Ozone Layer with its 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer;
  6. the 1986 IAEA Conventions on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency.

Hence, UAE has an extensive environmental law regime that applies to all the citizens of different emirates, with various regulating authorities keeping a check on environmental laws’ compliance to meet the ultimate goal of protecting the environment.