United Arab Emirates: Environmental Laws in Abu Dhabi

Last Updated: 15 July 2010
Article by Chris Webb

It has long been a policy of the Abu Dhabi and UAE governments to protect the environment and several significant laws and regulations have been passed with that objective in mind. These need close scrutiny by any investor contemplating a project in Abu Dhabi, particularly in the industrial sector.

An investor seeking to establish a business with potential impact on the environment will, when consulting with the Economic Department about licensing requirements, be informed of any required approval from the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi or any other relevant competent authority. The Economic Department maintains a list of activities requiring such approvals and will not issue a commercial license until all relevant approvals have been obtained. In order to gain the Environment Agency's (or other competent authority's) approval it may be necessary to submit an environmental report detailing potential environmental effects of the business and the methods proposed to be used to mitigate or eliminate them. Investors seeking to establish an industrial facility in a zone administered by the Higher Corporation for Specialised Economic Zones ("ZonesCorp") may find that under ZonesCorp's "One Stop Shop" program ZonesCorp will assist by obtaining any necessary environmental approval for them.
A number of environmental laws at the federal and emiri level are of broad relevance and are discussed below. There are others1 that are of more specialist concern and cannot be examined in an article of this length.

Federal Laws
At the federal level there is an environmental statute of general application, Law No. 24 of 1999 regarding Protection and Development of the Environment. This law covers every aspect of environmental protection including land, water and air. It requires all governmental bodies concerned with planning, construction and economic development to consider environmental protection, the prevention of pollution and the rational use of natural resources in carrying out their functions.

This law empowers the federal Ministry of Environment and Water, in consultation with others, to require an environmental impact assessment for certain categories of projects2 .The categories of projects for which an environmental impact assessment is required are set out in the executive regulations³ to the law. The owner of a project, once licensed by the relevant competent authority4; may be required to undertake regular analyses of waste and to monitor any discharges of pollutants. The law also provides for the establishment of emergency plans for combating environmental disasters. It imposes a general ban on discarding untreated waste or other substances polluting the water environment and prohibits any activity damaging or polluting the soil. Certain airborne pollutants are subjected to limits5. There is also a requirement that any person producing or dealing with hazardous substances must have a license from the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi and that such persons must take all necessary precautions to ensure there is no damage to the environment from their activities. The executive regulations6 provide a detailed system of licensing and other requirements for the storage and transportation of hazardous waste.

The Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi is the designated competent authority under the law for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. It has produced a range of "Standard Operating Procedures" which set out its approach to permitting for commercial, industrial, light industrial, chemical, hazardous materials and infrastructure projects.

Importantly, the law provides that any person who intentionally or negligently causes damage to the environment resulting from a breach of the law or its implementing legislation shall be responsible for the remediation of the damage caused and any additional compensation to be incurred as a result of the breach. Compensation in that regard is payable not only for the damage to the environment that has prevented its lawful uses but also for the costs of environmental remediation together with damages for the diminution of any aesthetic values that have been adversely affected.

In addition to creating liability to pay compensation, the law creates a range of offences with penalties including 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.

Laws of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi
Any investor establishing a business that generates waste will need to be aware of the provisions of Abu Dhabi Law No. 21 of 2005. Among other things, this law obliges "waste generators" to reduce waste by techniques approved by the Environment Agency, to comply with regulations and guidelines issued by the Environment Agency and to comply with certain procedures if contracting with a private sector entity for the transport, storage, treatment or disposal of waste. Any business in the field of waste transportation, storage, treatment and disposal must also be licensed by the Environment Agency under this law.

Abu Dhabi has recently enacted an innovative law, Decree No. 42 of 2009, to implement a comprehensive environment, health and safety management system ("EHSMS"). The law implements an EHSMS framework, which is intended to be a performance based management system aiming to achieve excellence in the management and protection of health, safety and the environment through partnership between the government and private sectors to ensure that economic activities in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi are undertaken in a responsible, safe and sustainable manner.

The EHSMS is not meant to replace existing laws relating to the environment and health and safety, but aims to:

  • Serve as a management tool to achieve increased compliance with relevant laws and regulations;
  • Ensure that the Emirate's environment, health and safety objectives are met;
  • Align with existing environment, health and safety laws and regulations;
  • Drive continuous improvement in the management of environment, health and safety issues to achieve best outcomes having regard to the social and economic development of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi; and
  • Identify elements required to ensure environment, health and safety issues are addressed in a systematic manner.

The benefits from development of the EHSMS are anticipated to be:

  • Improved management of environmental and social impacts in the Emirate;
  • Improved worker communication and community health and safety;
  • Improved natural resource conservation and utilisation;
  • Improved progress towards sustainable development;
  • The development of an Emirate environmental health and safety performance database and baseline data;
  • Reduced corporate risks and liabilities;
  • Improved business efficiency; and
  • Improved efficiency in waste management.

The EHSMS is to be implemented in phases. Initially, certain economic sectors will be required to implement the EHSMS. Each of these sectors is required to develop and implement its own sector EHSMS, which is to be approved by the Environment Agency, and each sector has its own sector regulatory authority.

The sectors currently affected and their sector regulatory authorities are:

  • Energy (ADWEA);
  • Transport (Department of Transport);
  • Tourism (Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority);
  • Construction (Department of Municipal Affairs);
  • Industry (ZonesCorp);
  • Health (Health Authority of Abu Dhabi); and
  • Waste (Abu Dhabi Waste Management Centre).

Within each of these identified sectors, certain entities are to be nominated and are to develop their own entity EHSMS, which is then to be approved by the relevant sector regulatory authority. Each entity must then actively audit their own compliance with their EHSMS and must undergo annual third party compliance auditing as well. Environment, health and safety compliance is to be reported to the relevant sector regulatory authority. Entities must report environment, health and safety incidents and "near misses" as well. Each sector regulatory authority must monitor the performance of the entities in its sector and must prepare sector level reports for submission to the Environment Agency. It is the intention of the Abu Dhabi authorities to include additional sectors and entities in the future.

If a new project or a major modification to an existing project within an affected sector may have a significant effect on the environment or the health and safety of workers or the public, then there is a requirement for an integrated environment, health and safety impact assessment, replacing the existing requirement for an environmental impact assessment only.

There are detailed framework codes of practice to be followed relating to the administration of the EHSMS, risk management, emergency management, auditing, monitoring and reporting, occupational health and safety and the quality of air, land and water and other environmental values. EHSMSs developed for particular sectors and entities must comply with the framework, but will address the particular hazards and risks associated with the particular sector or entity. Sector and entity EHSMSs must include performance goals and progress towards these must be monitored and reported upon.

The Environment Agency sits above the sector regulatory authorities in the hierarchy of administration of the EHSMS. The Environment Agency:

  • Reviews and approves the EHSMSs of the participating sectors;
  • Monitors the implementation of the EHSMS framework by those sectors and the entities within them;
  • Updates the EHSMS regulatory framework if necessary;
  • Periodically submits reports on the functioning of the EHSMS at the Emirate level;
  • Promotes the implementation of the EHSMS; and
  • Develops an incentive system to provide assistance and support to entities that will develop an EHSMS in accordance with the Abu Dhabi framework EHSMS.

At the apex of the system implemented by the EHSMS law there is a Higher Committee charged with responsibility for establishing the Abu Dhabi EHSMS framework, including its various codes of practice, technical guidelines and the registration requirements for the auditors engaged to audit compliance with the EHSMS. The Higher Committee also approves the reports on the performance of the EHSMS at the Emirate level prepared by the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency before they are submitted to the Abu Dhabi Executive Council.

Any investor establishing or acquiring a business affected by this legislation will need to ensure his/her organisation has or can acquire the management capabilities to embed the requirements of the EHSMS framework into the business's environment, health and safety management systems.

There is an extensive environmental law regime that applies in Abu Dhabi. Business people in Abu Dhabi will come across environmental regulations at all stages of the life of their business, from initial applications and permitting and also when engaging in their business's ongoing operations. Compliance with environmental laws is therefore an essential part of any company's corporate policies and procedures.

1 E.g. Certain regulations of the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, laws and regulations relating to aviation or marine transportation.
2 Any environmental report produced for the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi should comply with the various "Technical Guidance Documents" produced by the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi.
3 Cabinet Resolution No. 37 of 2001.
4 In the Emirate of Abu Dhabi this will be the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi.
5 These are specified in detail in Cabinet Decision 12 of 2006 concerning Protection of Air from Pollution.
6 Cabinet Resolution No. 37 of 2001.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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