Environmental impact assessments

The primary legal requirements for environmental impact assessments (EIAs) in Cambodia are set out in Chapter III of the Law on Environmental Protection and Natural Resource Management 1996 1(EPNRM Law) and the Sub-Decree on Environmental Impact Assessment 1999 (EIA Sub-Decree).2

The Constitution of Cambodia provides in Article 59 that:

The State shall protect the environment and balance of abundant natural resources and establish a precise plan of management of land, water, air, wind, geology, ecological system, mines, energy, petroleum and gas, rocks and sand, gems, forests and forestry products, wild-life, fish and aquatic resources.”3

Environment minister Say Sam Al delivered a speech at the national consultation workshop on the draft EIA law. Photo by ODC, taken on 17 March 2015.

Environment minister Say Samal delivered a speech at the national consultation workshop on the draft EIA law. Photo by Open Development Cambodia, taken on 17 March 2015. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

According to the sub-decree, all projects must go through an Initial Environmental Impact Assessment (IEIA) to determine whether an EIA is required. Cambodia adopts the following steps in the IEIA/EIA process:

  1. Project screening
  2. Project scoping
  3. Preparation of the EIA Report and Environmental Management Plan (EMP)
  4. Reviewing and assessment of EIA report
  5. Approval or refusal of EIA report
  6. Construction, operation
  7. Project monitoring, compliance and enforcement.

Under the current framework EPNRM Law 1996, all investment project applications and all projects proposed by the state must have an Initial Environmental Impact Assessment (IEIA), report of pre-feasibility study, or an environmental impact assessment as specified in the EPNRM Law (Articles 6 and 7).4 A copy must be submitted to the Project Approval Ministry/Institution and the Ministry of Environment (MoE).


The Royal Government of Cambodia is developing a new draft Environmental and Natural Resource Code. A draft EIA law, which was in the process of being finalized in 2015, has now become part of the new draft Code.

This draft law is still in the process of development, and until it is adopted, the old procedure must still be followed. The 1999 Sub-decree on Environmental Impact Assessment Process requires that an EIA be conducted for all public or private projects involving activities that are listed in an attached annex. This includes projects for agro-industry, wood and paper production, mining, chemical plants, textiles, power plants, tourism and infrastructure, amongst others. However, the sub-decree includes an exemption for “special and crucial projects approved by the Royal Government.”5

It was expected that the Environmental and Natural Resource Code would be submitted to the National Assembly in late 2019, but that had not happened as of September 2020. The new draft Code, as with all Cambodian law, will need to comply with the Constitution, which includes a requirement for environmental protection.

The National Environment Strategy and Action Plan 2016–2023 (NESAP)6was adopted by the Royal Government in 2017, in accordance with Article 59 of the Constitution, to “help Cambodia to achieve sustainable development goals and strengthen cooperation between ministries, institutions and stakeholders who are responsible for sustainable development goals given that environment is a cross-cutting issue.” NESAP is a commitment to sustainable development. The vision of NESAP is: “To strengthen enabling conditions and leverage for the environment and natural resources management and conservation for sustainable and stable socioeconomic development in Cambodia.” (NESAP p.26)

The Cambodia Climate Change Strategic Plan 2014–20237 identified the updating of environmental law and the EIA law as priority areas to mainstream climate change into the regulatory framework of Cambodia. This law requires the integration of climate change into Environmental Impact Assessment processes into all projects. The incorporation of climate change considerations into the EIA framework is considered a strategic priority (5.3. Strategic Objectives and Strategies).

On 3 February 2020, the Ministry of Environment (MOE) issued Prakas No. 021 on Classification of Environmental Impact Assessment for Development Project (Prakas No.021) which serves as a further update to Sub-Decree No.72 on the Environmental Impact Assessment dated 11 August 1999 (“Sub-Decree No. 72”), and Joint-Prakas No. 1428 on public service fees dated 20 November 2014 issued by the Ministry of Economy and Finance (“MEF”), and MOE (“Prakas No. 1428”). Prakas No. 021 unprecedentedly aims to classify which investment project is subject to initial environmental impact assessment (“IEIA”); or full environmental impact assessment (“Full EIA”) based on the nature and/or scale of the project. Note that, prior to Prakas No. 021, the question of whether IEIA or Full EIA is required for a specific project had been quite unsettled and generally subject to MOE’s confirmation on a case by case basis. The goal of this Prakas is the classification of environmental impact assessment for development projects which are required to have environmental protection contracts or initial environmental impact assessments or full environmental impact assessment. This Prakas is applied to all proposals of development projects including existing and on-going projects of private individuals or private companies, joint-venture companies, public companies or government ministries/agencies.

Process of EIA

There are several for-profit consulting firms that advertise their services in conducting EIAs. In Cambodia, only the registered 13 Cambodian firms are allowed to conduct environmental assessments.8 These services work directly for the project company. The EIA Department in the MoE review the report, but do not produce the report themselves. EIA consultants and environmental authorities are the two actors that substantially influence the quality of EIAs apart from project owners.

Under the 2009 Prakas9, once an IEIA or EIA is submitted to the Ministry it must be assessed within 30 days. Within this timeframe there is a requirement for a site visit and consultation with Project Affected Persons (PAP) and other stakeholders. Article 9 provides that the relevant national or Provincial Departments shall review and comment on the IEIA or full EIA Report.

Following a technical review there is a further multi-stakeholder meeting that includes other ministries and relevant stakeholders, during which the recommendations are considered. Following this meeting, a final recommendation is made to the Minister of Environment whether to approve or reject the IEIA or EIA. If approved, an EIA Approval Certificate will be issued together with any conditions imposed on the project.

Figure 1: Process of EIA clearance for proposals with endorsement from project approval entity/CDC or by provincial Investment Sub-committee from the Prakas on General Guidelines 2009

In Cambodia, the NGO Forum on Cambodia and Development and Partnership in Action (DPA)–Extractive Industry Social and Environmental Impact (EISEI) Network play a key role in coordinating among CSOs to provide inputs on an EIA report after they get the draft report from MoE.

Monitoring

The 1999 Sub-Decree places full responsibility with the MOE for monitoring projects.10 Monitoring should take place during the period of construction, operation and closure of a project.11 The Department of Monitoring and Environmental Impact Assessment is responsible for reviewing EIA reports and conducting this monitoring role.12 The institution responsible for approving a project must do so only after consideration of the MoE’s findings and recommendations.13

The responsibility for follow-up, compliance and enforcement is also shared between parties depending on which level of government (national or provincial) was the approval body for the project. Provisions for monitoring, record-keeping and inspections are also found in the EPNRM Law.14 Under Chapter VI, the MoE is to collaborate with other concerned ministries in monitoring, recording keeping and inspection (see Articles 14 and 15). There is an obligation under Article 15 for inspectors to report any breaches to the relevant institution to take action in accordance with the law

Challenges

The Sub-Decree on EIAs states that the EIA process should “encourage public participation in the implementation of the EIA process and take into account their input and suggestions in the process of project approval,15 but it does not elaborate on the level or nature of public consultation that is required. The Guideline on Public Participation in Environmental Impact Assessment process, which was published in a revised form in 2016, contains detailed information about the public participation steps in the EIA process, however.16 The draft of the Environmental Code states that the process of public participation shall be “flexible and adaptive” to the reasonable expectations of the stakeholders“.17

Limited access to EIA reports online is one of the biggest challenge for the public in providing comments on EIA reports and ensuring meaningful consultation. As of 2020, in the open-access website for project-related documents, IEE (Initial Environmental Examinations) or EIA reports from project participants are not easily accessed. Despite the fact that MoE has the responsibility to provide project-related information when required, the attitude of officials about providing information quite often seems to be one of reluctance. 18 Considering the time-consuming work required and low possibility of feed-back getting through, it can be expected that few local people are willing to go through the hard process to access the documents, which they would probably find difficult to understand if they could be found.

It has been recognized that Cambodia’s legal framework for conducting EIAs is incomplete, and a new Code that will include this is in the process of being drafted. However, there are also practical challenges in ensuring that the integrity of the EIA process is respected. As one observer states, “the need for environmental assessment in Cambodia is still widely considered as secondary to the need for development. The significance of EIAs is not fully recognized by, for example, many of the government ministries responsible for infrastructure or industrial and agricultural development.19

There is evidence that some projects have been approved without an EIA being conducted, some have commenced while the EIA is still being conducted, and with some the EIA has been conducted, but not made public.20

While environmental legislation is a strong priority for the Cambodia Government21 22 the effectiveness of the current EIA system is impaired by the low requirements on the performance of officials in report reviewing and  the unchecked situation with environmental assessment of existing projects. Two other laws, the Land Law 2011 and the Expropriation Law 2010, although not directly regulating EIAs are also constraining the improvement of EIA practices in the country.

The new requirements for trans-boundary impact assessment, strategic environmental assessment and consideration of climate change in environmental management laid out in the draft Environmental Code might face challenges in future enforcement.

Related to environmental impact assessments

Last updated: 29 September 2020

References

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