Environmental impact assessments

The primary legal requirements for environmental impact assessments (EIAs) in Cambodia are set out in Content II, Book V of the Environment and Natural Resource Code1, Chapter III of the Law on Environmental Protection and Natural Resource Management 19962(EPNRM Law), and the Sub-Decree no. 72 on Environmental Impact Assessment (1999) (EIA Sub-Decree).3

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, wildlife, fish and aquatic resources.”4

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 the EIA report
  6. Construction, operation
  7. Project monitoring, compliance, and enforcement.

Under the current framework of 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).5 A copy must be submitted to the Project Approval Ministry/Institution and the Ministry of Environment (MoE).

Sub-decree no 72 on Environmental Impact Assessment Process (1999) 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” (Article 2 & Annex)6

The National Environment Strategy and Action Plan 2016–2023 (NESAP)7 was 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 2014–20238 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 in all projects. The incorporation of climate change considerations into the EIA framework is considered a strategic priority (5.3. Strategic Objectives and Strategies).

On 03 February 2020, the Ministry of Environment (MOE) issued Prakas No. 021 on Classification of Environmental Impact Assessment for Development Project 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 assessments for development projects which are required to have environmental protection contracts or initial environmental impact assessments or full environmental impact assessments. This Prakas is applied to all proposals of development projects including existing and ongoing projects of private individuals or private companies, joint-venture companies, public companies, or government ministries/agencies.

On 29 June 2023, the King approved Environment and Natural Resources Code, and this Code will be implemented within one year of its entry into force. 9. The code is based on the main principles: legal documents in the field of environment and natural resources are integrated, harmonized, and modernized in response to the evolving trends of society. The code, as with all Cambodian law, will need to comply with the Constitution, which includes a requirement for environmental protection. The 5th Book on “Environmental Assessment” consists of two contents Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which include 80 articles (11 articles on SEA and 69 articles on EIA). The implementation of SEA enables decision-makers to consider a broader range of alternatives, reducing potential problems at an earlier stage.

Process of EIA

There are several for-profit consulting firms that advertise their services in conducting EIAs. These services work directly for the project company. The EIA Department in the MoE reviews the report, but does 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 Prakas no. 376 on General Guideline for Developing Initial and Full Environmental Impact Assessment Reports10, 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.

Process of EIA clearance for proposals with endorsement from project approval entity/CDC or by provincial Investment Sub-committee from the Prakas no. 376

Process of EIA clearance for proposals with endorsement from project approval entity/CDC or by provincial Investment Sub-committee from the Prakas no. 376

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 Sub-Decree No. 72 on Environmental Impact Assessment places full responsibility with the MOE for monitoring projects.11 Monitoring should take place during the period of construction, operation, and closure of a project.12 The Department of Monitoring and Environmental Impact Assessment is responsible for reviewing EIA reports and conducting this monitoring role. 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 actions in accordance with the law.

Challenges

Limited access to EIA reports online is one of the biggest challenges 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. Considering the time-consuming work required and the low possibility of feedback 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 the Law on Environmental Impact Assessment 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.15  Some projects have commenced while the EIA is still being conducted, and with some the EIA has been conducted, but not made public.

The new requirements for transboundary impact assessment, strategic environmental assessment, and consideration of climate change in environmental management laid out in the Environment and Natural Resource Code might face challenges in future enforcement.

Related to environmental impact assessments

Last updated: 04 August 2023

References

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