IV. ANALYSIS OF MEASURES USED TO IMPLEMENT ENVIRONMENTAL POLICIES
[ IV | IV-A | IV-B ]
B. Need for more appropriate environmental legislation
Although evidence can be found of environmental concern from among the large body of laws that have environment provisions, some of which date back to the early 1900s, environmental legislation as an autonomous body within statutory law is fairly recent in Tonga.
As a consequence, legislation dealing with environmentally-related issues has long been covered under sectoral themes such as agriculture, forestry, health, land and natural resources, and health. Therefore it is not surprising that the approach to enforcing and implementing that legislation is highly sectoral, with little coordination among the concerned agencies on amending outdated legislation or building the capacity to meet recent challenges.
The proposed Environmental Assessment Planning Bill should address some of the
shortcomings in the current situation. The key features of the Bill are listed below:
- Sustainable development is defined as the objective of the Bill;
- The environment is defined as encompassing all natural and physical resources as well as ecological, social and economic well-being;
- EIA is provided for, but the particulars of methodology and process are left for subsequent definition through the power of the Minister of Lands, Survey and Natural Resources to introduce regulations. The Minister is empowered to form an EIA Committee and, through the Secretary of the Ministry of Lands, Survey and Natural Resources, to conduct public meetings where appropriate to create a better understanding of environmental implications of project proposals;
- Two classes of assessment. One is for significant development projects requiring a major assessment, and the other is for the development projects of lesser significance and which require minor assessment. The details are left for definition by regulations.
Through those regulations, the trigger levels for capturing projects will be set, otherwise every project of any size in Tonga will be required to undergo some form of assessment which would be unworkable and inefficient;
- Significant development projects are defined either as those that create a certain class of effect (which allows for interpretative discretion) or those that belong to a certain class of activity generally known to create such an effect;
- Two approval tracks are to be established, one for private projects requiring licences and the other for government projects which are approved by Cabinet. The assessment procedure to be applied is the same in each case;
- The Secretary will determine the particular assessment process to be followed, and certifies approval of the satisfactory completion of assessment;
- On advice from the EIA Committee, the Minister will set environmental conditions on significant development projects;
- Existing legal authorities and existing lawful uses are respected;
- The Minister will be given the power to make comprehensive management plans for unregistered Crown land to ensure that any subsequent development is environmentally sustainable;
- Time limits will be set for the completion of certain parts of the decision process.
Although the proposed Bill comprises very comprehensive environmental legislation that has been drafted with painstaking care, it certainly does not pretend to be capable of stopping all irreversible environmental degradation. Its success will depend, to a considerable extent, on the institutional and administrative setting, interdepartmental coordination, availability of qualified personnel and the necessary funding and, above all, the political commitment to long-term sustainable development.