Strong legal framework to ensure a sustainable environment
In 2020, Saudi Arabia enacted a new law to protect the environment. It provides a comprehensive legal framework governing all aspects related to the preservation and protection of the environment.
The new law aims to regulate the environmental sector and related activities.
It stipulates that no person or entity shall engage in any activity or practice that may harm the environment directly or indirectly. Environmental impact assessments are now required to obtain a permit or license to begin work on different kinds of projects.
It is prohibited to exploit, transfer, store, sell or promote without a permit or license any of the natural resources and their products in the Kingdom’s territory. This includes islands, airspace, inland waters, the territorial sea and all other areas in which the Kingdom exercises sovereign rights in accordance with international law.
Even after obtaining a permit or license, a licensee is prohibited from engaging in activities that may emit emissions or pollutants or that may affect the environment in any way. They should comply with Saudi Arabia’s laws and standards determined through regulations by placing checks to monitor the impact of their projects on the environment.
They are also required to submit periodic reports containing data on emissions and other information detailing the environmental impacts of their projects to the relevant Saudi authorities.
The law also bans the improper disposal of wastewater or any other residual liquid. There is a strict protocol to follow for the disposal of industrial waste and authority approval is required to follow certain procedures in this regard.
Saudi Arabia has also introduced strict laws regarding the hunting of wildlife. Live animal fungi are protected under Saudi laws. As an exception, specific species may be hunted after obtaining a license, but only within designated areas and times specified by authorities.
The Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, the General Authority of Meteorology and Environmental Protection and the Saudi Wildlife Authority are responsible for the enforcement of environmental laws in the Kingdom. Each authority has its own jurisdiction and clearly defined duties and powers.
Those engaged in the environmental sector directly or in activities that have a direct or indirect impact on the environment are required to comply with the law. They should assess their activities and their impact on the environment and take corrective measures in line with the new law, if required, and submit their plans to relevant authorities with a clear timeline demonstrating the implementation of measures.
The minister of environment, water and agriculture may grant a grace period(s) based on the recommendations of a public interest investigator.
Anyone who violates any of the provisions of the law and regulations shall be punished with one or more penalties, including a fine not exceeding SR20 million riyals ($5.3 million), suspension of a license or permit for a period not exceeding six months and cancellation of a license or permit. The financial fine and the suspension period will be doubled if the violation is repeated within a year.
• Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif