The National Environmental Act of 2019 repeals the law that earlier governed environmental management, the National Environmental Act Cap 153. This new law goes ahead to provide for emerging environmental issues such as climate change, hazardous chemicals and biodiversity offsets among other issues. It also provides for the continuous management of environmental issues by National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) as the watchdog of all environmental problems. By and large, the National Environmental Act does much to protect the environment in an era where nature and things connected to environment are being threatened by humanity. The Act commenced on 24th February 2019 on a date appointed by the Minister of Water and Environment.
Highlights of the Act
- In consultation with the Authority, a lead agency which is mandated to oversee a project in a specific area will make guidelines to address the impacts of climate change. This will include measures of mitigating any effects of climate change.
- All those that deal in hazardous chemicals are now required to register the hazardous chemicals with the relevant lead agency. The Act further provides that for one to deal in the export, import or anything related to hazardous products he or she must apply for a licence for the same.
- The Act provides that strategic environmental assessments to be carried out where there is likely to be vast and significant effects on human health of the environment by a lead agency when it comes to activities relating to landscapes or other areas that are likely to be large investments among other activities.
- Furthermore, the Act prohibits the use of plastic products made from polymers and ethene (polythene) also locally known as “Kavera”. The Act mandates the Uganda National Bureau of Standards to enforce the illegal use of kavera except from those that are legally authorised to.
- Littering of any kind is prohibited by the Act. It further provides that no one should allow any person to litter on the roadside, public street, ditch, river system among other places.
- The Act also provides that entities or persons that deal in petroleum activities will have and will be responsible for the proper management of the petroleum waste.
- Lastly, the Act establishes or puts in place the environmental protection forces whose mandate is to enforce the provisions of this Act.
Key Issues and analysis
The National Environmental Act 2019 provides for the emerging and important matters that have for so long affected the environment in Uganda that were not provided for under the National Environmental Act Cap 153. The National Environment Act 2019 repeals and replaces the NEA. It addresses emerging environmental issues including climate change, the management of hazardous chemicals, the environmental concerns arising out of petroleum activities and the management of plastics. It also establishes a specialised unit, the Environmental Protection Force, to handle enforcement. Lastly, the National Environmental Act 2019 creates new offences and greatly enhances the penalties both in monetary fines and custodial sentences.
Uganda has taken a long overdue step to revamp its 24-year old environmental law, the National Environment Act Cap. 153. An amendment was necessary given the massive infrastructure projects in the energy sector, the planned infrastructure of a refinery and pipelines in the oil and gas space, the imminent production of oil, increasing urbanisation and the consequent pressures on land, and climate change. The National Environmental Act Cap 153, drafted in 1995, had long passed its sell by date and sorely needed an overhaul to address the new issues.