Despite comprehensive guidelines and directives, effective environmental enforcement remains challenging.
In Ethiopia, the issue of enforcing environmental laws and policies has created practical challenges beyond the sphere of theoretical discourses. Major challenges in relation to the enforcement of environmental laws include environmental preservation, climate change, high population growth, scientific uncertainties, usage of outdated technologies, lack of political commitments, societal attitudes, and poverty. Specifically, issues like genetically modified organisms (GMOs), environmental impact assessment, and environmental pollution has become controversial in recent times. In fact, the lack of environmental impact assessment in relation to foreign investments has been mentioned as one of the triggering factors of the recent instability in the country.
Indeed, without strong enforcement, laws and policies are meaningless. In many occasions, in the interest of accelerating development, developing countries reluctantly loosen their control and supervision on the enforcement of environment related policies and laws. In this aspect, Ethiopia is not immune from criticism either. However, upgrading the Environmental Protection Authority to the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change [MEFCC] has been taken as a positive step in terms of improving its records.
Basically, enforcement follows norm setting and institutional capacity building. Ethiopia is credited with its good policies and legislative frameworks in general. The FDRE Constitution guarantees the fundamental right to have a clean and healthy environment, the right to improved living standards and the right to sustainable development. Similarly, the 1997 Environmental Policy has identified the core environmental issues in the country. The policy highly focuses on sustainable development and the environmental conservation strategy. It also offers a set of sound baseline principles for implementing the policy. In addition to the Constitution and the Policy, there are many proclamations on environmental protection.
However, enforcing these laws and policies has proved to be difficult. The EPA and the Ministry have prepared comprehensive guidelines and directives to facilitate effective environmental enforcement. But the challenges are yet to overcome.
In light of these developments, a national conference was organized by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and Mekelle University, Environment and Natural Resources Law Center (ENRLC), on June 11-12, 2018 in Mekelle to suggest feasible way outs and possible solutions for these problems where top-level scholars and practitioners like Mr. Belete Tafere, Former Advisor to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia on Environment & Basic Development, Professor Mitiku Haile, Former President of Mekelle University, Dr Ayele Hegena, Director General for Policy, Law and Standards at the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Mr. Solomon Kebede, Director of MELCA Ethiopia, and Mr. Berhe Fisseha, Head of Tigray Regional State Environmental Protection, Rural Land Use and Administration Agency, were in attendant.
The conference thoroughly discussed issues like the enforcement of Environmental Impact Assessment Laws, Pollution Control Legislation, Wildlife Protection Legislation, Biosafety Legislation, status of sound pollution, and organizational challenges for environmental law enforcement in Ethiopia.
The meaning of public participation in environmental impact assessment; the issue of legal standing on environmental litigations; the need for environmental court and judicial review of administrative decisions; ways of balancing the need for speedy growth and environmental-friendly sustainable development; the need to control the noise pollution from religious organizations; the need for sharing benefits to local people to preserve and protect parks from serious harms, and the role of urban planning in environmental protection in Ethiopia, were the some of the topics that were raised and debated on the conference.