Environmental controls in Vietnam.

Author:Bryant, Tannetje Lien

    Environmental controls in Vietnam are recent phenomena. It is now evident that the Vietnamese Government recognizes the importance of its unique environment and the need to have in place environmental controls to protect it. This recognition has been caused by a combination of factors, including the introduction of the Doi Moi (the renovation policy, or shift from a centrally planned economy to a market economy), the impact of international environmental law, and the opening of Vietnam to foreign investment.

    This Article provides an overview of environmental controls in Vietnam. Part II describes background environmental policy, programs, and strategies. Part III outlines the legal and administrative framework behind the various forms of environmental control. Part IV explains the techniques, procedures, and documentation associated with environmental impact evaluation and licensing of various activities that may affect the environment, and briefly outlines the regulation of specific environmental problems. Part V discusses the means of ensuring compliance with the environmental law regime. Part VI examines the preventative mechanisms recently implemented. Part VII critically evaluates the effect of these environmental controls. Part VIII examines some of the societal factors that will impinge upon the success of the implementation of this new environmental regime. This Article concludes by noting that, despite valid criticism, Vietnam's efforts are worth praise even though the positive effects of their efforts may not emerge for some time due to the societal and cultural history of the country. This Article will not, however, address in any detail international environmental law issues and their effect on Vietnam's municipal environmental laws.


    The concern for environmental degradation and the government's adoption of policies that address the problem can be traced back to 1980. Prior to that time, there were no formal environmental policies or controls in operation in Vietnam. In fact, there was no governmental body directly responsible for the environment. However, from 1980 onward, a series of strategic documents and research papers on the environment were undertaken. These provided the basis for the implementation of a framework for environmental protection and conservation in Vietnam. In 1981, the Vietnamese Government set up the National Resources and Environment Research Programme, whose task was to identify the major environmental problems and the means of overcoming them.(1) It found that there was a need for environmental protection legislation and therefore recommended the establishment of the infrastructure to implement various environmental controls.(2)

    In 1985, the Council of Ministers of Vietnam decided to prepare a study on environmental protection and the use of the country's natural resources. A variety of Ministries and bodies prepared both an evaluation and an inventory of existing conditions addressing these matters. Also in 1985, the National Resources and Environment Research Programme, with technical assistance from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), prepared a National Conservation Strategy. This strategy proposed:

    1. The maintenance of ecological processes and life support systems in Vietnam, namely the maintenance of forests, midlands, croplands, freshwater, estuarine and coastal [and] deep sea ecosystems, 2. The preservation of genetic diversity by development of protected areas, identification of protected species, establishment of hunting regulations, control of the wildlife trade and ex situ conservation, 3. The sustained utilization of renewable resources, the maintenance of environmental quality for human life, and 4. The international implementation of conservation in Vietnam.(3) In the late 1980s, the government asked Vietnamese scientists to prepare a National Environment Action Plan.(4) This Plan was to be prepared with the assistance of international organizations with relevant expertise, such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Swedish International Development Authority (SIDA), and IUCN. A conference on the environment and sustainable development was organized and held in Hanoi in December of 1990,(5) and resulted in an important strategic planning document entitled the National Plan for Environment and Sustainable Development 1991-2000: Framework for Action (National Plan).(6) The chairman of the Council of Ministers(7) approved the National Plan in June 1992.(8)

    The National Plan addressed the issues that had been raised in the National Conservation Strategy and set out the means of providing a national and provincial framework for environmental planning and management. The component elements of this framework included: "the institutional, legislative and policy framework, giving orientation [to] the establishment of environment authorities, development of environmental policy and law, monitoring [and] information management; integrated and sectoral strategies for sustainable development, EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment), and environmental disaster management."(9) This framework also identified seven action programs: "(1) urban development and population control, (2) integrated watershed management, (3) integrated coastal and estuarine zone management, (4) protection of wetlands, (5) maintenance of genetic diversity, (6) national parks, protected areas and wildlife reserves and (7) pollution control and waste management."(10)

    The National Plan was to be implemented in two stages over two five-year periods.(11) Stage one, which was to cover the period from 1990 to 1995, aimed to develop environmental policy, draft new legislation and integrate it with existing legislation,(12) establish a single environmental authority, develop population control, control soil erosion, commence reforestation, curtail agricultural pollution, and initiate estuary protection.(13) Plans were also made for the development of environmental standards, policy, and procedures, which included impact assessment regulations. While this stage also included new programs,(14) it was primarily intended to establish the administrative structure to implement the previously passed environmental laws, including a new single environmental authority to manage the environment.(15) Stage two of the National Plan, designed to run from 1996 to 2000, is to include population control and watershed management along with the protection of reefs, wetlands, and inland waters.(16)


    1. Legal Framework

      1. Introduction

        There was no specific broad-based national environmental legislation in place in Vietnam before 1993.(17) However, the research and strategic documents dealing with stage one of the implementation of the National Plan for Environment and Sustainable Development(18) indicated that the first step in the protection of the environment was the passage of a major national law that set the framework for environmental controls in Vietnam. On December 27, 1993, the National Assembly passed such a law: the Law on Protection of the Environment.(19)

      2. The Law on Protection of the Environment

        The Law on Protection of the Environment has seven chapters and fifty-five articles and broadly covers the following major areas of environmental protection: the general duties of various administrative bodies; protection and abatement of pollution generally; the requirement for environmental impact evaluation; the establishment of environmental standards; broad import and export criteria; the requirements for exploration, transportation, processing, or storage of various toxic or hazardous substances; the location of potentially hazardous industries; a list of prohibited behavior or activities; remedies for environmental degradation or pollution; the system for addressing noncompliance and for rewarding compliance; and the implementation of international treaties and international cooperation. Specific articles or provisions of this law are discussed at length in the remainder of this Article. The finer detail regarding the implementation of this law is set out in a number of subsequent underlaws,(20) the most important being the Decree on Protection of the Environment.(21)

      3. The Decree on Protection of the Environment

        The Decree on Protection of the Environment has seven chapters and forty-eight articles and sets out in some detail the following issues: the powers and duties of various government agencies and local organizations;(22) broad details of Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE)(23) procedures;(24) mechanisms such as standards and permits for preventing, combating, and rectifying environmental hazards, pollution, and degradation;(25) the types of environmental standards; methods of financing activities to protect the environment;(26) and the establishment of an inspectorate and a compliance system.(27)

      4. Other Important Underlaws

        There are also a range of principal laws and regulations which, while they are not entirely devoted to environmental protection, do contain some general framework provisions or cites to prohibitions on that subject.(28) Some important Vietnamese underlaws on protecting the environment include the Regulations on the Organization and Operation Councils for Appraisal of Environmental Impact Evaluation Reports and Issuance of Environmental Licenses,(29) the Decree on Administrative Offenses in Relation to Environmental Protection (Decree on Administrative Offenses),(30) the Circular on Administrative Offenses in Relation to Environmental Protection (Circular on Administrative Offenses),(31) the Circular on Providing Guidelines on Procedures for Issuance, Extension and Withdrawal of Environmental Evaluation Certificates for Industrial Establishments (Circular for Industrial Environmental Evaluation...

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