International Treaties

Sustainable Development

Environmental Law

Case Studies


Environmental Crime Legal Framework in Portugal

Portugal’s constitution contains various provisions for the protection of the environment. Article 9 reads:

(d) To promote the people's well-being and quality of life and real equality between the Portuguese, as well as the effective implementation of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights by means of the transformation and modernisation of economic and social structures;
(e) To protect and enhance the Portuguese people's cultural heritage, defend nature and the environment, preserve natural resources and ensure proper town and country planning;

Art 52 states that the government shall:
Promote the prevention, cessation or judicial prosecution of offenses against public health, consumer rights, the quality of life or the preservation of the environment and the cultural heritage

Finally, according to Article 66:

Everyone shall possess the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced human living environment and the duty to defend it
In order to ensure enjoyment of the right to the environment within an overall framework of sustainable development, acting via appropriate bodies and with the involvement and participation of citizens, the state shall be charged with:
- Preventing and controlling pollution and its effects and the harmful forms of erosion;
- Conducting and promoting town and country planning with a view to a correct location of activities, balanced social and economic development and the enhancement of the landscape
- Creating and developing natural and recreational reserves and parks and classifying and protecting landscapes and places, in such a way as to guarantee the conservation of nature and the preservation of cultural values and assets that are of historic or artistic interest;
- Promoting the rational use of natural resources, while safeguarding their ability to renew themselves and maintain ecological stability, with respect for the principle of intergenerational solidarity;
- Acting in cooperation with local authorities, promoting the environmental quality of rural settlements and urban life, particularly on the architectural level and as regards the protection of historic zones;
- Promoting the integration of environmental objectives into the various policies of a sectoral nature;
- Promoting environmental education and respect for environmental values;
- Ensuring that fiscal policy renders development compatible with the protection of the environment and the quality of life

Featured Legislation

2005: The Water Law and Water Resources Use Regime were established. This Law is composed of 107 articles divided into ten Chapters. It approves the Water Act and implements European Community Directive No. 2000/60/EC establishing the basic legal framework for water sustainable management. In particular, the Law applies to the management of surface water, inland waters, groundwater, transition and coastal waters. The aim is to: protect and improve ecosystems and related wetlands as for water concerns; promote a sustainable water use based on long-term protection of available water resources; improve water quality by reducing discharges and emissions’ negative effects; reduce groundwater pollution; mitigate floods and droughts’ effects; grant a sufficient water supply, as well as its quality and equitable use; protect marine water; assure the compliance with relevant international treaties and agreements.

2007:  The Noise Regulation was approved. This Decree-Law aims to protect human health, addressing  both permanent and temporary noisy activities as well as other noise sources. It identifies the basic principles of the protection and planning competences at central and local levels.

2008: The Environmental Liability Decree-Law was signed. This Decree-Law introduces in the national legal system the European Parliament Directive No. 2004/35/EC on environmental damages’ liability with the view of preventing and restoration of environmental damages. The provisions set in the decree-Law are based on the polluter-pays principle. Particular attention is paid to the regulation of civil and administrative liability as well as to the control and sanction regime by the following:

  • The Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Regime, which creates a classification of protected areas. Protected areas shall be classified as follows: a) National park; b) Natural park; c) Nature reserve; d) Protected landscape; e) Natural monument.
  • The National Ecological Reserve Regime, which provides the new legal system for the National Ecological Reserve (REN), whose goals are to improve the sustainability of a number of defined areas with the view to protect them from pollution and human activities.

2013: The Environmental Impact Assessment Regime was established.  The regime, consisting of 52 articles divided into six Chapters and six Annexes, establishes the legal regime of environmental impact assessment (EIA) to be applied for significant effects caused by certain public and private projects on the environment.

2014: the Environmental Framework Law was ratified. This Environment Basic Law, consisting of 6 Chapters divided into 24 articles, establishes the Environment Basic Law. This Law sets out the basis of environmental policy in compliance with the provisions of Articles 9 and 66 of the National Constitution. The Environmental policy aims at enforcing environmental rights through the promotion of the sustainable development, supported by an adequate management of the environment, in particular concerning local ecosystems and natural resources, contributing to the development of a society using low carbon and a rational and efficient “green economy” in the use of natural resources and ensuring the well-being and the gradual improvement of citizens’ quality of life.

2018: The Regime of Prevention and Control of Pollutant Emissions into the Air was promulgated. The legal framework regarding air quality is set forth in Decree-Law No. 39/2018, which establishes the regime on prevention and control of pollutant emissions into the air and is applicable to:

  • combustion installations with a rated thermal input ranging between 1MW and 50MW (medium combustion installations (MIC));
  • complexes of new MIC;
  • industrial activities in accordance to Annex I, Part 2;
  • combustion installations that burn refinery fuel for the production of energy within oil and gas refineries; and
  • furnaces and burners of industrial activities with a rated thermal input ranging between 1MW and 50MW.

Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

  • Portugal’s Rewilding surveillance teams have been working overtime during the COVID-19 pandemic, reporting environmental crimes such as snares and poisoned baits, as well as damaging rural fires. The team’s efforts are an essential part of protecting nature in the region south of the Douro River, in the districts of Aveiro, Viseu and Guarda. According to the government, catastrophic fire and poaching are two major threats to many wildlife species, including the endangered Iberian wolf. There has been an uptick in snares during the pandemic – snares are devices used for catching wild animals, usually with a rope or wire that becomes progressively tighter after capture. Despite the fact that they are illegal in Portugal, they are typically used by locals to catch wild boar – an animal which can cause significant damage to local crops and whose meat is highly prized. But snares are indiscriminate and trap a wide range of animals, too. The Iberian wolf, for example, has been hunted for years and now, with fewer than 50 individuals left, the European Commission approved and funded the  LIFE WolFlux initiative in 2019. The Rewilding Portugal surveillance team is one of the ways in which LIFE WolFlux is trying to protect this iconic and ecologically important species. Rewilding Portugal’s Head of Conservation, Sara Aliácar, reports to the GNR-SEPNA, the Portuguese police branch responsible for prosecuting environmental crimes, and is optimistic that the wolf can be saved. The surveillance team also regulates wildfires in Portugal, scanning the landscape for illegal activity. At least one-quarter of the 9,000 square kilometers patrolled by the team has burned between 2008 and 2018, but new legislation has created harsher fines for illegal fires.

References and Further Reading