International Treaties

Sustainable Development

Environmental Law

Case Studies

Corruption Perceptions Index


Environmental Crime Legal Framework in Tonga

Although a Land Use, Natural Resources and Environment Planning Bill was first drafted in 1982, Tonga’s constitution does not contain explicit provisions for the protection of the environment. However, physical planning and the impacts of development on environmental management are addressed through a number of separate laws.

Featured Legislation

1960: The Petroleum Mining Act was passed. The legislation governs activities relating to the exploration and mining for petroleum, and requires any company exploring for petroleum to adopt all possible precautions to prevent pollution of high seas or coastal waters. In the event of a spill, the Regulations require the responsible company to remove the pollution and minimize damage to the environment.

1961: The Forests Act was signed. The Forests Act 1961 is an Act to provide for the setting aside of areas as forest areas or reserved areas, and for the control and regulation of such areas and of forest production. Unalienated land is defined in the Act as land which at the time of the exercise of any of the powers conferred by the Act is not leased or otherwise disposed of.

1976: The Parks and Reserves Act was established. The legislation protects, manages and develops natural (both terrestrial and marine) areas in the Kingdom. Subject to conditions established by the relevant Authority, every park, land reserve or marine reserve “shall be administered for the protection, preservation and maintenance of any valuable feature of such reserve and activities therein and entry thereto shall be strictly in accordance with any restrictions and conditions”. The Act provides for the clear demarcation of such areas.

2002: The Fisheries Management Act was enacted. This Act makes provision with respect to the management of conservation of fisheries resources of Tonga and provides rules relative to fishing in Tongan waters by domestic and foreign fishing vessels, fishing by Tongan vessels on the high seas and the processing and exportation of fish. The Act further defines offenses, defines jurisdiction and provides for various matters of miscellaneous character.

2003: The Environmental Impact Assessment Act was ratified. This Act has the objective to provide the application of environmental impact assessments (EIAs) to the planning of development projects within the Kingdom. This Act integrates different international obligations by requiring an assessment of impacts on the environment before beginning to develop a project. Substantive provisions include:  Section 7 The provisions of the Act apply to all major projects that want to be developed in Tonga. A list of what is considered a major project is given in schedule I. Sections 6 and 16 All major projects shall be supported by an appropriate environmental impact assessment, and that no application shall proceed, unless it has satisfied the appropriate EIA requirements. Section 8 The administration of this Act relies on the Minister, whose functions include carry out an assessment for a major project. Part IV Specific penalties are defined under this Act for non-compliance cases. . The Act is supported by the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations 2010, which details the procedures for the environmental impact assessments.  

2005: The  Marine Pollution Prevention Act was instituted. This Act makes provision with respect to the prevention of marine pollution by ships and land-based sources and the response to any (threat) of marine pollution; defines powers of the Secretary of Marine and Ports in respect of marine casualties and liability for oil pollution; provides for compensation in respect of oil pollution damage; and places restrictions on the dumping and incineration of waste at sea.

2009: The Biosafety Act was introduced. This Act regulates living modified organisms and the application of modern biotechnology in Tonga. The Act provides for:  the movement, transit, handling and use of genetically modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health;  the establishment of a National Biosafety Advisory Committee and appointment of District Biosafety Advisory Committees; and  implementation of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.  

2010: The Environment Management Act was established. This Act provides for the protection of the environment of Tonga. The Act, among other things, provides for the coordination of the role of Government in relation to all environmental management, including climate change issues, and decision-making processes. It appoints the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change as the Ministry for purposes of this Act. The Minister for Environment and Climate Change shall be responsible for the administration of this Act. There shall also be a Director for Environment and Climate Change. The Act defines functions and powers of the Ministry and powers of the Director. The functions of the Minister shall include matters relating to: (a) climate change; (b) ozone depletion; (c) the movement or disposal of hazardous wastes and chemicals; (d) desertification and drought relief; (e) the preservation of wetlands and the management and protection of coastal areas; (f) the conservation of endangered species; (g) the preservation of biological diversity, including management of living modified organisms; and (h) aspects of the environmental management of international waters. The Director shall be an Environment Officer for the purposes of this Act. The Minister may appoint other Environment Officers. Environment Officers may, among other things, issue a Precautionary Notice in respect of an activity, matter or thing that may be impacting upon the environment. Any person who disagrees with a decision of a Director or an Environment Officer may appeal to the Minister.

2010: The Ozone Layer Protection Act was brought into force. This Act gives effect to the obligations of the Kingdom of Tonga under the Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. It aims at phasing out ozone depleting substances as soon as possible except for essential uses and protecting human health and the environment from adverse effects resulting or likely to result from human activities which modify or are likely to modify the ozone layer. In order to achieve these objectives, the Act, among other things: places restrictions on the importation, exportation, manufacture and sale of substances that are declared controlled substances for purposes of this Act; provides for the permitting of Approved Importers and Approved Workshop (required in relation to use, manufacture, sale, handling, storage or movement of ozone depleting substances); and prohibits the manufacture of controlled and other substances in Tonga. The Minister shall establish a National Ozone Advisory Committee to carry out functions under this Act.

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

  • In January 2022, approximately 84,000 people, more than 80 per cent of the population of the South Pacific Kingdom, were affected by a volcanic eruption and tsunami that hit the islands of Tonga, according to estimates by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The nation’s agricultural sector, including crops, livestock and fisheries, have suffered substantially, raising concerns about the food security and human health of citizens. Around 60 to 70 per cent of livestock-rearing households have seen their animals perish, grazing land damaged, or water supplies contaminated. Coastal communities are disproportionately impacted by this environmental disaster, as fisheries operating across the more than 170 islands that make up the archipelago, have also been significantly affected and the Government has advised against fishing amidst the ongoing contamination, or consuming fish. Initial Damage Assessments (IDAs) are underway on the main island, Tongatapu, as well as on islands of the Ha’apai group, by Tonga’s National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) and partners, and the capital’s water supply is safe to drink but most people are now relying on bottled water. Authorities have advised residents against drinking rainwater, until more information is available. Local and international partners are working hard to address these issues, shipping water, purification units and desalination equipment. Another main issue going forward, according to OCHA, is monitoring the risk of infectious diseases. There are also reports of a fuel shortage, but petrol supplies are coming as part of regular shipment and with some additional Australian Government support.

References and Further Reading


Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management,

Environment, Climate Change & Communication (MEIDECC):