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Environmental Crime Legal Framework in Vanuatu

Vanuatu’s constitution contains provisions for the protection of the environment. Under the section entitled “Fundamental Duties,” the constitution reads: Every person has the following fundamental duties to himself and his descendants and to othersa. to respect and to act in the spirit of the Constitution;

The Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation’s guiding principles are to:

  • Promote clean development in Vanuatu
  • Build resilient communities who will be able to adapt to climate change
  • Encourage and support sustainable resource management and conservation
  • Promote a green economy
  • Work towards sustainable development
  • Explore the development of a carbon scheme for Vanuatu
  • Promote clean development in Vanuatu
  • Build resilient communities who will be able to adapt to climate change
  • Encourage and support sustainable resource management and conservation
  • Promote a green economy
  • Work towards sustainable development
  • The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme also published in 2004 a Review of environmental legislation and policies in Vanuatu.

    Featured Legislation

    1987: The Geothermal Energy Act was passed. This Act regulates the prospecting for geothermal energy sources and production of energy derived or derivable from within the ground or thereafter by natural heat, and related matters such as surface rights and limitation of disturbance caused by prospecting or production. All rights exercisable, in relation to geothermal energy, by Vanuatu with respect to the continental shelf or the exclusive economic zone are hereby vested in the Republic of Vanuatu. The Act shall apply in relation to the sea-bed and subsoil of the continental shelf and beneath the waters of the exclusive economic zone, as it applies in relation to land. The Minister may grant, on such conditions as he or she determines, a prospecting license in accordance with section.

    1997: The Plant Protection Act was approved. “Plant pest" means an organism including any pathogen, which is known or suspected or liable to be directly or indirectly harmful to plants or beneficial organisms, and includes any noxious plant or weed and any product of any pest (sect. 1). The Minister, on the advice of the Director in consultation with the Principal Plant Protection Officer, for the purpose of managing the risks associated with importation of goods, make Orders prohibiting or exempting specified categories goods and applying particular restrictions or conditions to specified categories of goods. Section 4 concerns measures to control plant pests. The Minister may issue Orders for the: (a) the application of specific restrictions, prohibitions, conditions or other controls to the movement into, within, or from the controlled place or area of specified plant materials, goods, pests, or conveyances; (b) the treatment of any specified plant material, goods or conveyances, within or prior to entering or leaving the controlled place or area; (c) the eradication or other management of any plant pest within the controlled place or area. The Minister may issue an Emergency Order under section 7 for the purpose of managing an unexpected and serious outbreak of a quarantine pest in any area of Vanuatu. Section 8 provides for the use of Codes of Practice. Other provisions of this Act concern inspection, enforcement and regulation making powers of the Minister and matters of miscellaneous character. (29 sections).

    2001: The Forestry Act was signed. This Act makes provision for the management, conservation and development of forestry resources in Vanuatu, establishes the Forests Board of Vanuatu, provides for the granting of rights relating to forest exploitation, for the declaration of Conservation Areas, for the protection of the environment and the establishment of the Forestry Project Fund for purposes of reforestation and regulates the export of timber. The Act consists of 73 sections divided into 8 Parts.

    2002: The Environmental Management and Conservation Act was created. This Act concerns protection of the environment and biodiversity in Vanuatu. The Act consists of 46 sections divided into 6 Parts: Preliminary (1); Administration (2); Environmental impact assessment (3); Biodiversity and protected areas (4); Offenses (5); Miscellaneous (6).

    2010: The Ozone Layer Protection Act was enacted. This Act gives effect to Vanuatu's obligations 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; and provides for the licensing and registration of Approved Importers and Approved Facilities (required in relation to purchase, sale, storage, processing, recovery, recycling or refilling of a controlled substance). The Act establishes the National Ozone Advisory Committee.

    2013: The Pollution Control Act was ratified. This Act applies to all kinds of pollution discharge in Vanuatu. Despite the provisions of any other Act, all persons and agencies having responsibilities under this Act, or whose functions and powers may relate to any matter or thing involving the environment, are to apply the precautionary principle. The Act sets out the Director of the Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation. The Director shall, among other things, administer the permit system under Part 2 of this Act and undertake environmental assessment, monitoring, and inspection generally.

    2014: The Fisheries Act was brought into force. This act provides for the management, conservation and development of fisheries in fisheries within Vanuatu waters and related matters. It also concerns, among other things aquaculture, seafood safety, the use of vessels on high seas and protection of marine mammals and provides for the establishment of the Fisheries Management Advisory Council, the Vanuatu Seafood Verification Agency and the International Fisheries Unit.

    2017: The Water Resources Management Act was promulgated. This Act makes amendments in Division 1 Responsibility of water resources, customary rights and rights of occupiers to water resources, and Division 2 Water use permit regarding application procedures and limitation on right to use water, Division 3 Water works permit regarding application procedures in Part 2. Subparagraphs are inserted after paragraph 14(2)(l) regarding sustainability of rural water supply systems. Part 3 is amended by repealing Sections 19 and 20 under the National Water Resources Advisory Committee and substituting provisions on establishment, functions, composition, and administration of Provincial Water Resources Advisory Committee and Rural Water Committee, and the structure of water delivery and management system in rural areas. Paragraphs 6 and 7 are inserted after subsection 26(5) regarding Water Protection Zones. Section 27A is inserted after Section 27 for the prescription of buffer zones over any river, stream or lake. Moreover, Subsection 32(5) and Section 32A are inserted into Section 32 regarding offenses and penalties.

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

    • A growing number of world leaders including Pope Francis and French President Emmanuel Macron have begun citing ecocide as an offense which poses a threat to humanity and remains beyond the reach of existing legal conventions. The Pope describes ecocide as “the massive contamination of air, land and water,” or “any action capable of producing an ecological disaster.” The Pontiff has also endorsed a campaign by environmental activists and legal scholars to make ecocide the fifth crime before the International Criminal Court in The Hague as a legal deterrent to the kinds of far-reaching environmental damage that are driving mass extinction, ecological collapse and climate change. Across the globe, climate change is disrupting the reliable seasonal rhythms that have sustained human life, forcing more than 10 million people from their homes in the last six months. Many environmentalists speak of ecocide to describe numerous environmentally devastated hot spots. The campaign to criminalize ecocide in Vanuatu is moving from the fringe of advocacy into global diplomacy. On 3rd December 2019,  the Hague at the International Criminal Court (ICC) made a bold  statement – that the Assembly should consider seriously expanding the court's remit to include a crime of ecocide. Ambassador John Licht of Vanuatu declared: “An amendment of the Rome Statute could criminalize acts that amount to ecocide. We believe this radical idea merits serious discussion." Vanuatu’s officials made this declaration in response to rising sea levels. Vanuatu’s official statement suggested that the Assembly of States Parties is supremely well positioned to consider averting climate catastrophe and securing reparation for victims through the international courts system. This is the first time since 1972 that a state representative has formally called for ecocide to be recognised at an international forum of such representatives.

    References and Further Reading


    Ministry of Climate Change Adaptation, Meteorology, Geo-Hazards, H.E. Mr. Bruno Lengkon: