Uniform legislation could open doors for sustainable construction

03 March 2019
A sizeable proportion of the UAE construction industry says more could be done to enforce environmental regulations

Nearly 47 per cent of respondents to the MEED Construction Industry Survey said environmental protection is extremely important to their company. More than half believed the UAE is making substantial efforts when it comes to monitoring construction and its impact on the environment. There is room for improvement, however. More than 41 per cent of respondents said the government could do more to improve the situation.

One respondent remarked: “Education, awareness, contractual agreement, time-to-time updates to the relevant construction groups and strict adherence inspection [should] be followed as [per] legal requirements pertaining to environmental issues by authorities. People should be involved in giving their general feedback and ways to resolve before the prequalification of the project.”

Another said: “Some shareholders with power of decision are not always aware of the importance [of environmental regulation].”

Daker el-Rabaya, managing director for waste processing, treatment and disposal at Sharjah-based environmental company Bee’ah, believes there is “a level of legal ambiguity regarding laws governing the ethics and professional etiquette of proper construction and demolition waste removal”.

“There are no specific laws concerning construction and environment at present, and this is a problem,” he says. “Smaller companies are taking advantage of legal loopholes through unethical practices of dumping and discarding recyclable waste to both landfill and non-landfill sites. This has and will result in serious environmental concerns in the short and long term, as waste either deteriorates in an unsanctioned space or provides health hazards to the ecosystem and municipalities in proximity.”

“In certain jurisdictions, the regulations are among the best in the world and require construction companies or the owners of projects to prepare, for approval, construction environmental management plans (CEMPs) that are updated periodically,” says Rob Hounsome, regional director of infrastructure and environment at Ramboll. “Additionally, these jurisdictions require companies to submit biannual reports on environmental performance and undertake audits reviews at construction sites to ensure compliance.”

These CEMPs help the companies consider the major impacts associated with construction activities ranging from controlling dust and emissions from vehicles and stationary equipment, reducing the potential for spillages and impacts to soil and water, increasing the efficiency of resource use such as energy, water, etc, and ensuring that all wastes are effectively managed.

The increasing profile of environmental compliance requirements in the region has highlighted that construction companies are not putting enough effort into their environmental responsibilities. While laws have been introduced, they are not consistent across the GCC.

Gregg Shuman, regional vice-president of engineering and consulting for the Middle East and Africa at SNC-Lavalin, says legislation is not the issue. “What is most important is enforcement of environmental protection.”

Polluter pays

The UAE Federal law No 24 of 1999 for Protection and Development of the Environment deals with liabilities and compensation for environmental damage.

“The key concept is that the polluter pays,” says James McMillan, a senior associate at Al-Tamimi & Company.

Article 71 of the 1999 Environmental Law provides that “any person who, intentionally or by way of negligence, causes damage to the environment or others as a result of violation of the provisions stated in this law or the orders or resolutions issued for its enforcement, shall be held responsible for all the costs of treatment or removal of such damages and any compensation incurred as a result”.

“Similar provisions exist within the comprehensive Saudi Arabian national environmental legislation in the form of the General Environmental Regulation, Council of Ministers Resolution No 193,” says McMillan.

Impact assessment

In 2014, legislation in the GCC countries was introduced requiring the completion of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) during the front-end engineering and design stage of a project.

EIA studies are licence requirements for projects likely to impact the environment (air, soil, water, groundwater, etc) as stipulated under the 1999 Environmental Law and its executive regulations.

Regulatory bodies within the UAE, such as Sharjah Municipality and Dubai Municipality, are the competent authorities, that set criteria for projects requiring EIAs, which must be carried out by approved third-party consultants such as the environmental consulting division of Bee’ah.

Typically, development projects will require EIA studies and some emirates may further require a CEMP following the production of an EIA to ensure all mitigation measures are implemented during the construction phase. In any case, each and every EIA study should investigate the impact of construction activities on the environmental components, and should propose the mitigation measures to reduce or eliminate those impacts.

“In the past, a significant number of companies in the Middle East looked upon these requirements only as a necessary cost of doing business, completing EIAs and ticking the right boxes, and then reports ended up collecting dust on shelves,” says Shuman. “However, a number of key initiatives have been taken by governments across the region to reinforce EIA implementation and measurement, such as the Estidama system introduced by Abu Dhabi’s Urban Planning Council in 2011 to rate the sustainability of a given development throughout its lifecycle from design through construction to operation. This has resulted in a change in companies’ approach to sustainability.”

Illegal dumping

“Actions should always have consequences,” says El-Rabaya. “And if there are adequate legal ramifications in place, it will act as a deterrent for future incidents to repeat themselves. Clear laws of sanctioned spaces that are accessible to smaller companies would aid them in avoiding illegal dumping, as would laws supporting the proper sorting of construction waste.”

McMillan says: “While the existing laws in the UAE and Saudi Arabia do set out a number of general environmental standards to improve public health and ensure sustainability, enforcement action may be required by regulators to ensure compliance with environmental laws in the region. Specific adoption of certain EU standards in relation to pollution prevention and waste management may also be a further step forward within the region to ensure continuous improvement and a consistent approach.”

This article is extracted from a report produced by MEED and Mashreq titled Regulating Construction: Adapting to New Standards. Click here to download the report

To know more about the MEED Mashreq Partnership, get in touch with us at MEEDMashreqPartnership@meed.com or find more info on www.meedmashreqconstructionhub.com

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