Skip to main content.
Enviropaedia Sponsors and Supporters

Environmental Compliance

Author: Sean Dole - Director, WSP Environment & Energy

( Article Type: Explanation )

Environmental compliance refers to adherence to environmental laws, regulations and standards. Although the scope of environmental law is not universally agreed upon, there is consensus that environmental compliance relates to public health, conservation of natural resources, pollution control and land use control.
South Africa’s first comprehensive environmental legislation was the Environment Conservation Act of 1982. Since this time, there have been a number of significant developments in South Africa’s environmental law, the most significant of which was the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA). Enacted in 1998, NEMA incorporates all key environmental principles, such as the polluter pays and precautionary principles, that were embodied in the Environmental Conservation Act, but also provides a much broader and comprehensive legislative framework for environmental regulation and compliance in South Africa. Importantly, NEMA also provides a framework for integration of all environmental authorisations including, for example issuing of waste management licenses and atmospheric emission licenses.
In terms of ensuring environmental compliance, NEMA includes Government Notice: Regulations 544, 545, and 546 of 2010, which list specific activities that require environmental authorisation prior to commencement. The authorisation process includes a mandatory process of environmental impact assessment and mitigation, as well as public engagement.

The assessment process may take the form of a limited scope Basic Assessment or a full Environmental Impact Assessment depending on the magnitude of the activity and its potential impacts. The listed activities under NEMA are linked to the National Water Act, National Environmental Management: Waste Act, National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act, Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, Genetically Modified Organisms Act and National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act. For example, if a particular activity requires a waste, water or air license, or if there is the potential to threaten a listed ecosystem, the need for environmental authorisation under NEMA is triggered. While environmental compliance for most organisations has been about adherence to in-country legislative requirements, increasingly environmental compliance is also becoming a central feature of international law. This trend is driven by the increasingly global nature of many environmental issues, such as climate change and ozone layer depletion. In order to address these concerns there are many international environmental law conventions and treaties which require implementation within the individual countries that are parties to these conventions. This trend drives the concept of environmental compliance towards sustainable development, the objective of which is to ensure that resource consumption for the purposes of meeting human needs is balanced with preservation of the environment for current and future generations.