Myanmar’s Nascent Environmental Governance System: challenges and opportunities

Schulte, William J. and Baird, Matthew H. (2018) Myanmar’s Nascent Environmental Governance System: challenges and opportunities. Natural Resources & Environment, 33 (2). pp. 21-26. ISSN 0882-3812


In 2011, after nearly half a century of military rule and isolation, the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (Myanmar) began its democratic transition. In March of that year, President U Thein Sein was sworn in as the first head of the new civilian government. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) was permitted to reengage in Myanmar politics. In nationwide elections in 2015, the NLD won 225 out of 330 seats available for election, and as a result was able to elect U Htin Kyaw as the president and appoint Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (who is constitutionally barred from becoming president) to the position of state counsellor. Const. of the Rep. of the Union of Myanmar (2008), § 59(f).

For the most part, the international response to these developments has been positive. In January 2012, the United States formally restored diplomatic relations with Myanmar and officially lifted the majority of economic sanctions against Myanmar. Many other Western nations lifted sanctions as well. In turn, in 2012 the Hluttaw (Myanmar Parliament) enacted the Foreign Investment Law as an attempt to attract foreign investment and help the country develop. The Foreign Investment Law, No. 21/2012 (2012) (Myan.). And for the most part, the strategy seems to be paying off. Myanmar has since grown its economy steadily at over 6 percent per year, and the Asian Development Bank projects that to rise above 8 percent in 2018. Asian Development Bank, Safeguarding Myanmar’s Environment (2017).

However, Myanmar’s rapid increase in development also brings various threats to the country’s natural resources and to the health of its people. Myanmar is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia, blessed with abundant arable land, forest cover, various mineral resources, natural gas, and both freshwater and marine resources. Indeed, much of Myanmar’s economic growth is based on the exploitation of these natural resources. According to the Asian Development Bank, '[f]oreign direct investment is playing a major role by funding large oil and gas, hydropower, agriculture and mining projects,' all of which tend to have major adverse environmental impacts. Id.

Prior to 2011, Myanmar had taken some steps to address environmental protection. In 1994, Myanmar issued its first National Environmental Policy. Ministry of Nat. Resources and Envtl. Conservation, Myanmar National Environmental Policy (1994). The government also issued a Forest Policy in 1995 that identified the otection of soil, water, wildlife, biodiversity, and the environment as one of six 'imperatives' to which the government must give the highest priority. Ministry of Forestry, Myanmar Forest Policy (1995). Some of these ideas were later reflected in the 2008 Constitution, which placed a duty on every citizen to assist the Union in environmental conservation. Additionally, in 2009 Myanmar issued the National Sustainable Development Strategy. Ministry of Forestry, National Sustainable Development Strategy for Myanmar (2009).

Yet, since 2011, the government of Myanmar has been significantly more proactive in its efforts to update the environmental governance regime so that it strikes a better balance between economic development and environmental protection. As explained in more detail below, Myanmar adopted the Environmental Conservation Law in 2012, Environmental Conservation Rules in 2014, and an Environmental Impact Procedure in 2015. Taken together, these developments form the backbone of Myanmar’s environmental governance structure. This article will provide a brief overview of these and other laws and regulations that Myanmar has established in its attempt to pursue a path to sustainable development. It also will provide some observations based on Vermont Law School’s ongoing work in Myanmar to support and strengthen its environmental governance. To be sure, Myanmar has made
much admirable progress in the last several years, but considerable challenges remain.

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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: © 2018 by the American Bar Association.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Linguistics, Adult and Specialist Education (1 Jul 2013 - 30 Jun 2019)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Linguistics, Adult and Specialist Education (1 Jul 2013 - 30 Jun 2019)
Date Deposited: 13 Feb 2019 05:05
Last Modified: 14 Feb 2019 04:10
Uncontrolled Keywords: Myanmar, environmental governance, law, legal, framework, ECL
Fields of Research (2008): 05 Environmental Sciences > 0599 Other Environmental Sciences > 059999 Environmental Sciences not elsewhere classified
18 Law and Legal Studies > 1801 Law > 180111 Environmental and Natural Resources Law
Socio-Economic Objectives (2008): D Environment > 96 Environment > 9607 Environmental Policy, Legislation and Standards > 960799 Environmental Policy, Legislation and Standards not elsewhere classified

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