Vietnam Law on Environmental Protection 2020 – New Highlights

Previously in Vietnam, Laws on Environmental Protection (LEP) were promulgated in 1993, 2005, and 2014. Most recently, the Law on Environmental Protection of 2020 was adopted by the 14th National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam at its 10th session on November 17, 2020. This law takes effect on January 1, 2022. The Law consists of 16 Chapters and 171 Articles with important new provisions which can be summarized as follows: (i) The scope of the regulations have been expanded, with the introduction of the “residential community” as the basis of environmental protection; (ii) Projects with potentially high risk of adverse impact upon environment are strictly regulated, with streamlined procedures; (iii) Environmental health contents have been added with many solutions for the protection of environmental components; (iv) The promotion of waste segregation at the source, contributing to the encouragement of a circular economy in Vietnam; (v) Basing the State management decision-making on principles of holistic and uniform management and completing decentralization to localities; (vi) Providing specific regulations concerning environmental audits for the first time; (vii) Formulating detailed provisions on climate change response and promoting the development of the domestic carbon market; (viii) Completion of the legal corridor for heritage protection in compliance with international law on heritage; (ix) The creation of policies for development of models for sustainable economic growth as well as recovery and growth of natural capital resources. The LEP 2020 is expected to cut more than 40% of administrative procedures, reducing the time for conducting administrative actions by approximately 20 – 85 days.

Reasons for amending the Vietnam Law on Environmental Protection

The LEP 2014, passed by the 13th National Assembly of Socialist Republic of Vietnam at the 7th session on June 23, 2014, came into force on January 1, 2015. The enactment of LEP 2014 resulted in essential contributions to the progress and success in environmental protection to date. However, over time, LEP 2014 also revealed some deficiencies and shortcomings, and a number of provisions of environmental protection legislation remained inappropriate, were far from reality, or lacked detail. This resulted in practical delays in application as well as falling out of step with practical development requirements and international integration. In addition, environmental protection mechanisms and policies have been amended slowly and were not in sync with market economy institutions. Further, the content, responsibilities, assignment and decentralization of State management on environmental protection remained dispersed, overlapping or unreasonable, failing to strengthen capacity and delineate responsibilities clearly. It was also apparent that there was a lack of an appropriate mechanism to effectively promote the participation of society as a whole and define the role of each enterprise and citizen in environmental protection. Another issue was that the State management apparatus in charge of the environment had not fulfilled its assigned functions and duties and had not effectively resolved inter-disciplinary, inter-regional, or transnational issues. Violations of the LEP remained rampant, whilst inspection and examination were not allocated sufficient resources and imposed

sanctions are not severe enough to deter further similar acts. A further problem was that administrative procedures were heavy with regard to granting environmental permits and were insufficient, overlapping, duplicative, unfocused, uncoordinated, and dispersed, requiring project investors to be involved with numerous administrative procedures to gain environmental permission prescribed by multiple parties and various authorities. Additionally, there was no legal corridor governing a number of new issues on environmental protection. Finally, many new issues had arisen such as the impact of climate change, environmental security and ecological security, which required the Environmental Protection legislation to be updated and supplemented with strong, sufficient, synchronous, and breakthrough solutions.1

Amendments to the structure of the Vietnam Law on Environmental Protection

The LEP 2020 consists of 16 Chapters and 171 Articles (compared with the LEP 2014 with 20 Chapters and 170 Articles).

First, LEP 2020 prioritizes provisions for protection of environmental components, clearly reflecting its main goal of environmental components protection and safeguarding citizens’ health, which are considered to be the key components in assessing impacts on other environmental protection policies.

Second, LEP 2020 synchronizes environmental management tools for each phase of a project, starting from investment policy review, project appraisal, project implementation, and through to official operation and project completion. This includes a national strategy of environmental protection, environmental protection planning, strategic environmental assessments, preliminary environmental impact assessments, environmental impact assessments, and environmental permits and registration.

Third, LEP 2020 for the first time has designed a policy framework aimed at formulating a holistic and inclusive law on Environmental Protection in harmony with the socio-economic legal system. Among the more important reforms are scaling back over 40% of administrative procedures, reducing the time for implementing administrative procedures by 20-85 days, and contributions to reduce the compliance costs of enterprises.2

New provisions in the contents of the Vietnam Law on Environmental Protection

First, the Law expands the scope of regulations defining a residential community as a subject of environmental protection which promotes the role of residential communities in environmental protection activities.

A residential community means a community of people living in the same village, hamlet, residential group or similar population area in the territory of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.3 This is a new addition to the contents as all previous laws on environmental protection in Vietnam defined subjects as “agencies, organizations, households and individuals”. LEP 2020 has now added “residential community” as subjects of application within the scope of the regulations in order to reaffirm the position and role of this important group in environmental protection. This was also done in order to realize one of the main goals of the Law which is to protect citizens’ health and ensure that everyone can live in a healthy environment.

Second, the Law strictly controls projects that have a potentially high risk of adverse impacts upon the environment as well as cutting down red tape.

The previous LEPs were mainly based on criteria utilized to classify investment projects that defined adverse levels of impact upon the environment and land use area. LEP 2020 now provides more detailed provisions that take into account the scale, capacity, type of production, business, service as well as environmental sensitivity factors. Accordingly, investment projects are classified into 04 groups: those with a high risk of adverse environmental impacts, those with risks of adverse environmental impacts, those with minor risks or those with no risks of adverse environmental impacts. For each corresponding specific project subject, the State agency of environment management will apply the appropriate management mechanism. Specifically, only subjects with a high risk of adverse environmental impacts (Group 1) are required to conduct a preliminary environmental impact assessment. This provision aims at remedying the deficiencies and shortcomings of the current law which include reduction of the administrative procedures for many investors. Accordingly, projects not in Group 1 are not required to conduct a preliminary assessment of environmental impacts in order to save time and costs.

Third, the Law amends the contents related to environmental health, adding several solutions to protect environmental components, especially the air and water environment.

Although there are no separate provisions, the law on environmental health is regulated throughout the LEP 2020 by the protection of environment components. This ensures that citizens’ health is protected and every person’s right to live in a healthy environment is safeguarded. The Law also includes additional provisions on the management of pollutants with direct impact upon human health. These provisions clearly define the responsibilities of ministries, ministerial-level agencies, and provincial People’s Committees for monitoring, controlling and preventing pollutants from affecting human health. It also evaluates the relationship between environmental health and human health, especially the relationship between environmental pollution and new epidemics.

Fourth, the Law promotes waste segregation at its sources as well as orientating the ways to manage and handle waste.

LEP 2020 stipulates that waste collection will now be based on weight or volume instead of the existing average calculation per household or per capita. This mechanism will help encourage waste segregation and reduction of waste generated at the source because otherwise the cost of waste treatment would become too high. According to this provision, domestic waste must be classified into 03 types: (i) reusable, recyclable solid waste; (ii) food waste; (iii) other domestic solid waste. The Law stipulates that the Provincial People’s Committees shall decide on specific classification of domestic solid waste to take effect no later than December 31, 2024.

Fifth, the State management competence is now based on principles of holistic and uniform management, with tasks assigned to a single agency only as well as complete decentralization to localities.

LEP 2020 has abolished procedures on issuing permits to discharge waste water into water sources and irrigation works. Instead it has integrated such content into environmental permits in order to consolidate responsibilities, authority and principles of general management for water resources. This will result in drastically cutting administrative procedures for enterprises. The Law also stipulates strong decentralization to localities by assigning provincial People’s Committees to assume the primary role and cooperate with the relevant ministries to appraise environmental impact assessment reports for projects subject to investment policies and investment decisions of ministries tasked with management of specialized construction works (Current regulations assign ministries and industries to appraise environmental impact assessment reports). This provision will ensure uniform management at localities, facilitating inspection, supervision, and granting of licenses at a later stage and in line with the decentralization trend of the current legal system.

Sixth, the Law specifically regulates the environmental audit for the first time in order to improve the environmental management capacity and efficiency of enterprises.

LEP 2020 has added contents on environmental audits in order to regulate these activities within organizations, manufacturing or business facilities performed either by themselves or auditing services. The purpose of such regulations are to improve the environmental management capacity of enterprises, helping them identify any gaps in environmental management and work out solutions to regulate their environmental management activities more effectively.

Seventh, the Law formulates specific provisions on climate change response, promoting the development of a domestic carbon market.

LEP 2020 has added provisions on adapting to climate change, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and protection of the ozone layer. These provisions include defining the contents and responsibilities of state agencies for adapting to climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They also include supplemental provisions on integrating climate change response into a strategic planning system, and implementing international commitments on climate change and ozone layer protection.

For the first time, the Law implements regulations concerning the organization and development of a carbon market as a tool to promote the reduction of domestic greenhouse gas emissions. This moves towards fulfilling commitments made by Vietnam at the Paris Agreement on climate change for the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. The Law specifies subjects granted with allocated quotas of greenhouse gas emissions and rights to exchange and trade on the domestic carbon market, the basis for determination of greenhouse gas emission quotas, and responsibilities of relevant management agencies and organizations for allocating greenhouse gas emission quotas. It also provides a road map and timeline for implementing the domestic carbon market in line with national socio-economic conditions and international treaties in which the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is a contracting member.

Eighth, the Law completes the legal corridor for heritage protection in line with international laws on heritage, meeting requirements of international integration process.

Legal provisions concerning the subjects of Vietnam’s natural heritage are dispersed in a number of specialized laws such as Law on Biodiversity (wetland conservation areas), the Law on Forestry (preserved areas such as forest reserves), the Law on Fisheries (marine protected areas), and are even included in the Law on Cultural Heritage (The Law on Cultural Heritage stipulates that cultural heritage sites also include scenic spots as subjects of natural heritage). Hence, these provisions do not fully include all of the subjects of natural heritage that need to be protected. LEP 2020 provides for setting of criteria for natural heritage establishment on the basis of international criteria and Vietnam’s existing conditions. Accordingly, for existing natural heritage subjects according to the Laws on Forestry, Fisheries, Biodiversity and Cultural Heritage, those provisions will still be applicable in order to avoid disturbance and overlap. In addition, the Law also provides for the investigation, appraisal, management and environmental protection of natural heritage subjects in order to protect and promote sustainable values of natural heritage in Vietnam.

Ninth, the Law creates policies on development of models for sustainable economic growth, promoting a circular economy and recovering and developing natural capital resources.

LEP 2020 includes an additional chapter on economic tools and resources for environmental protection. This chapter provides for policies on development of environmental industries, environmental services, and environmentally friendly products and services. It gives priority to green procurement for projects and tasks that use State budgets as well as promoting the exploitation, use and development of natural capital, especially those that promote the circular economy. The Law also specifies policies on green credit and green bonds to mobilize diverse social resources in support of environmental protection.

This article contains legal knowledge and professional terms, readers who are interested in the new points of the Law on Environmental Protection 2020, administrative procedures related to environmental protection in business or other issues under the Vietnamese laws, please contact our Environmental Lawyers at

  1. Extracted from Report No. 37/BC-BTNMT, dated April 5, 2020 of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment concerning a summary review of the 5-year implementation of LEP 2014.
  2. Quoted from the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Tran Hong Ha at the 44th session of the Standing Committee of National Assembly on April 22, 2020 commenting on the draft Law for amending, and supplementing a number of articles of the LEP. Minister Ha introduced documents supporting reducing the subjects of environmental impact assessment by 40% (lowering the cost by VND 50 billion/year) and integrating administrative procedures into environmental permits (decreasing costs by approximately VND 86 billion /year). In addition, the Law also streamlines provisions on enterprise responsibility for periodical environmental surveys except for cases with indications of violations or activities that are clearly causing environmental pollution (reducing costs by about VND 20,000 billion/year). (Source:, accessed at 17hrs on April 14, 2021).
  3. Clause 24, Article 3 of LEP 2020.