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Brunei: Moving Forward: Brunei’s sustainable measures for a successful environmental development

Written by: Nurul Amalina binti Hj Ahmad, Nuur Qarriddah binti Hj Kamis & Syazana Syafiqah Adilah binti Hj Mahdini


Environmental sustainability is the sine qua non for sustaining quality of life and economic competitiveness for a country[1] like Brunei Darussalam. Environment includes everything in the world as Albert Einstein quoted “Environment is everything that isn’t me”. The Brundtland Commission[2] defined sustainability as “a development that needs the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs”. Hence, sustainable development can be explained as the ability to move forward and make continuous adjustments in response to changes in the environment.

In Brunei, environment matters continue to be the concurrent responsibility of several ministries, especially the Department of Environment, Parks and Recreations (DEPR), as well as the dominant Shell Petroleum Company. The inter-agency National Committee on Environment (NCE) coordinates some measures as well. It is established to pursue the overall goal of environmental protection and service, to ensure a more comprehensive approach to environmental management, through consultation on stakeholders and formulation of appropriate policies.[3]

Brunei Darussalam is well known for its densely-forested areas in the world with a diverse ecosystem. It was reported in the 5th National Report[4] that the tropical evergreen rainforest is estimated to be around 75% of the country’s total land area of 576,500 hectares, where 41% of it is terrestrial protected area, and are protected by law.[5] The Human Rights Report in April 2014 observed a steady progress in the country’s achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) with almost all of the targets already been reached. Brunei is progressively improving the sustainable safeguard of its environment and natural resources.[6] This, indeed, is a step closer towards the Brunei Vision 2035.

Brunei is taking immeasurable steps to ensure a successful environmental development despite its considerably well position in environment. We are not concerned only with today, but also for future. Our concern for future will ensure sustainable development. In this regard, the government has taken significant steps to introduce changes in the institutional structure to enable integration of environment consideration in the economic planning and development.

II. Measures

Environmental protection and conservation remained as the integral components of the country’s development process to ensure a sustainable development. They are aligned with the long-term objective of maintaining a clean and healthy environment. The measures to achieve these include implementing formulated policies and strategies on the environment, on moving towards Brunei Vision 2035, which stresses a sustainable development. The following are some issues and its immeasurable steps:


Environmental pollution is currently not a major problem in Brunei Darussalam. However, with diversification of the economy and industrial growth coupled with the increasing population, it is bound to become severe in the future. In this regard, not only the government but every individual, private sector and NGOs are playing their role in ensuring environmental sanitation. The air quality in Brunei is good in general. Its Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) falls below the guidelines set by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), European Union and the World Health Organization (WHO)[7].  However, there are some factors that sometimes contribute to impairment of air quality, which includes open burning and trans-boundary haze pollution. Nevertheless, the government of Brunei is taking sustainable measures for a healthier and cleaner air.

In Brunei, open burning is still rampant, mainly backyard burning in residential and commercial areas.[8] The most relevant piece of legislation pertaining to this issue is the Penal Code Amendment Order[9]. This act states that anyone found guilty of open burning activities that cause pollution or endanger human life or property may face an unlimited amount of fine and or imprisonment up to five years. The Department of Economic Planning and Development is currently working on enforcing a provision that specifically applies to minor open burning violators as well.

When an open burning report is made by a member of the public, the officers will only advise the open burning perpetrator against the act. However, according to a professor of Brunei Darussalam’s Geography and Environmental Studies, this approach is rather reactive than proactive that advising and telling members of the public individually in such cases can be less effective. He added that, instead of reacting to any bush or forest fires that occur, the Fire and Rescue Department can get help of academic experts by focusing on areas which may be predisposed to fire and prevent them from happening. Up until now, Brunei Darussalam has no specific law dealing with air pollution yet. In contrast with some country i.e. the United States, the Clean Air Act[10] is designed to control air pollution on a national level and is one of the United States’ first and most influential modern environmental laws, and one of the most comprehensive air quality laws in the world. This Act regulates air emissions from stationary and mobile sources, regulates the hazardous air pollutants and etc. [11]

This Act is also implemented by Malaysia and other countries.

Hence, this means that there is no law that deals with other type air pollutants that impairs Brunei’s air quality. Regardless of that, the government still tries to mitigate air pollution by being a member of the ASEAN Agreement on Trans-boundary Haze Pollution. Although Brunei has never experienced severe cases of haze, it attempts to protect the air from such pollution. This agreement comprises the measurement to prevent, monitor, and mitigate land and forest fires that may lead to transboundary haze pollution especially during traditional dry seasons. That is through concerted national efforts, regional and international cooperation.


Water pollution is not a major problem in this country. Even so, the government has improved the quality of its water supplies by ensuring its sustainability for years to come. However, none of the laws of Brunei Darussalam on water quality and pollution specifically addressed to the protection of water quality in Brunei though there exist Water Supply Act (Cap. 121) only to provide for the control and regulation of the supply of water. Nonetheless, there are few regulations concerning sea pollution.

The Prevention of Pollution of the Sea Order, 2005 give effect to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973 and to other international agreements relating to the prevention, reduction and control of pollute on of the sea and pollution from ships. Section 2(1) defines “Brunei Darussalam waters” to mean the whole of the sea within the seaward limits of the territorial waters of Brunei Darussalam and all other waters, including inland waters, which are within these limits and are subject to the ebb and flow of the ordinary tides.

In 2008, in exercise of the powers conferred by sections 8, 9(4), 12 and 33 of the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea Order made the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea (Noxious Liquid Substances in Bulk) Regulations. Under this order, the Director of Marine has the power to grant exemptions from all or any of these regulations for any ship. It includes to inspect any ship in order to verify that it carries a valid Certificate for the Carriage of Noxious Liquid Substances in Bulk, the prohibition on proceeding to sea without a BNLS certificate. There also exists a regulation that provides a duty of the master of ship to report discharges of harmful substances into any part of the sea while implementing some of the provisions of the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea Order, 2005 which is the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea (Reporting of Pollution Incidents) Regulations.

Moreover, there are also some measures for the prevention of disposal into the sea of garbage in the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea (Garbage) Regulations. The disposal into the sea of all plastics, including but not limited to synthetic ropes, synthetic fishing nets, plastic garbage bags and incinerator ashes from plastic products which may contain toxic or heavy metal residues, is prohibited outside special areas as specified in this Order. As for within special areas it also includes all other garbage, including paper products, rags, glass, metal, bottles, crockery, dunnage, lining and packing materials.


Solid waste
One of the regulations pertaining to land is the Land Code. Section 4 of this code declares, that all “forest, waste, unoccupied or uncultivated land shall be presumed to be state land and all cultivated lands… abandoned or suffered to lie waste shall be deemed to be forest or wasteland..” with a few minor exceptions. This code however, only focuses on ownership, registration and alienation of land rather than on how land is used or managed.[12] As far as waste is concerned, the law in Brunei Darussalam only deals specifically with hazardous waste[13]. Now, municipal solid waste has become a major concern worldwide as the amount of waste generation has increased tremendously due to rapid urbanization and industrialization, population growth and improved lifestyle.

In this country, the main issue and challenge is the lack of comprehensive legislation and enforcements of the laws and regulations regarding such wastes. It is thus necessary for the government to formulate legislations and laws which can protect the environment in-line with the international or global standards. For example, the government can also enforce stricter waste management laws such as only allowing non-recyclable materials into the landfills, mandatory source separation and recycling, usage of recycling bins in government buildings including schools and etc.[14]

Nevertheless, Brunei has set itself on a path proactively in managing its waste in a long-term waste management strategy that will cater to the needs of all identified waste stream. For instance, Brunei has committed itself for an engineered or sanitary landfill which includes modern waste management facility with an area of 110 hectares.[15] It is constructed for landfill design and operation with environmental consideration such as proper leachate treatment, provision of environmental monitoring and etc. In this regard, Brunei will have a secure, safe and effective waste management system.

Other than that, Brunei has taken a step to declare zero waste which is an innovative approach of waste and it goes much beyond recycling i.e. restricting the use of polythene plastic bags from Friday to Sunday “No Plastic Bag Weekend”. However, this initiative is only a government policy, not a law. Although several countries in the world have banned plastic bags, it is still not impossible for Brunei to follow suit. According to the Department of Environment, Parks and Recreation’s Environmental Planning and Management Division, it is not feasible to ban plastic bags as other factors need to be taken into account such as in terms of penalizing the retailers and the public is not an action they can take because it involves other stakeholders.

Rather than banning the use of plastic bags immediately, the government it aims to gradually phase out the import of plastic bags, as well as its distribution for purchase of products at retail outlets in the near future.[16] The government also does not encourage the replacement of plastic bags with paper bags as it goes against the country’s stance of forest preservation which means encouraging cutting down of trees.[17]

The relevant law which governs littering in the country is the Minor Offences Act (Cap. 30). This provision prohibits any person from depositing refuse and etc. in any public places and section 12 (1) of the Act specifically dealt with littering which reads “Any person who places, deposits or throws any dust, dirt, paper, ashes, car case, refuse, boxes, barrels, bales or other article or thing in any public place shall be guilty of an offence under this Act and may be arrested without warrant by any police officer and taken before a Court of a Magistrate and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of $1,000, and in the case of a second or subsequent conviction to a fine of $3,000” There are few cases in Brunei where not only are they fined but are also imprisoned due to the seriousness of the case in causing harm to the environment.

The law’s expressive function is to change behavior of the society. With the existence of this law, individuals believed that others in society will be more likely to punish them when they litter as they are violating a law. Besides that, cigarette butt litter has been a concern that harms the environment and our local communities. The butts itself contain thousands of toxic chemicals which takes for 12 years to biodegrade. Not only does it harm the wildlife, it also contaminates water supplies and in serious cases can cause fires. In reducing this problem, under the Tobacco Order 2005, 28 categories of specified buildings that have been identified as smoke-free i.e. indoor workplaces, government premises, restaurants and public transport.

Other than that, smoking is also banned on sidewalks near business premises and within a six-metre radius from any smoke-free building as well as public staircases, hospitals and clinics. In order to raise the effectiveness of anti-smoking efforts, the law was amended in 2012 to include a greater number of smoke-free areas. In addition to the expansion of smoke-free places, the government has also increased tobacco taxes from 62 to 83 per cent of the actual price[18] and seeks to make all public places smoke-free by 2016.[19] However, there are no specific laws in Brunei which ban smoking at all regardless of the place.

Other than the effort of preventing any person from littering, Brunei are also taking step in reducing the amount of litter where the community have already been practicing a multi-bin collection system for educational institutions, offices, retail establishments and in public places for recovering recyclable cans, bottles and paper. 

Hazardous waste
In the management of hazardous waste, Hazardous Waste (Control of Export, Import and Transit) Order 2013 seeks to give effect to the implementation of the Basel Convention of which Brunei is a member. It is to control the import, export and transit of the hazardous substance. Industries that need to import, store and the usage on hazardous substances are required to obtain approval from the DEPR. Then, any waste falling under the categories of waste listed in the 4th Schedule of this Order is defined as hazardous waste such as explosives, poisonous and etc. In Brunei, there has been no report of both illegal import and export of hazardous waste.


Brunei is one of the few countries that have much of its biodiversity still intact because of strict forestry and conservation laws. A study, published in 2014 by PLOS ONE journal[20] has estimated Brunei’s forest to be covered around 54% in comparison to its neighboring Malaysian with only averaging between 20% and 25%.[21]

Brunei’s Long Term development Plan – Vision 2035 has highlighted the continuing efforts to conserve the country’s remarkable biodiversity, rain forests and natural habitat as an environmental strategy. Specifically, it stressed the development of forest resources, conservation and protection of natural forest and environment.

In managing our forests resources in a sustainable manner, there is a relevant policy which governs the social forestry aspect in this country which is the National Forestry policy, 1989. The Social Forestry Component of the National Forest Policy is reviewed and strengthened in order to develop and enhance the social and cultural contributions of the forestry sector to the country through active stakeholder participation in relation to forest management activities. Apart from this policy, there are also Forest Act (Cap.46), that protects Brunei’s reserved forest including prohibiting any operation in its boundaries. Forest Rules and the 20 Years Forestry Strategic Plan (2004-2023)[22]

Brunei Darussalam efforts to prevent and combat forest fires have been undertaken that includes physical measures such as putting up fire breaks in forest reserves to prevent fire spreading, fences that prevent people from entering in some fire sensitive areas and etc. Brunei has also been working closely with its colleagues in Limbang, Miri and Lawas of Malaysia in combating forest fires in areas bordering the shared national boundaries.

However, recently forest fires in some parts of Brunei occurred more than usual. This has caused the country to be enveloped in haze the condition is expected to persist during the dry season. The Duty Forecaster from the Brunei Darussalam Meteorological Department reported that the current haze is locally sourced and not transboundary, making it difficult to predict the haze’s movements.[23] It was reported that human action was partly responsible such as the frequent activity open burning and other actions that may exacerbate the haze conditions.

Moreover, easy access and presence of forest fuel during dry conditions may also leads to frequent arson bushfires. Not only this will affect the rehabilitated logged but it also affects the natural forest and peat land of this country. Human action was reported to be responsible for sparking the fires such as by clearing the land for illegal farming. Thus, to protect the forests and preserve the rare and endangered biodiversity from being affected, section 32 of Brunei’s Land Code was made for those who are occupying and cultivating state land without permission.

Hence, it becomes imperative on the part of the environmental agencies, government and activist groups to seriously come to grips with the menace and discourage people from torching forests and is being controlled under the provision of Forest Act.24 This prohibits any person form kindling, keeping or carrying any fire or leaving any fire burning that may endanger the reserved forests.

Besides that, there are also relevant provisions for the implementation of 24 Cap. 46. Law of Brunei social forestry programs in the country such as the Heart of Borneo (HoB) initiative. The Brunei government, with His Majesty’s support, committed 58% of Brunei’s total land area to be protected and sustainably managed within a delineated HoB landscape. In order to develop its commitments and actions on the HoB, Brunei pursued the development of a Project Implementation Framework (PIF). However, implementation of the PIF and a broader HOB initiative integrated into the Brunei National Development planning process will require additional focus and efforts on all part of stakeholders, especially the Brunei HoB National Council.[24]

In this regard, Brunei still maintains its continuous effort in managing and developing its forest resources in a sustainable manner within the context of Sustainable Forest Management in support of the worldwide effort to lessen and avert climate change.

Marine Biodiversity
In an effort and to ensure the marine fisheries industry to be sustainable and preserved, including the various marine species in the country’s water, Brunei has designated 150,000 hectares of Marine Protected Area (MPA) under the Fisheries Act (1972). It aimed to protect and conserve the marine ecosystem within the coral reef because it has the ability to sequester the atmospheric carbon. Therefore this policy provides a co-benefit for climate change mitigation.[25]This actually highlights that the government is not only concerned with today but also for the future and this small step is to certify a sustainable development.

Additionally, Brunei also introduced fundamental interventions that have been implemented to achieve sustainable marine environmental conservation and fisheries management, the construction and deployment of artificial reefs in specific areas to provide fish habitat and shelter.[26]

Despite of various government initiatives to conserve the marine environment, there are still a number of issues that concern Brunei in sustainably managing Brunei’s marine resources, mainly the issue of destructive fishing practices. The reason is that such practices can cause great harm and damage to the marine ecosystem and marine biodiversity which can be considered serious issue to the ‘rainforest of the ocean and seas’.

III. Legal Measures

Brunei’s government had also strengthened their measures with the implementation of laws. In achieving sustainable development, the protection of the environment in Brunei is governed by basic laws, rules and regulations. The following are other environment-related laws in Brunei Darussalam:

Land and soil

1) Protected Places Order, 2008. – This Order declares the place specified in the Schedule to be a protected place and it shall be prohibited to enter the place without the permission of the Director of Electrical Services.

2) Protected Areas and Protected Places Act (Chapter 147). – This Act prescribes steps necessary for the protection of any protected area or protected place. No person shall be in the premises of protected areas or places unless in possession of a permit issued by an authorized officer.

Flora and Fauna

1) Wild Fauna and Flora Order, 2007 – This Order provides for giving effect in Brunei Darussalam to the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and sets out procedures and requirements for obtaining permits and certificates to trade in, export or import any species listed in the Appendixes to the Convention.


1) Merchant Shipping (Civil Liability and Compensation for Oil Pollution) Order, 2008 – This Order to give effect to the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage 1992 and to the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage 1992 and to make provisions generally for matters connected therewith.

2) Territorial Waters of Brunei Act, 1983 – This Law is composed of 4 articles. The breadth of the territorial sea of the State of Brunei shall be twelve nautical miles, measured in accordance with international law (art. 1). A large scale map of low water marks, baselines, and outer limits and territorial waters of Brunei shall be published on order of the Sultan and the Yang Di-Pertuan.


1) Forest Act 1934 – categorized country’s forest into five functional classifications, as follows; protection, production, recreation, conservation and national parks. Protection in this act refers to forest areas which are designated to remain in a preserved condition. These forests are necessary to protect critical soil and water resource in order to minimize occurrence of flood, draughts, erosions and pollution.

2) Forest Rules – It provides for the protection of forests and their products, by mean of restrictions applied in terms of felling trees, harvest fruit or honey, gather firewood or samplings and etc.


1) Fisheries Act (Chapter 61) – An Act to consolidate and amend the law relating to fisheries and to make provision for matters incidental thereto.

2) Fisheries Order 2009 – consolidate the law on fisheries, fishing, fish processing, marketing, distribution and any related matters.

3) Brunei Darussalam Fishery Limits Act (Act No. 5 of 1983) – This Act declares Brunei Darussalam fishery limits.

4) 1972 Fisheries Enactment – designated area that may be closed to fishing and other forms of exploitation.

5) Fisheries Regulations – These Regulations implement provisions of the Fisheries Act. The Regulations provide for: restrictions on fishing; restrictions on the import or export of fish; restrictions on fishing gear; terms and conditions of fishing licences and licence fees; etc.


1) Water Supply Act (Chapter 121) – An Act to provide for the control and regulation of the supply of water.

2) Ports Act (Chapter 144) – An Act to provide for the regulation and control of the ports and waters of Brunei, for the erection and maintenance of lighthouses and navigational aids and for purposes incidental thereto.


1) Wild Life Protection 1984 – The Act provides for the protection of Wild life, setting restrictions to hunting seasons, animal age ranges, hunting methods and establishes wild life sanctuaries even in a protected or reserved forest. The Game Officer shall be vested with the powers of control and supervise compliance to the present Act.

Other environment-related law
1) Proposed Environmental Protection and Conservation Order, 2010 (still under development and deliberation)– to protect and manage the environment and to integrate environmental concerns into private and public decision making;

2) Proposed National Biodiversity Order (waiting for implementation) – facilitate the implementation of biodiversity conservation and management in the country.

3) Proposed Environment Protection and Management Order 2012 (still in progress) – contains provisions that comprehensive pollution control including air pollution, water and land. It also provided for the preparation of the impact assessment report projects that have the potential to pollute the environment or better known as Environment Impact Assessment Report (EIA).

4) Disaster Management Order 2006 – called for a comprehensive disaster management structure, which has propelled the establishment of the Disaster Management Center.

5) Hazardous Waste (Control of Export, Import and Transit of Hazardous Waste) order 2013 – give effect to the implementation of the Basel Convention. It sets out on controlling the export and import, the transit of toxic and hazardous waste as stated on part III and IV of the order.

6) 1909 Land Code (amended in 1982) and 1949 Land Acquisition – governs the land allocation and management of all lands, including private use and tenure of land in the country;

7) Town and Country Planning Act – provides for national development planning, particularly with respect to allocation of land;




[1] As per Minister of Development at National Environment Conference.

[2] Justine Thornton & Silas Beckwith. Environmental Law. (2007) ed.3. Sweet & Maxwell Limited of 100, Avenue Road, London. p.12

[3] Agenda 21. Institutional Aspects of Sustainable development in Brunei Darussalam.

[4] 5th National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Brunei Darussalam. 2014.

[5] Forestry department reiterates conservation policy commitment. frontpage-news-national/2015/09/09/forestrydepartment-reiterates-conservation policy commitment. (September 9, 2015)

[6] General Assembly. Human Rights Council. 19th session. January 2014

[7] In 2016, the PSI is 28.

[8] Air and water pollution.

[9] (Cap. 22) 1998. Rev. ed. 2001

[10] 1990 Amendments to the Clean Air Act of 1970

[11] Summary of the Clean Air Act. (Accessed on 1st April)

[12] The Coastal Resources of Brunei Darussalam: Status, Utilization and Management

[13] Hazardous Waste (Control of Export, Import and Transit) Order 2013

[14] Ibid.

[15] Implementation project of integrated waste management system. http://www.rtbnew (March 2, 2014)

[16] Brunei not ready to ban plastic bags. (Accessed on 4thApril 2016)

[17] Brunei not ready to ban plastic bags. (Accessed on 4thApril 2016)

[18] Brunei aim to smoke free-2016.

[19] Smoking Litter. (Accessed on 10th April 2016)

[20] Research of Australia, Papua New Guinea and the United States.

[21] Brunei success in forest protection cited in new study. Last updated: November 8, 2014. (Accessed on 1st March 2016)

[22] Ibid.

[23]Haze expected to persist during dry season. Last updated on 3rd April 2016 (Accessed on 16th April 2016)


[25] The 5th National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Forestry Department, Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources, Brunei Darussalam.

[26] Conservation of Brunei Waters. diving-cobw.php.


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