Middle East Environmental Law
Iran is the second largest country in the Middle Eastern region. To the north, it borders Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan; and to the east, it borders Pakistan and Afghanistan; to the west, it borders Turkey and Iraq. Iran shares the Persian Gulf coast with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. The official language of Iran is Farsi (Persian) and the nation's official name is Islamic Republic of Iran. The dominant religion of Iran is Shi'a Islam.
Iran's Political Institutions:
Iran has a semi-democratic political system established after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 led by Ayatollah Khomeini. The political system is based upon the theory of "Velayat-e- Faghih," which means governance by an Islamic jurist. Under Iran's constitutional framework there are three branches of government, the Judiciary, the Executive and the Legislature. Although the Constitution affirms the independence of each of the three branches from each other, it states that all three branches are under the direction of the Supreme Leader of the country.
The Supreme Leader is the spiritual leader of the Islamic Republic and responsible for the establishing "the general policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran." The Supreme Leader is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces and controls the Islamic Republic's intelligence and security operations. He has the power to appoint the head of the judicial branch, the head of state radio and television (IRIB), and the supreme commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). He also appoints six of the twelve members of the Council of Guardians. The Supreme Leader is elected by the Assembly of Experts on the basis of his personality (leadership abilities, his religious qualifications and his popular esteem . Ayatollah Khamenei is currently Iran's Supreme Leader.
According to the Iranian Constitution, the President is the second highest-ranking official after the Supreme Leader and the head of the Executive Branch. He is elected by popular vote for a four-year term, and limited to two consecutive terms. All presidential candidates must be approved by the Council of Guardians prior to running for office. In reviewing potential candidates, the Council considers various factor such as experience, knowledge, capacity to run the government, and religious and political background. The President is the head of the government of the Islamic Republic and appoints the cabinet members, sets the country's foreign and economic policies, and coordinates government decisions, in close consultation with the Supreme Leader.
Council of Ministers
The President selects the members of the Council of Ministers (the Cabinet). The ministers are subject to confirmation by the parliament confidence vote.  The council has a semi-parliamentary legislative function. Apart from ministers, the Council includes vice presidents who serve under the President.. The Head of Iran's Department of Environment is a vice president and a member of the Council.
The legislative body of Iran is the Islamic Consultative Assembly or "Majles-e Shura-ye Eslami." It consists of 290 members elected to 4-year terms. Elections are both direct and by secret popular ballot. Each member of the Majles represents a particular geographic area. The Majles drafts legislation, ratifies international treaties, and approves the country's annual budget. The Council of Guardians exercises supervisory power over the Majles; for example, the Council has the authority to disqualify or approve candidates. In addition, under the Constitution, all legislation adopted by the Parliament, with the exception of legislation affecting internal administration of the Majles, must be reviewed and approved by the Council of Guardians.
The Council of Guardians:
Twelve jurists make up the Council of Guardians (Council), one of the most powerful bodies of the Islamic Republic. The Supreme Leader appoints six of the members, and the Majles appoints the other six members based on recommendations from the head of the Judiciary. The Council is vested with the authority to interpret the Constitution and determine if laws passed by Parliament are in line with the Constitution and Islamic law. The Council can veto legislation passed by the Majles on the ground that it is inconsistent with the Constitution or Islamic (Sharia) law. However, following a veto, the Majles can amend the legislation in order to address the Council's concerns. If the Majles and the Council of Guardians fail to resolve their differences, the Expediency Council, which serves as an advisory body to the Supreme Leader,  is empowered to make the final decision.
Article 156 of the Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. The Supreme Leader appoints the head of the Judicial Branch. The position is currently held by Shia Mujtahid-a Shiia jurist. The head of the judiciary appoints the head of the Supreme Court and the chief public prosecutor. Courts are classified based on their areas of jurisdiction, and include civil and criminal courts, revolutionary courts and a Court of Administrative Justice.
Environmental law in Iran dates back to 1956 when the Hunting Law was adopted. This law addressed the serious problem of overhunting by establishing permit requirements, defining hunting seasons, and prescribing penalties for illegal hunting. Another piece of legislation that has been adopted in environmental law was for 1947. It was Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act which primarily addresses air pollution problems.
Iran's Constitution recognizes environmental protection as one of the government's obligations. Article 50 of the Constitution states: "The preservation of the environment, in which the present as well as the future generations have a right to flourishing social existence, is regarded as a public duty in the Islamic Republic. Economic and other activities that inevitably involve pollution of the environment or cause irreparable damage to it are therefore forbidden." The Constitution also embraces the concept of sustainable development. These constitutional provisions provide the foundation for environment protection activities, laws, and regulations in Iran.
Other environmental laws and regulations in Iran include:
- The Law of Protection of the Sea and Internal Water Bodies Against the Oil and Oil-Products Pollution (1975)
- The Law of Proper Use of Water Resources (1982)
- The Law of Environmental Protection Against Water Pollution (1984)
- The Law Applicable to All Economical, Cultural, Societal Development (1989)
- The Law of Environmental Protection and Development (1991)
- The Law of Protection Against Natural Environmental Damages (1991)
- The Law of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (1974)
- The Law of Protection of the Natural Parks, Protected Areas and Sensitive Areas (1975)
- The Law of Protection and Exploitation of the Fisheries Resources (1974)
- The Law Related to Punishment Applicable to the Over-exploitation of the Fishery Resources in the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea (1979)
- The Law of Protection and Exploitation of the Forests and Range
Five Year Development Plans:
Iran periodically adopts a Five Year Socio-Economic Development Plan that sets guidelines for the long-term development of the country. Five Year Plans have been adopted since 1990 and the government is now in the course of implementing its fifth Five Year Plan. The Parliament adopts the Five Year Plan, and the government prepares policies to carry out the Plan's objectives.
The Second Five Year Plan (1994-1998) mandated the preparation of Environmental Impacts Assessments (EIA) as well as feasibility studies on all major development projects. This was an important step toward improving public decision-making regarding major projects that are likely to have an adverse effect on the environment. The Third Five Year Development Plan also required the preparation of EIAs. However, there is no general legislation mandating the preparation of environmental assessments for development projects.
Department of Environment (DoE)
The Department of the Environment (DoE) is the lead government agency for environmental protection and management in Iran. It has the responsibility to guarantee wise and sustainable use of the environment in compliance with sustainable development policies as well as to prevent the destruction and pollution of the environment. The President appoints the head of DoE who serves as a member of the Cabinet. The functions of the DoE include undertaking investigations to identify pollutants and other factors adversely affecting the environment; identifying environmentally friendly technologies; establishing environmental regulatory standards; promoting and enhancing environmental knowledge; and encouraging public participation in efforts to protect the environment. The Department of the Environment is also responsible for the protection of the wildlife, establishing environmental reserves, and preserving wetlands and natural landscapes.
International Environmental Treaties:
- Convention on Biodiversity (CBD)
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
- Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa
- Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)
- The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal
- Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes
- Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer on (Montreal Protocol)
- The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Convention)
- Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (Environmental Modification)
- United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (LOS, Law of the Sea)(signed but not ratified),
- Convention on Fishing and Conservation of the Living Resources of the High Seas (signed but not ratified)
- Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (signed but not ratified)
- United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) (signed but not ratified).
- Convention Concerning Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the World Heritage Convention)
Iran is one of the countries of the world that has four seasons. Iran has an arid climate in which most of the country receives yearly precipitation averaging 25 centimeters or less. The major exceptions are the higher mountain valleys of the Zagros and the Caspian coastal plain, where precipitation averages at least 50 centimeters annually. In the western part of the Caspian, rainfall exceeds 100 centimeters annually and is distributed relatively evenly throughout the year. This contrasts with some basins of the Central Plateau that receive ten centimeters or less of precipitation annually. Iran has a variable climate. In the northwest, winters are very cold with heavy snowfall, spring and fall are relatively mild, while summers are dry and hot. In the south, winters are mild and the summers are very hot, with average daily temperatures in July exceeding 38° C.
A recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) ranked Iran 117th place among 133 countries. This ranking puts Iran in the top 30 most polluted countries of the world. There are several serious environmental problems in Iran, including urban air pollution, deforestation, desertification, pollution, wetland loss, soil degradation, water supply issues, and biodiversity loss. These challenges stem from global climate change, population growth, urbanization, increased energy consumption, and carbon monoxide from car exhaust. A major factor behind the suffocating air pollution in the capital, Tehran, and other Iranian cities is the dramatic rise in the country's energy consumption. Iran is among the most energy intensive countries in the world. This is due to lack of advanced infrastructure, government subsidies on energy carriers, and inefficient consumption patterns by the people.
World Energy Outlook, 2010, Countries Highlights, Iran, 598.
Iran's energy-related carbon emissions have been on a steady climb for decades. In a recent report published by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Iranian city of Ahwaz had 372 micrograms of carbon emissions per cubic meter, the highest level of any of the 1,100 cities in the study. Three other Iranian cities were in the bottom 10 in air quality.
In addition, Iran is suffering from a water shortage and long-lasting drought, which could lead to mass migration of rural populations into Iran's already crowded cities. The lengthy droughts in some parts of the country have decimated crops and killed livestock, and increasing water supply in many areas has changed significantly in the last few years.
As one of the world's diverse countries in terms of biodiversity, Iran ranks thirteenth country in the world in terms of biodiversity. Beautiful endangered species such as Asiatic Cheetahs, Iranian Yellow deer and other species need special protection.
Rapid population growth over the past twenty years has contributed significantly to Iran's deteriorating environment. Inefficient and rising energy consumption will only exacerbate the damage. But recent pollution crisis in Iran may serve as a catalyst for change. The growing pollution problems may force the Iranian government to take steps to protect the health of its citizens. Iran will need to confront its environmental problems quickly, but with an eye toward the long-term, if it is to prevent the further degradation of its environment and protect its cities and citizens.
•1. Islamic Republic of Iran's Constitution, available at: http://www.iranonline.com/iran/iran-info/government/constitution.html
•2. A Guide to the Legal System of the Islamic Republic of Iran, GlobalLex, Omar Sial, Hauser Global Law School Porgam, 2006,
•3. Pars Times, Iran: Environment and Nature, A non-profit and independent website. Mainly targeted for scholars and investors. www.parstimes.com
•4. Iran: International Environmental Agreements Fact Sheet, IRAN ROOYAN, 2010. Available at: http://www.iranrooyan.org/issues/environment.
 Iran's Constitution, Principle 5
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 Id, Prin. 133
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