Environmental Policy

The Basic Environment Plan - Part I

PART I. BACKGROUND AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PLAN

  • Section 1.Trends in Environmental Problems
    • 1.Changing environmental problems
      • 1.1. The nation's environment
      • 1.2. Global environment
    • 2.Future trends in environmental problems
      • 2.1. Global economy, society and the environment
      • 2.2. The nation's economy, society and the environment
    • 3. Characteristics of future environmental problems
  • Section 2.Growing Awareness and Activities
    • 1. International community
    • 2.Activities in the nation
  • Section 3. Significance of the Plan

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Section 1. Trends in Environmental Problems

1. Changing Environmental Problems

People live and run various types of businesses extracting resources in the form of food and raw materials from the surrounding environment, and discharging domestic waste, manufacturing refuse, gas emissions, sewage and other unusable substances into the environment. In other words, we have enjoyed many blessings of the environment and placing impacts on it at the same time. The environment, however, has the ability to restore itself, and therefore as long as people's impacts stay within this ability, the ecosystem remains in balance, enabling our socioeconomic activity in a sustainable manner. However, as the world's population increases and socioeconomic activities expand, these activities exact a heavier toll on the environment and begin to threaten it. Exploitation of resources in excess of nature's ability to restore itself has led to a decline in natural resource reserves. Habitat losses threaten the survival of various species of wildlife. Output levels of waste and other discharges beyond nature's ability to purify itself is causing actual or potential pollution.

1.1. The Nation's Environment

In Japan, during the period of rapid economic expansion after World War II, the environmental contamination and nature destruction became major social problems. In retrospect, these problems arose from the insufficient consideration on the environment. In an effort to resolve these problems, the Basic Law for Environmental Pollution Control and the Law for the Conservation of the Natural Environment were enacted, and pollution control and nature conservation policies were implemented based upon these laws. These policies, combined with efforts of both citizens and local governments, corporate investment in pollution prevention and technological developments showed remarkable results by the mid-1980s. Likewise, an effort to conserve the natural environment revealed considerable results.

Since then, Japan has continued steady economic growth. With the world's second largest economy, Japanese production now accounts for as much as 15% of total world production. During these years of economic growth, mass-production, mass-consumption and mass-disposal have become an even more an integral part of both Japan's socioeconomic activities and its way of life. We also experienced further concentration of population and socioeconomic activities in urban areas. In these circumstances, we have not observed sufficient improvement in urban and domestic-type pollution such as urban air pollution by nitrogen oxides, water contamination by domestic sewage. Economic expansion has brought about increase of solid waste. The quality of underground water and sources of drinking water has deteriorated. Increase in the use of chemicals calls for our precautionary efforts to prevent environmental pollution by chemicals. Possibilities of new environmental pollution resulting from newly developed technologies are also pointed out. Furthermore, in urban areas, the nearby environment has been disappearing and nature is becoming further removed from people's everyday lives. On the other hand, in rural areas where population is decreasing and getting older, maintenance of environmental conservation capacity of forests and farmlands is becoming more and more difficult. Now people are becoming increasingly desirous of comfortable and peaceful lifestyles in a rich and pleasant environment.

1.2. Global Environment

Since the end of World War II, the Earth's population and the activities of that population have both shown geometrical growth. The world population grew from 1.65 billion in 1900 to 2.52 billion in 1950, and further to 5.3 billion by 1990. Between 1950 and 1990, the world's economy increased five times, the world's primary energy supply increased more than four times, and fertilizer use increased more than nine times. Developed nations have been consuming large quantities of natural resources and have likewise, been disposing quantities of waste. On the other hand, developing countries have undergone rapid population growth, increasing demand for food to combat poverty, and numbers of projects for economic development. Against this backdrop, deterioration of the global environment has become a priority issue.

Ozone layer depletion and global warming are examples of environmental issues affecting the entire planet. Likewise, effects of acid rain show absolute disregard for national boundaries. Decrease of tropical forests and extinction of various species of wildlife are going on around the world. Some developing countries are experiencing environmental pollution, caused in part by rapid population growth, concentrated populations in urban areas and industrialization.

2. Future Trends in Environmental Problems

2.1. Global Economy, Society and the Environment
2.1.a. Socioeconomic Trends

According to the United Nations, the world's population will continue to increase, particularly in developing countries, and will reach 10 billion by the year 2050. The percentage of the world's urban population will increase, and, particularly in the developing world, huge mega-cities are predicted to emerge. Regarding economic activities, the United Nations estimates that the speed of economic growth in developed countries will slow. Regardless, the size of their economies is already extremely large. Although it appears that developing countries in South and East Asia will experience robust economic growth, it is feared that some developing countries will experience rapid population growth without alleviation of poverty. According to the International Energy Agency ("IEA"), using 1990 as a standard, demand for primary energy will increase 1.48 times worldwide by the year 2010. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization ("FAO") estimates that the population in developing countries will grow faster than that of food production and, as a result, by the year 2010, their total net imports will have increased. It also estimates that if the fishing industry maintains its current production level, no significant growth can be expected. The demand for forestry products is predicted to continue high growth.

2.1.b. Trends in Environmental Problems

It is feared that these rapid population growth and expansion of socioeconomic activities are threatening the Earth's environment, which supports the survival of humankind. For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ("IPCC") predicts that if no measures are taken, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in 2050 will be twice as large as that which existed before the Industrial Revolution, while the average global temperature will increase by roughly 0.3 degrees Celsius every decade. This implies a full 3 degrees increase by the end of the 21st century, using present temperatures for comparison. Regarding ozone depletion, the Scientific Assessment Panel established under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer predicted that, based on assumed compliance with the amended Montreal Protocol (Copenhagen, 1992) by all nations, global ozone losses which were first discernible in the late 1970s will recover in about the year 2045, other things being equal. Other problems include marine pollution caused by human activities on land and sea; desertification partly caused by over-grazing; deforestation of tropical and other forests due to untraditional slash-burn-farming techniques, excess gathering of wood for fuel and improper commercial cutting; wildlife extinction due to over-hunting and habitat losses; acid rain resulting from large quantity of fossil fuel use; transboundary movements of toxic waste; and environmental pollution in developing countries, such as urban air pollution resulting from rapid expansion of economic activities and fuel use without appropriate countermeasures.

2.1.c. Necessity for International Activities

These problems occur in a world where countries are increasingly becoming interdependent upon one another as cross-border trade and investment expand. The activities of one country may potentially burden the environment of another country. It is therefore essential to tackle these environmental problems on a global scale. As such, it is necessary to promote international efforts, including strengthening international ties when formulating and implementing environmental policies, promoting foreign assistance to the efforts of developing countries themselves to achieve the goals of environmental conservation and economic development at the same time.

2.2. The Nation's Economy, Society and the Environment
2.2.a. Socioeconomic Trends

It is expected that the rate of population growth in Japan will decline, while the percentage of elderly people, as a portion of the total population, will rise. In fact, Japan's total population will actually begin to shrink after the year 2010. Looking at population levels by region, the populations of large cities will continue to rise, while those in rural areas will continue to shrink through the beginning of the 21st century.

Long-run economic growth is expected to slow due to fewer working hours and a diminishing work force, whose numbers are expected to peak around the year 2000. Savings rates will also decrease due to the high proportion of elderly who must be cared for during this time.

Given these trends, the period between now and the early 21st century is a crucial one in terms of providing public projects for environmental conservation. It is predicted that the industrial structure will become more service and information oriented. Demand for transportation will grow moderately. The growth rate in total passenger number and cargo freight is predicted to be smaller than the same equation with an added variable to incorporate a distance figure. Consequently, people and cargo will travel greater distances. Household consumption per capita is predicted to increase, people are expected to work fewer hours, leaving individuals with more leisure time.

2.2.b.Trends in Environmental Problems

Japanese society and its economy are beginning to mature after decades of tremendous growth. In the process, Japan consumed large amounts of natural resources and discharged great amounts of pollutants into the environment. Japan is expected to continue its present trend toward urbanization, but while doing so, it needs to control the burden inflicted on the environment from such activities. The dilemma does not stop with problems related to conserving the environment from the mere discharge of regional pollution. There is still a concern about ever expanding socioeconomic activities which harbor potentially detrimental effects for the environment. Likewise, it is feared that the sustainability of society itself is becoming increasingly uncertain.

Developed countries are imposing tremendous burdens on the global environment. As a member of this group, Japan must take considerable, affirmative strides to create a society able to sustain development, while decreasing the burdens it inflicts on the global environment.

For example, if all measures relating to energy conservation were perfectly enforced, it is predicted that per-capita levels of CO2 emissions recorded in 1990, would stabilize by the year 2000. This is the goal of Article 1 of the Action Program to Arrest Global Warming. If this can be achieved, the total increase in global warming is predicted to be nominal.

To further prevent global warming, controls on CO2 emissions are likewise necessary. This is the goal of Article 2 of the Action Program to Halt Global Warming. Of considerable concern is the relatively high rate in growth of emissions in the transportation and commercial/residential sectors. This rise correlates with the increase in energy consumption in each respective sectors. Measures to halt this trend are needed. Also, if current production and consumption patterns persist, waste generation is predicted to increase. Consequently, it is becoming increasingly critical to pioneer new methods for controlling waste generation at each stage of the socioeconomic process (e.g. the production, use and consumption stages).

In large metropolitan areas, measures to ease various forms of urban and domestic pollution, such as air pollution caused by nitrogen oxides, emitted via automobile exhaust and water pollution, generated by domestic water use in the form of raw sewage, should be implemented. It is also necessary to design measures able to deal with potential environmental contamination due to the use of chemical substances and the development and utilization of new technologies. It is also feared that if acid rain is not prevented, the ecosystem will begin to be detrimentally affected in various permanent ways.

Conserving vegetation ("green spaces") and bodies of water in urban areas, as well as forests and farmlands in rural areas are pressing matters. Wildlife numbers are decreasing and some species are threatened with extinction. The effort to battle these problems must comply with the Japanese people's growing demand for a comfortable living environment ("environmental amenities") and meet ever increasing need to come in contact with nature.

3. Characteristics of Future Environmental Problems

The environmental issues to be tackled in future have the following characteristics, in view of their trends and prospects explained above. First, environmental issues cannot be divided into categories, like human health, mankind's living environment or the natural environment. It is necessary to adopt a comprehensive approach that takes into consideration causes and effects of the entire system. For example, the complex role forests play in CO2 absorption and the ecological impact of acid rain caused by nitrogen and sulfurous oxides cannot be separated.

Second, many current environmental problems, such as global warming, urban and domestic pollution, are generated during routine daily activities of companies and individual citizens. It is, therefore, necessary for all members of society, to actively and voluntarily take part in conserving the environment. It is also necessary for each member to take another look at the socioeconomic system and his/her own personal lifestyle.

Third, environmental issues have become problems of global proportion affecting wide geographical areas and the lives of future generations. These problems must be resolved through a joint effort by both developed and developing countries. It is necessary to strengthen international cooperation for this purpose, consolidate scientific information and implement environmental conservation measures with long-term perspective.

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Section 2. Growing Awareness and Activities

The national and local governments, companies and individual citizens are becoming increasingly aware of the seriousness of those environmental problems that threaten the basic life support system of humankind. In addition, there is a growing consensus regarding the urgent need to change both our current lifestyles and the prevailing economic system to construct a sustainable society with minimized environmental loads, each member of society sharing fair burden. These beliefs are expressed as a principle of environmental ethics for human beings living in a finite environment. This rising of awareness is driving forward people's various actions and cooperation to conserve the environment.

1. International Community

In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development ("UNCED") was held, in response to increasing awareness of the significance of global environmental issues. The countries in attendance reached an international consensus to design and implement measures to achieve sustainable development, globally. As a result, the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21 were adopted. A majority of the participants also agreed to sign the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Japan, as well as many other nations, contributed to the success of the UNCED. For the purposes of implementing the agreements adopted at the UNCED, the United Nations set up the Committee for Sustainable Development.

Additionally, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ("OECD") and other international bodies, are working together to integrate environmental and economic policies.

2. Activities in the Nation

2.1. The State

In recent years, a wide range of measures and activities have been promoted by the government in an effort to conserve the environment, such as measures concerning nitrogen oxides emitted by automobiles, measures household waste water and protection of wildlife, and programs for environmental education and others. Measures to conserve the global environmental problems have also been strengthened, such as establishing the Council of Ministers on Global Environmental Conservation in 1989, and adopting the Action Program to Arrest Global Warming in 1990.

Furthermore, the Basic Environment Law was enacted in 1993 which aims at coping with a broadened range of environmental problems of today, as well as implementing the achievements reached at the UNCED. The Law provides for new basic principles for environmental conservation and various policy measures. The government also adopted the National Action Plan for Agenda 21 in the end of 1993 and submitted it to the United Nations, which specifies the measures of Japan to implement those tasks of Agenda 21.

2.2. Local Governments

Local governments have always played an important role in pollution reduction and nature conservation. Recently, an increasing number of local governments are formulation environmental management plans to address broad, current environmental issues. Many are advancing new efforts to promote international cooperation and many are actually crossing their own borders to creating alliances between local authorities for environmental conservation.

2.3. Corporations

Corporations are becoming more aware of the inherent problems of current socioeconomic system where mass-production, mass-consumption and mass-disposal pattern prevails. They also recognize the need to reduce the environmental load generated by their business activities. There are voluntary actions taken by corporations to tackle these problems. For example, some companies and economic organizations have established their own charters for global environmental conservation or have formulated independent environmental action plans. Some are maintaining systems that conserve the environment, while some are implementing voluntary environmental audit systems. Likewise, progress is being made through independent efforts to transfer technology.

2.4. People

People are becoming increasingly aware of the burden they are imposing on the environment and realize the need to change their lifestyles. They are participating increasingly in such activities as recycling, national trust, greening/tree-planting, and protecting nearby bodies of water. International activities are also increasing.

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Section 3. The Significance of the Plan

To appropriately respond to the aforementioned trends and characteristics of current environmental problems, and taking account of the growing awareness and increasing activities, it is essential to promote a comprehensive and systematic measures to conserve the environment, encompassing not only the Government's environmental measures but also actions to be undertaken by local governments, corporations and people.

The Basic Environment Plan sets the basic concepts and long-term objectives of environmental policy which are based on the Basic Environment Law, upon foreseeing through the mid-21st century, and specifies the direction of environmental policies in the period toward the early 21st century. It thus aims to ensure that all groups and sectors of society share common understanding and cooperate with each other for conservation of the environment.

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