Japan Environmental Sustainability
Japan's environmental policy has reflected a nervous compromise between economic development and environmental protection. Japan has been the world's leading importer of both exhaustible and renewable natural resources and one of the largest consumers of fossil fuels. The Japanese national government has international responsibility to conserve and protect Japan's environment.
Japan had a poor ecological record during the 1960's and 1970's with the discovery of Minamata disease, mercury poisoning, during a period in which Japan sacrificed the environment for rapid economic growth. However since that period, Japan's record in environmental matters has improved considerably.
As the Japan economy surged and its global role expanded, in the 1990s, Japan recognized its role in environmental protection and sustainability. To that end, Japan's environmental legislation and its involvement in international environmental affairs was broadened. In 1993, the government amended its environment legal system and passed its Basic Environment Law and related laws. These laws included limits on industrial emissions, restriction of products, control over wastes, improvement of energy conservation, promotion of recycling, restriction of land utilization, arrangement of environmental pollution control programs, assistance for victims and terms for sanctions. The Environment Agency became the Ministry of the Environment in 2001 with its mandate to address the deteriorating international environmental problems.
In 1984, the Environmental Agency issued its initial white paper. In 1989, its environmental status report indicated that Japanese citizens considered that environmental problems had improved, over 40% believed the environment had improved, over 30% believed that environmental conditions remained the same and over 20% believed that conditions had deterioriated. 75% of the respondents expressed concern about issues such as endangered species, loss of rain forests, expansion of deserts, destruction of the ozone layer, acid rain and increased water and air pollution in developing countries. The majority believed that Japan in cooperation with other industrialized countries, had the responsibility to resolve environmental problems.
In a 2007 opinion survey, over 30% of those surveyed indicated environmental conservation activity was more important than economic development, over 20% believed the environmental conservation did not damage the economy, over 20% believed environmental conservation should be given higher priority regardless of whether it obstructs the economy and only 3% believed the economy should have priority over environmental conservation.
The OECD, in its initial Environmental Performance Review of Japan in 1994, supported Japan for disassociating its economy from air pollution because Japan's air quality improved and the economy prospered. On the other hand, it received a low score for water quality to the extent that its lakes, rivers and coastal water quality failed its standards. Another 2002 report stated that Japan's system of implementing environmental policy was effective and its regulations were rigorous, enforced and well monitored.
In its 2006 environment annual report, the Ministry of Environment concluded that Japan's major environmental issues were global warming and preservation of the ozone layer, conservation of the atmospheric environment, water and soil, waste management and recycling, measures for chemical substances, conservation of the natural environment and participation in the international cooperation.
Global Warming in Japan
As a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol and the host of the 1997 Kyoto international conference, Japan recognizes its treaty obligations to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions and to take steps to avoid climate change. Japan has been the world's fifth biggest emission producer. Former Prime Minister Koizumi introduced the "Cool Biz" campaign to reduce energy usage by reduction of air conditioning use in government offices, among other matters.
Nuclear Power Policy
Japan produces one third of its electricity from nuclear power plants. The majority of citizens support the use of existing nuclear plants, although some have raised objections to constructing new plants. Treatment of radioactive wastes has been the subject of discussion in Japan. The site of the underground nuclear-waste storage area has not yet resolved and citizens' groups have opposed the plan to study the locations.
Fishery and Whaling
Japanese consume more fish and fish products than meat. Due to the depletion of ocean stocks in the late 20th century, Japan's annual fish harvest has been declining rapidly. Japan, the U.S. and the European Union take the largest proportion of international fish harvests. Japanese fish catches were the third in the world in 2000, after China and Peru. The U.S., Chile, Indonesia, Russia and India were other major countries.
After the moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, the Japanese government stated that its whaling operations were strictly for research purposes although environmental groups and anti-whaling countries argued against that assertion.
Urban and Regional Planning
After World War II, Japan underwent a massive nationwide rebuilding effort and during the following decades, large scale urbanization and construction continued. Japan has a large construction industry which is a foundation of its economy. Despite the fact that Japan has many parks and other open spaces in its cities, the city planning system lacks detailed restrictions on land development. Japan's urban environment is heavily shaped by its influential construction industry. The industry has substantial lobbying power which has limited the introduction of stricter zoning regulations and environmental preservation requirements.