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Japan Municipalities and Citizens Strengthen Environment and Natural Resources Governance

A note for our readers: the views reflected by the authors do not reflect the views of ASPA.

By Itoko Suzuki

The world has been struggling with the increasing level of CO2 emissions in the environment, endangering global warming. At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, an international environmental treaty was negotiated as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) that became effective in 1994. As of March 2014, UNFCC has 196 participating parties.

The treaty itself has no binding enforcement mechanism but the parties meet annually (as Conferences of the Parties or COP). The third COP, held in 1997 in Kyoto (Japan), concluded with the Kyoto Protocol, which was legally binding the obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Since the Rio Earth Summit, Japan has made progressive efforts to reduce the CO2 consumption level for the national and global sustainable development.

In 1993, Japan stipulated a Basic Environment Law to promote nationally, locally and internationally, environmental conservation such as 3R strategies of the natural resources and development of technologies to enable the environment conservation necessities. In the environmental and natural resources governance, all the stakeholders including national government and local governments (municipalities as well), private sector businesses, non-profit organizations, and above all, citizens are important partners.

Domestically, in accordance to the new environment law, Japan’s municipalities (second tier of local government) implemented government policies by stipulating relevant ordinances for local environmental conservation. The Prefectural governments (first tier), in coordination with municipal public administration, have managed larger-regional scale environmental issues, such as big rivers, lakes, oceans, regional industrial pollution, etc. In Japan for making the Low-C society, the environmental law has made municipalities primarily responsible.

In Japan while the largest polluters of CO2 are industrial businesses, the household garbage has grown increasingly. Household wastes required a 13.46 percent reduction rather than the original projected 6 percent reduction in CO2 required by the Kyoto Protocol. The business sector required an 11.86 percent reduction (June 2008 level). This meant it was more important to progressively decrease the level of CO2 from the household consumption of energy.

According to a sample survey this author conducted in 2008 in a small municipal community, it was found that citizens (all citizens are household registered) are substantially contributing to the municipal government wastes collection, disposal, burning, as well as street, river, and parks cleaning and other environment conservation activities.

On a weekly basis, each household member sorts their garbage into several categories before they discard in municipal name printed assigned transparent bag(s) at a designated location within each small community unit. All their waste must be first sorted into separate categories:

  1. Paper, magazines and books, which are collected once a month at designated recycle boxes.
  2. Cans, bottles and glasses separately as recyclable items, which are collected once a week.
  3. Burnable kitchen and other garbage, which is collected twice a week.
  4. Heavy or big or health-hazardous items, which are collected by a municipal truck once a month from in front of the citizen’s house or apartment building upon prior request by phone.

Wastes in categories #1 through #3 are collected at a designated space and time by municipal trucks. Each household member habitually cleans their own street in front of the house to keep clean “my place and my own town” on a garbage collection day. In Japan there is no garbage disposal cans in the streets or even in parks. Citizens and tourists must take their wastes back home or hotel. They often carry a bag for the purpose in travelling and Japan’s bullet trains, inside and their station platforms, have placed disposal boxes.

Small river and park cleaning in the living vicinity or community is the “voluntary” duty of the interested community citizens. In this author’s survey, the household sector (citizens through local community associations or apartment residents unions which usually carry out environment conservation activities), contributed almost the same cost that the local government pays for municipal environment conservation activities. This is only one example, and many citizens and businesses have been increasingly contributing to a variety of local environmental conservation activities.

Japan has pledged to take a leading role in the international community in the reduction of CO2 and promoting the use of solar, wind and other non-fossil energies. In addition to the government ODA use for the purpose, many local municipalities in Japan organized a number of direct local-local co-operation activities with overseas municipalities for supporting mutually Low-C community building. As an example, “eco-partnership” Tokyo – United Nations initiative (organized in 1998-2002) cooperated with many cities of the world in Asia, Africa and other regions through sharing know-how of waste disposal methods and environment conservation technologies by training municipal environmental managers, local citizens, children, etc., involving all other stakeholders of municipal environmental governance.

Recently, Japan has increased its efforts to promote countermeasures of global warming through many local renewable energy promotion projects with Green New Deal Fund. “Carbon Dioxide Tax of Climate Change Mitigation” was incurred to citizens and businesses in October 2012, and its rate will increase in 2016 particularly to promote energy saving, renewable energy, and low carbon technologies to reduce CO2 emissions.

The country has been supportive of a method of CO2 reduction by all participating partners in UNFCC, using Joint Crediting Mechanism (JCM) in which Japan tries to facilitate the diffusion of advanced low carbon technologies as well as mitigation actions in developing countries. In Kyoto Protocol, the United States and other developing countries, such as China and India, do not have obligations to reduce greenhouse gases, while the current obliging parties CO2 emissions level is only 15 % of the world total. Japan has joined worldwide efforts to establish a new, fair and effective legal framework applicable to all parties, which is expected to be agreed upon in 2015 at COP21 and become effective in 2020.

In April 2014, Japanese government, in order to strengthen the environment and energy generating resources management, as well as to facilitate recovery from the 3.11 huge earthquake driven disasters, decided a new energy policy as a strategy for 2018-20. It includes the nuclear energy generated electricity and “pul-thermal” electricity, as a base energy resource, together with increased use of the renewable energy resources like wind, solar, etc. for electricity generation. The policy also includes developing technological innovation to improve fossil-based energy generations for the increased efficiency and environment protection that can be also shared by the needed overseas countries.

CO2 emissions and radiation spread are both hazardous to the environment. Development of technologies for increased use of renewal energy resources as well as energy conservation, are the only solutions in a long run. Citizens, NGOs and municipal communities now have greater roles to induce the national and international environmental management, toward the goal of environmental safety and sustainability of the globe.
Author: Itoko Suzuki is a retired senior citizen of Japan; former chief, Branch of Public Administration and Governance, United Nations; former professor in public administration in a few universities in Japan (2000-2010) including, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University. Suzuki can be reached at [email protected].

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