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an island nation with the world's 10th largest population, Japan is one of the most powerful economic centers of the globe. Only the United States is more technologically advanced than Japan, and among single nations, only the United States can claim a larger economy, based on Gross Domestic Product. Unfortunately, Japan has also joined the ranks of world leaders in its contributions to global warming. In 2004, the country ranked fourth, behind the United States, China, and Russia, in its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Despite continued efforts to lower emissions through conservation, legislation, and technology, Japan continues to produce nearly 5 percent of the world's CO2.

Japan began passing laws to control harmful industrial emissions as early as 1968, when the Basic Law for Environmental Pollution Control was passed in response to factory-produced air and water pollution. As awareness of environmental hazards increased, the law was revised with more stringent requirements. The Ministry of the Environment was established in 1971 and is given the responsibility for monitoring compliance with environmental laws and coordinating policies. In 1993, the Basic Environmental Law was passed to manage environmental problems on a global scale. The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries are also involved in enforcing environmental policies.

kyoto protocol

Japan is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol and is obligated by the agreement to reduce its emissions by 6 percent of the 1990 level, but reports indicate that the country is far from the target. Even as CO2 emissions from small-to-medium-sized industries have decreased, emissions from electricity consumption have increased 45.8 percent over the base year. During recent years, the share of passenger cars as a proportion of total passenger transport has increased, and even though Japan has established vehicle emissions standards for nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons, greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles for personal use have increased. In the case of CO2, the increase has been 52.6 percent since 1990. To meet the Kyoto target would require a 14 percent reduction based on 2005 figures, and 2006 emissions were even higher. Complicating the picture is the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant, site of the world's largest nuclear output, where operations were suspended after an earthquake shook the facility in July 2007. Experts estimate that this suspension alone may raise Japan's CO2 emissions by as much as 2 percent.

Pressure for more action is increasing as the immediate effects of global warming are felt throughout the nation. The production of rice, Japan's most important crop domestically, is expected to increase in some regions of the country as temperatures warm. Researchers predict that the rise in temperatures will decrease wheat production throughout the country. Concerns about heavier weed growth, harmful insects, and changes in rainfall patterns that create drought in some areas and cause flash floods in others generate fear as well.

A harbor on the island of Kyushu beneath the Sakurajima volcano in Japan. Host to the conference that led to the Kyoto Protocol, Japan has signed and ratified more than a dozen other international environmental agreements.

Japan has actively responded to these challenges. It has become a world leader by developing and implementing pollution control technologies and energy efficiency innovations. The Revised Energy Savings Law, adopted in 1999, encourages both central and local government to implement environmentally friendly technologies such as solar energy, wind power, and multi-fuel vehicles. Japan, host to the conference that led to the Kyoto Protocol, has signed and ratified more than a dozen other international environmental agreements, including Biodiversity, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, and Tropical Timber 94.

Japan's investment in solving environmental problems on a global level has also included substantial contributions to the Global Environment Facility

(GEF), a principal international multilateral funding mechanism set up in 1991 to aid developing countries in developing programs and projects that protect the global environment and promote sus-tainability. Japan contributed $84 million 1991-93, followed by an additional $415 million 1994-98, and $412 million 1998-2002. In 2007, concerned that Asia's energy consumption had grown by 230 percent since 1977, and alarmed by predictions that it would double again by 2030, Japan pledged $100 million in grants to the Asian Development Bank. The money is intended to promote renewable energy resources in a region that now accounts for a quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

Ignoring prognosticators, Japan insists that the nation will meet its Kyoto target. Not only did Japan focus on the improvement of its national and private forests at home through afforestation and forest conservation, but also its training and technology was made available to developing countries in Asia and South America. Domestic afforestation is expected to account for 3.9 percent of the 6 percent total deduction. With carbon credits earned through promoting projects in developing countries and carbon credits earned through resultant savings accounting for 1.6 percent, only .5 percent from standard emissions reduction will be required to meet the target.


Looking beyond Kyoto, Japan has been bold in its long-term planning. In 2006, the nation identified five environmental objectives: improve energy efficiency by at least 30 percent, reduce oil dependence to 40 percent or lower, reduce oil dependence in the transport sector to 80 percent, target the share of nuclear power in electricity generation to 30-40 percent, and increase the share of crude oil owned by Japanese companies to 40 percent. In May 2007, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed a new initiative for cutting the world's greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent of current levels by 2050. Abe praised the Kyoto Protocol for identifying the initial steps toward global solutions, but he insisted that the time had come for a new strategy that used innovative technologies, responsible use of resources, and the collaborative efforts of developed and developing countries to protect the Earth and the common interests of all nations. He challenged nations that have not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, including the United States, China, and India, to commit themselves to newly defined goals.

Abe also reiterated Japan's commitment to meeting his country's original Kyoto target by the year specified in the agreement. Some critics have speculated that Japan's objectives will require a green tax, a move frequently considered in the past, but delayed by opposition from the steel and electric power industries, whose greenhouse gas emissions are among the largest in the nation. The decline of gas consumption after price spikes and the decrease in consumption of plastic shopping bags after fees were levied on usage of the bags suggest that a green tax could be an effective measure on a larger scale.

SEE ALSo: Afforestation; Global Environment Facility (GEF); Kyoto Protocol; Nuclear Power.

BIBLioGRAPHY. Jeffrey Broadbent, Environmental Politics in Japan: Networks of Power and Protest (Cambridge University Press, 1998); Hans Dreimel, "Japan Vows $100M to Stem Climate Change," Washington Post (May 6, 2007); K.H. Hillstrom and L.C. Hillstrom, Asia: A Continental Overview of Environmental Issues (ABC-CLIO, 2003); Anny Wong, The Roots of Japan's International Environmental Policies (Garland, 2001).

Wylene Rholetter Auburn University

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Getting Started With Solar

Getting Started With Solar

Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.

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