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Innovation and the environment

Japan is widely regarded as a leading innovator on the environment. We asked Japan’s Parliamentary Secretary of the Environment, Nobumori Otani, who was in Paris in early May, for his insights.

OECD Observer: In your opinion, what justifies Japan’s reputation as a leading environmental innovator?

Nobumori Otani
: First of all, one of the reasons why Japan is considered to be a pioneer in the environmental field is, I believe, the level of development of its green technologies. Japan has promoted the development of cutting-edge energysaving technologies. Similarly, we have often opened the way to innovative technologies to reduce CO2 emissions, such as hybrid vehicles. This wide range of technologies is now being used throughout the world.

Another reason is perhaps the progress made since the change of government that took place last year. The Hatoyama government is strongly committed to protecting the environment and combating climate change, as is clearly shown by the recently set reduction target, a 25% reduction in emissions by 2020 compared to the 1990 level.

Lastly, Japan has very few energy resources, such as oil or other fossil energies. This constraint has led us to develop an “anti-waste” or mottainai spirit, in particular by developing energy saving technologies.

How can the recent OECD Assessment and Recommendations on Japan’s environmental performance support your environmental policy, and in particular the climate change bill currently being discussed in the Diet?

The OECD recommendations are always very useful to Japan. Some of them are related to initiatives that we have already begun, such as trans-boundary air pollution countermeasures and the 3R initiative, while others will enable us to accelerate initiatives currently under way, such as introduction of cap-and-trade emission trading system and development of a biodiversity corridor strategy. Lastly, some recommendations are opening up new avenues. These are initiatives that are based on an economic approach, which can be very useful for guiding our policies.

Currently, the law being discussed in parliament is crucial to combat climate change. I hope that this law will be passed in June of this year. This law provides, in particular, the basis for the establishment of a cap-and-trade emission trading system. The OECD’s recommendations go in the same direction and I hope they will support and speed up our efforts.

Japan is organising a major conference on biodiversity in Nagoya next October. Do you think the issue of biodiversity is being taken seriously enough?

According to recent surveys, some 92% of people are interested in “nature”. An increasing number of people want to take action to protect it. However, only some 36% of Japanese are familiar with the term “biodiversity”. We must enhance awareness and understanding of biodiversity, and make the public understand that it is closely related to the conservation and wise use of nature. This would give an added impetus to the action being taken to protect the environment.

Prior to the COP 10 to be held in Nagoya, Aichi in October, many players at various levels, including NGOs, the media, private companies, and local governments, are organising a number of events aimed at raising public awareness and promoting the most effective initiatives for biodiversity.

I believe that the connection between global warming and biodiversity is increasingly well understood. People are beginning to understand that by conserving biodiversity, they are also helping to fight against climate change.

What influence can Japan have on the implementation of environmental policies in other Asian countries, and in China in particular?

Three or four decades ago, during a period of large-scale industrialisation, a number of Japanese regions faced serious pollution. Nowadays this serious pollution problem has largely been solved. To achieve this result, we engaged in major anti-pollution efforts, which were based on extensive scientific work, such as collecting and analysing data and development and implementation of effective countermeasures. These efforts enabled us to acquire invaluable experience, technologies and operational skills. These three components–know-how, technologies and individual skills–have enabled us to assist other countries, including China.

Today, our international aid as official development assistance is mainly provided in the form of technology transfers, personnel training and transfers of knowhow. For example, we have provided China with technical assistance on algae pollutioncontrol measures in some of its lakes. In addition to pure technical assistance, we have also helped to develop local authorities’ capacity in analysing the causes, finding solutions and establishing necessary regulations. In this way, we can assist other countries in combating environmental problems as a package, based on our experience.

Lastly, the Hatoyama government has proposed a Vision of East Asia community. Environment is an important pillar of this future-oriented vision. We would like to continue our commitment so that the environment is one of the key aspects of bilateral and multilateral relationships.

See www.oecd.org/env/countryreviews and www.env.go.jp/en

©OECD Observer No 279 May 2010