Early to industrialise in the 19th century, and a technology leader by the 20th, Japan saw many of the benefits of economic progress: capital accumulation, rising wages and high standards of living. However, the country’s development was not sustainable and, especially in the 20th century, was marred and constrained by industrial pollution. This led to ailments such as the Minamata disease, caused by industrial emissions of mercury poisoning coastal food chains. Such environmental calamities awakened Japan to take industrial pollution seriously, and contributed towards a culture of environmental consciousness.
This consciousness was also reflected in environmental policies such as Japan’s “Law Concerning the Promotion of the Measures to Cope with Global Warming”, “The Kyoto Protocol Target Achievement Plan”, “Basic Act on Energy Policy” and the “Energy Saving Act”. Thus, from 1970 till now, the concentration of almost all pollutants has reduced in Japan. What were once the smoke-filled cities are evolving into healthy modern cities with less and less pollution.
The conceptual framework of Japan’s environmental policies is based on a combination of interest rate and fiscal incentives, economic instruments (carbon pricing), some voluntary initiatives and direct regulation. The basic structure of policy is however based more on persuasion and cooperation rather than coercion.
A unique characteristic of Japanese policy making is the early involvement of local governments in collaboration with local people and industries. A good example is Yokohama city where the Electric Power Development Company proposed to build a coal power plant in 1960s. Neither the city nor the prefecture had authority to control air pollution from the power station, but Ichiro Asukada, Socialist Mayor of the city, succeeded in signing a pollution control agreement with the Company. Collaborations between different segments – national and local governments, corporations and civil society is a common practice in Japan. This model can be replicated more often in India.
Another important model for India is Japan’s inter-ministerial collaboration in environmental policy making, acknowledging the fundamental trans-disciplinary of climate change and other environmental issues. The extraordinary success of Japanese technology policy is due to integration of environmental and industrial policy. According to India’s ‘Biennial Update Report’ to the UNFCCC, India’s energy sector is responsible for 71% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A collaboration between the environment ministry and the energy sector ministries can result in effective polices to curb GHG emissions.
However, more important perhaps than green policies is the human and social capital of Japan, derived respectively from quality education and an ancient culture of consideration for others. The deep and ancient tradition of being respectful towards one’s community also leads to respect for community commons and global commons. Inherent respect for the commons is instrumental in avoiding one of the biggest environmental challenges we all face today, which is ‘the tragedy of the commons’. In other words, India must improve not only access to sanitation, water, electricity to achieve environmental sustainability, but also high quality elementary education in order to lay a solid foundation for a more inclusive, considerate and environmentally conscious society. Lastly, it should be appreciated that India has fortunately not yet reached the level of problems that Japan has faced in the past; therefore, India’s opportunities for taming environmental problems are huge and potentially very rewarding.
Tetsuro Yasuda, MBA, MSc, has been the Secretary General / Director Commendation of the Asahi Glass Foundation since 2009. During this time he has been engaged in the Blue Planet Prize, an international environmental award scheme commending outstanding achievements for sustainability of individuals or organizations, and the Environmental Doomsday Clock, a survey graphically representing worldwide environmental concerns in the form of a clock. The Clock is set according to the results of a survey issued annually to experts in the field and influential officials around the world.
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