Japan

   

Environmental Policies

#15
Key Findings
Despite a continued lack of clarity over future energy policy, Japan falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 15) with regard to environmental policy. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.4 points relative to 2014.

After the complete shutdown of all nuclear reactors following the Fukushima disaster, nine had restarted by mid-2019, following new, stricter safety standards. The government has said nuclear power will remain a part of the energy mix. A strategic plan envisions a 22% to 24% share for renewable energy and a 20% to 22% share for nuclear energy by 2030.

The country is the second-largest per capita user of single-use plastic packaging in the world, following the US. The 2030 goal of a 25% reduction in single-use plastics is less ambitious than such plans elsewhere. A forest-management law promotes forestry commercialization, which could conflict with environmental goals. Substantial progress has been made in wastewater management.

The cabinet has approved a plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to zero during the second half of the century. The country’s resistance to giving up whaling remains a high-profile and emotional issue.

Environment

#23

How effectively does environmental policy in your country protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and environmental quality?

10
 9

Environmental policy goals are ambitious and effectively implemented as well as monitored within and across most relevant policy sectors that account for the largest share of resource use and emissions.
 8
 7
 6


Environmental policy goals are mainly ambitious and effectively implemented and are monitored within and across some of the relevant policy sectors that account for the largest share of resource use and emissions.
 5
 4
 3


Environmental policy goals are neither particularly ambitious nor are they effectively implemented and coordinated across relevant policy sectors.
 2
 1

Environmental concerns have been largely abandoned.
Environmental Policy
6
Japan used to be a global leader in terms of effective anti-pollution policy and energy conservation. More recently, however, the government has faced the top-priority challenge of adjusting its domestic energy mix in the wake of the triple 3/11 disaster. While the official vision of the government is to create a “circular and ecological economy,” a goal that necessarily touches on various public-policy domains, environmental concerns have taken a back seat in terms of energy policy. The government has reiterated that nuclear power will remain an important part of the country’s energy mix well into the future. All 48 nuclear-power reactors were shut down between 2011 and 2012. In mid-2019, nine reactors meeting new, stricter standards had resumed operations. Opposition has made it difficult to restart more. The environment minister appointed in September 2019, Shinjiro Koizumi, has even hinted that he wants to explore a means of scrapping all nuclear reactors.

According to the 5th Strategic Energy Plan, released in July 2018, the basic proportions envisioned for the country’s 2030 energy mix remain unchanged, including the goal of a 22% to 24% share for renewables and 20% to 22% for nuclear energy. This is ambitious, and will be hard to achieve if many nuclear reactors remain shut down. Given the uncertainty, ideas for phasing out coal-based power plants have thus far not been approved.

Japan has a severe plastics problem. According to a 2018 UN report, Japan is the world’s second-largest consumer of single-use plastic packaging per person, trailing only the United States. It is also the world’s second-largest exporter of plastic waste. While the government supports the development of more plastics recycling facilities, as well as research into biodegradable plastic and its applications, its 2030 target for a 25% reduction in single-use plastics is relatively unambitious compared to EU plans, for example.

Japan has made great progress in recent decades with regard to waste-water management. The country today has one of the world’s highest-quality tap-water systems, for example. Japan also has a proactive forestry policy. The 2018 Forest Management Law promotes the commercialization of forestry, which may create some tension with wider societal and environmental objectives. Japan’s biodiversity is not particularly rich compared with other Asian countries, but the government has in recent years taken a more proactive stance under its National Biodiversity Strategy.

Citations:
Ministry of the Environment, Annual Report on the Environment in Japan 2019 (White Paper), https://www.env.go.jp/en/wpaper/2019/index.html

Peter Bungate, Plotting Japan’s Energy Future, The Diplomat, 12 July 2018, https://thediplomat.com/2018/07/plotting-japans-energy-future/

The Japan Times, Problematic forestry management law (Commentary), 24 June 2018, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2018/06/24/commentary/japan-commentary/problematic-forestry-management-law/

Alex Barreira and Haruka Nuga, Big plastic user Japan fights waste ahead of G-20 summit, AP News, 27 June 2019, https://apnews.com/ecf79d149057422394ea4ea4a789c980

Helmut Weidner, Ups and Downs in Environmental Policy: Japan and Germany in Comparison, in: L. Mez et al. (eds.), The Ecological Modernization Capacity of Japan and Germany, Springer 2020, pp. 25-40

Global Environmental Protection

#12

To what extent does the government actively contribute to the design and advancement of global environmental protection regimes?

10
 9

The government actively contributes to international efforts to design and advance global environmental protection regimes. In most cases, it demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, contributes to their being advanced and has introduced appropriate reforms.
 8
 7
 6


The government contributes to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes. It demonstrates commitment to existing regimes and occasionally contributes to their being advanced and/or has introduced some appropriate reforms.
 5
 4
 3


The government demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, but does not contribute to their being advanced and has not introduced appropriate reforms.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes.
Global Environmental Policy
7
For many years, international climate policy profited considerably from Japanese commitment to the process, with the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 serving as the most visible evidence. Ever since, however, Japan has assumed a more passive role, though major Japanese cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Yokohama have shown substantial commitment to the elimination of carbon emissions. The Fukushima disaster in 2011, after which Japan had to find substitutes for its greenhouse-gas-free nuclear-power generation, rendered implausible a 2009 pledge to decrease greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions by a quarter by 2020 (as compared to 1990). In the 2015 energy outlook for 2030, Japan announced that it would slash its emissions by 26% in 2030 (compared to 2013 levels).

Japan supports the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change and has adopted relevant measures, including the May 2016 Plan for Global Warming Countermeasures. The plan reconfirms the goal of a 26% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, which is at the lower end for OECD countries. In its 2019 Economic Survey of Japan, the OECD criticized Japan’s climate policy as not forceful enough to reach the Paris goals. In June 2019, cabinet approved a plan to reduce greenhouse emissions to zero during the second half of the 21st century.

Japan put climate change high on the agenda of the 2019 G-20 summit in Japan. However, due to U.S. opposition, little was actually accomplished. However, one notable success was the approval of the Osaka Blue Ocean Vision, aimed in particular at tackling plastic waste.

With respect to multilaterally organized conservation issues, Japan is known for its resistance to giving up whaling. Commercial whaling was resumed in mid-2019.

Japan supports numerous international environmental-protection programs by contributing funds and making advanced technologies available, with significant emphasis on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Through the Asian Development Bank, the Japanese government helped raised nearly $30 billion between 2011 and 2018 for projects supporting green growth. Over the past decade, Japanese overseas development assistance has also put a strong focus on projects addressing energy efficiency and greenhouse-gas emissions.

Citations:
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Japan), Analysis and Proposal of Foreign Policies Regarding the Impact of Climate Change on Fragility in the Asia-Pacific Region – With focus on natural disasters in the Region, September 2017

OECD Economic Survey Japan, May 2019, Paris

Eric Johnston, G20 world leaders agree on some issues, but significant gaps remain following Osaka summit, The Japan Times, 30 June 2019, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/06/30/national/g20-world-leaders-agree-issues-significant-gaps-remain-following-osaka-summit/

Robin Harding, Japan restarts commercial whaling after 31 years, Financial Times, 2 July 2019, https://www.ft.com/content/1c128f4c-9bd3-11e9-9c06-a4640c9feebb

Leslie Hook, Japan dilutes G20 climate pledge in push to win US trade favours, Financial Times, 19 September 2019, https://www.ft.com/content/65c7501e-9692-11e9-8cfb-30c211dcd229

Elliot Silverberg and Elizabeth Smith, Does Japan have a global environmental strategy?, Japan Times, 12 November 2019, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2019/11/12/commentary/japan-commentary/japan-global-environmental-strategy/#.Xe9tpvlKiUk
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