The Politics of Sustainable Development: Japan

Article excerpt

Japan

(Excerpted from "Money Won't Save the Earth: The Politics of 'Sustainable Development,'" by Kitazawa Yoko in Ampo, Japan-Asia Quarterly Review, Volume 23, Number 3, 1992.)

Kitazawa Yoko is a founder of the organization People to People Aid.

Will UNCED [United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Brazil 1992] bring about changes in the international power structure? The media is trying to show UNCED as having two agendas: the environment and development. They say the environment is the North's issue and the development is the South's. But the international NGOs claim that this is a twin issue, that the environment and development are both in crisis, and that UNCED per se will not be able to solve this crisis. But in my opinion, not only will it not be able to solve the issues, it will actually worsen the situation: the environment will be further destroyed, and development will become more unsustainable.

Why will this happen? First of all, in the preparation process the issue has become so narrow, minimized, stunted. The governments of the North and those of the South have agreed that money would solve the issue, that there should be some flow of money from the North to the South. But money itself is the cause of the environmental destruction, and money is the cause of unsustainability in development. So money will not be able to solve the problem. It will only worsen it.

Furthermore, in order for the North to send a flow of money toward the South, it will have to increase its own economic growth. There will be more economic growth in the North, more money will flow to the South and with it more destruction. And in any case, the money to finance this economic growth will to a large extent come from the South. So it's a vicious circle.

The World Bank's Monopoly

A fundamental question arising from the UNCED process is how the money will be distributed. It will be sent to the South, but will it be channeled through one of the great criminal elements in terms of environmental destruction and unsustainable development, namely the World Bank and its Global Environmental Facility (GEF)?

Since its establishment, GEF has carried out several projects to supposedly remedy environmental problems in the South. One case is the geothermal power plant on Leyte Island in the Philippines, where GEF funds were given to "protect the environment," meaning specifically to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But this geothermal plant actually worsened the environmental situation there by contaminating the groundwater, the air and the soil with heavy metals.

The irony is that the World Bank has two paths. One is the GEF, but it's a really small amount, US $2 million. The other flow of money is into development projects such as dams. In China, for example, they are giving a small amount of money to the government to decrease carbon dioxide production, and on the other hand they are building large numbers of coal-fired power plants. This means an increased volume of carbon dioxide. So the GEF really means nothing.

The Environmental Tax

Recently in Japan there have been discussions on a so-called "environmental tax." In countries where there is national consensus, where corporations, the government, local bodies and the people as a whole agree on the need to protect the environment, there the environmental tax may be workable. The examples of the Netherlands, Canada and Sweden may be places where this consensus has emerged: they are no longer importing tropical timber. But in Japan, where there is no such consensus, if the government raises the consumption tax and stipulates that these new funds be used for environmental protection, it will need to make a huge tax if it wants to curb industry and mitigate environmental destruction. A light tax will not solve anything. It will merely justify what the corporations are doing. …