Environmental Politics in Japan, Germany, and the United States

By Miranda A. Schreurs | Go to book overview
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Domestic politics and the global
environment: Japan, Germany, and the
US compared

Despite the general shift that is evident in the world's three largest economies towards thinking of environmental issues in more comprehensive, ecological, and global terms, Japan, Germany, and the US continue to have markedly different approaches to dealing with environmental concerns.

Germany is following what could be called the green social welfare state's approach to environmental protection. This approach tries to mitigate between social welfare needs, high unemployment rates, and environmental protection prerogatives through the use of regulations, environmental taxes, and voluntary agreements. The precautionary principle that calls for environmental protection measures to be taken in cases of scientific uncertainty when the cost of inaction could be serious or irreparable damage is increasingly guiding government policy. This is particularly noteworthy considering the very high unemployment rates that plagued Germany during the 1990s.

In sharp contrast the US leaned increasingly away from the use of environmental regulations towards the use of market-based mechanisms (but not taxes) to control pollution and cost-benefit analysis to determine when environmental protection should take precedence over economic activities. Politicians in the US typically avoid discussion of environmental taxes because they fear the electoral consequences of doing so. A polluter pays principle is accepted, but increasingly cost considerations to industry are being weighed. The precautionary principle does not have firm roots in the US and the US is less inclined towards multilateral approaches to environmental protection than Germany.

Japan, caught in a decade-long recession, found itself between Germany and the US. Because of the legacy of the severe pollution incidents in Japan in the 1960s, a polluter pays philosophy is strongly embedded in Japan. Cost-benefit analysis and risk assessment do not have a strong tradition in government planning. The precautionary principle has gained somewhat greater acceptance than in the US, especially during the 1990s. Japan remains less embracing of market-based


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