Implementing Sustainable Development: Strategies and Initiatives in High Consumption Societies

By William M. Lafferty; James Meadowcroft | Go to book overview

5 Japan: Law, Technology, and Aid

Miranda Schreurs

As the second largest economy in the world, Japan's economic activities have a major impact both on the domestic and the global environment. Japan is a resource-scarce nation that imports essentially all of its natural gas and petroleum and many raw materials for consumer products from overseas. It is also highly dependent upon agricultural imports to feed its own large population (Ohta 1998). There are 125 million Japanese, approximately half of the US population, living in an area that is not much larger than California. Because Japan is so heavily dependent on foreign countries for natural resources, energy, and food, sustainable development is a particularly complex goal. Even more than is true for most other advanced industrialized countries, sustainable development has little meaning for Japan if it does not address the international dimension of Japanese consumption.

Sustainable development (jizoku kanô na hatten) is a concept that was first discussed by Japanese policy-makers after the publication of the World Commission on Environment and Development's 1987 report, Our Common Future. Although the concept of sustainable development is relatively new in Japan, the question of how to achieve economic development in a resource poor nation has long faced the country. Yet sustainable development asks the Japanese public and policy-makers to go far beyond any of the policies previously introduced to enhance energy security or protect the domestic environment. Japan must take a new look at how its economic, agricultural, and social activities impact on the global environment and whether or not in the long-term these activities will remain environmentally, socially, and economically viable.

As a result of the growing awareness of the concept of sustainable development, in the 1990s there has been some public and political debate on what must be done to make it a reality in Japan. Areas that are receiving much attention are recycling and energy-efficiency gains. Considerable interest exists too in improving environmental management within industry and introducing 'environmentally-friendly' automobiles. Yet there is also a

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