Japan Environmental Laws

Japan has reflected a tenuous balance between economic development policies and environmental protection policies. As one of the world's leading importers and consumers of non-renewable and renewable natural resources and one of the largest consumers of fossil fuels so that the Japanese government has international responsibility to conserve and protect the environment.
In the past several years, Japan has improved its environmental laws.  Recently, Japan has become a leader in pollution control innovations.   Japan now provides assistance to many other countries in environmental expertise.
The Japanese government improved environmental protection polices substantially compared to the era when economic development was pursued without concern over its environmental impact.  During the period of economic focus, many public health problems occurred such as minamata disease that arose from industrial emissions into the water.  Japan still needs to address many environmental problems.  Japan suffers from serious environmental problems in the usage of energy.  For example, nuclear waste, auto congestion, air and water pollution and other environmental problems.

Basic Environment Law
Japan’s Basic Environment Law, was enacted and implemented in 1993. The Ministry of the Environment is primarily responsible for environmental matters.  The MOE is responsible for coordinating policies and establishing environmental requirements. There are various other governmental bodies involved in environmental issues.  These include the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, METI and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries.  

Unfortunately, another ministry mediates pollution concerns.  The environmental regulatory process also involves the central government, prefectural and municipal authorities.  The local authorities control environmental regulation and their regulations may be more stringent than those of the central government.  Unfortunately, the Basic Environment Law allocates responsibility for global issues like declining ozone and global warming to local authorities so there is

Air Pollution
Air pollution is a fundamental problem in Japan.  The Air Pollution Control Law was passed in the late 1960’s and was amended several times, including in 1996. This law requires air quality monitoring in throughout Japan. These monitoring stations examine various pollutant levels relative to prescribed emissions standards.
These standards were established by the Prime Minister.  Limits on various fuel emissions were amended in 1996. Automobiles constitute a major cause of air pollution in Japan. Vehicle emissions standards for various pollutants were established by the Air Pollution Control Law in 1992. That law only encompassed certain cities, towns and villages.  In 2002, a related law was upgraded to include diesel emissions. These laws included requirements targeted at reducing traffic congestion and pollution.    Recently, the number of private autos has increased substantially resulting in too many autos on congested streets.  Now, companies must produce vehicles in compliance with emissions standards  from 2003.  In 2005, These require vehicles to adhere to substantially lowered CO and hydrocarbon emissions.
Japan has succeeded in substantially lowering the concentration of certain pollutants in the past few decades.  However, other airborne pollutants have not been reduced largely because of the accelerating usage of vehicles.  Japan regulated chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) in 2004.  The new-car smell emanates from VOC’s which leach from glues, paints, vinyls and plastics in the passenger compartment.  These fumes trigger headaches, sore throats, nausea and drowsiness in humans. Prolonged exposure to some of the chemicals may lead to cancer.   Japan has the highest concentration of VOC’s among industrialized countries.

Water Pollution
In Japan, Minamata disease was a serious example of the human health degradation and losses as a result of environmental pollution.  The disease was discovered in 1956 near Minamata Bay and later in the Agano River of Niigata Prefecture.  After discovery of the disease, Japanese scientists determined the causes and the government stated its conclusion that Minamata disease originated from the consumption of fish and shellfish contaminated by methyl mercury discharged from a nearby chemical plant.     Minamata disease is a central nervous system disorder.  It shows various symptoms including sensory and other problems.  By the end of 2003, Japan identified almost 3,000 patients.  As a result of the clinical and protective measures after the discovery of the disease, Minamata disease seems to have been eradicated.
Major efforts to reduce environmental pollution were made, including removal of contaminated sediments from the river bottom and constant monitoring of methyl mercury levels. A large-scale survey of health damage focused upon the extent of health damage.  The government studied and identified the victims of Minamata disease.  People who were determined to be victims of Minamata disease received compensation from the company responsible for the pollution.  Since 1992, the government completed medical examinations of local residents and assisted those who were suffering from Minamata disease.
The government assisted the responsible company in the payment of compensation and new research about Minamata disease. Pollution by toxic substances may result in health damage and destruction of the environment.  In Japan, Minamata disease establishes the principle that business activities must solve environment impacts that they generate.    In the case of Minamata disease, the Japanese government made major efforts to resolve disagreements between victims and the responsible parties.  Contrary to the American system of justice, the government controlled the settlement and compromise of suits between victims and the defendant companies in order to minimize conflict between the victims’ families and the defendants.  On the other hand, this approach was not sufficient because many other people continued to suffer and die from the disease and others suffered from serious health problems from the same source.
Japan learned many environmental lessons in the context of its powerful economic objectives.  The government failed to give sufficient attention to environmental damages, particularly serious health injuries and death.  It is possible to avoid similar problems in the future with great care and concern.      From the economic standpoint, the measures to avoid similar damages will be extremely costly and very time consuming.  Preventative pollution control actions would have been much less costly and disruptive.
After the experience of disastrous damage by pollution such as Minamata disease, measures to protect the environment have increased substantially.  Japanese environmentalists are optimistic about environmental aquatic improvement and implementation of efforts required to prevent pollution to avoid disastrous future consequences.
Industrial water pollution has been reduced significantly in Japan.  The MOE recognizes that environmental quality standards for water pollution are not met in 1/3 of Japan total water environment. In particular, rivers and streams in urban areas and inland lakes and reservoirs still do not need the mandated standards.
Moreover, Japan’s water  quality is affected by external forces.  Oil tanker traffic in the Sea of Japan generated a number of spills.  Several nations which border on the Sea of Japan have ineffective environmental laws governing oil tankers.  There have been many oil spills recently which has caused coastal pollution in Japan.
In 2003, the government increased fines for tanker spills.  Also, the Sea of Japan is polluted from neighboring countries. Russian coastal cities dump untreated sewage into the Sea of Japan.

The Japan people and its government are facing major environmental challenges such as carbon emissions and air pollution. Japan is an important part of the global strategic interests which are concentrating on the methods to overcome the world's energy crisis.    In the past several years, Japan has improved its environmental laws.  Recently, Japan has become a leader in pollution control and environmental innovations.  Japan now provides assistance to many other countries in environmental expertise.
In recent environment reports and statements, Japan's Ministry of Environment has expressed its serious commitment to addressing current major issues such as global warming and preservation of the ozone layer, conservation of the earth's atmosphere, water and soil, waste management and recycling, treatment of hazardous substances, conservation of the natural environment and participation in global environmental efforts .

Japan has improved its environmental arsenal.  It has enhanced its careful monitoring and control of pollution and carbon emissions.  Japan is now working toward sustainable energy technologies.  The government is focusing upon energy efficiency.  At the same time, Japan is promoting the development of renewable, non-polluting energy.

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