New environment chief to champion Kyoto pact, end to illegal dumping

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Seeing the Kyoto climate pact put into force and combating illegal waste dumping are two priorities for newly appointed Environment Minister Shunichi Suzuki, for whom the latter hits close to home.

Caught by surprise when offered a Cabinet portfolio, Suzuki readily admitted not being very familiar with environmental issues, but said he believes his experience working on social issues, as parliamentary vice minister in 1996 of the then Health and Welfare Ministry under Ryutaro Hashimoto, will serve him well.

While at the ministry’s helm, Suzuki said he hopes to follow through on the efforts of Hiroshi Ohki, whom he replaced Monday, and focus on reconciling environmental concerns and economic growth, as mandated by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Specifically, Suzuki wants to see the Kyoto Protocol, which mandates cuts in greenhouse gas emissions for industrialized nations, put into force. To facilitate this, he said he hopes Russia will expeditiously ratify the pact.

“We have gone to the trouble of creating one framework that most of the world agrees upon. I think this has to be brought to completion,” he maintained.

To ease doubts about achieving the goals spelled out in the pact, obstacles need to be overcome, including convincing the United States to return to the agreement, which it spurned in March 2001.

“While it may not be possible to get America to participate soon, I will continue our government’s call for the U.S. to rejoin the pact,” he said. “I plan to use all available channels to see that (the protocol) is put into force.”

A four-term House of Representatives member from the Liberal Democratic Party and son of former Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki, Shunichi Suzuki, at 49, is also one of the youngest ministers as well as one of four second-generation politicians in the new Cabinet.

Suzuki’s constituency is in Iwate Prefecture, whose border with Aomori Prefecture is home to the nation’s largest illegal dump site.

“This (illegal dump) is of an unprecedented scale. I think this should be a model case and hope to come up with measures to prevent this from ever occurring again,” Suzuki said, referring to the ministry’s budget request of 2.6 billion yen to clean up the site.

To this end, it will be important to determine who was responsible for the debacle, including prefectural authorities who let the dump grow unchecked for years, he said.

In response to questions about the controversial reclamation of Okinawa’s Awase tidal flats, he said that while the Environment Ministry may not have a legal right to comment on the project, it will “say what needs to be said” in the form of advice to prefectural authorities.

For Suzuki, the appointment as environment minister was an unexpected coincidence of sorts.

“This being the time for appointments, I thought that maybe vice ministers would be appointed at the same time as ministers and (that the phone call telling me to be at the Diet member’s building) might have to do with that. But then the prime minister called me and asked me to cooperate as a member of the Cabinet.”

His father also assumed his first ministerial position at the age of 49, when he was installed as posts and telecommunications minister.