OECD asks how green is Japan?

by Mick Corliss

The nation’s environment policies were placed under the microscope recently by an OECD team that was conducting the information-gathering stage of its second review of Japan’s environmental policy.

After nearly three weeks of meetings with central and local government officials, and industry and nongovernmental experts, the head of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development team returned home Thursday to analyze the data it collected.

“This is the second review, so we will look at the way the recommendations (from the first review) have been followed up,” said Christian Averous, the chief of the OECD’s Environmental Performance and Information Division, in a recent interview.

“Our job is to ask, ‘Do you do what you say (you will)?’ — that is our mandate.”

The OECD’s first Environmental Performance Review of Japan, published in 1994, lauded the nation for decoupling its economic development from air pollution, as the nation’s air quality improved while the economy thrived. However, it received poorer marks for water quality, as its rivers, lakes and coastal waters did not meet quality standards.

Still, just how much Japan has followed OECD recommendations — such as reducing pesticide runoff and introducing economic instruments to reflect the environmental impact of goods and services — and various self-imposed environmental goals remains to be seen.

“We prefer results to actions, but actions are necessary for results. We prefer actions to intentions, but intentions are necessary for actions,” Averous said.

The OECD official said, however, that it is too early to render a verdict on progress in Japanese environmental policy. The new report will not be out until April, he said.

“We (evaluation team members) have held some summary meetings, but it is too early to give any conclusion.” The upcoming evaluation will rate Japan’s progress in protecting air and water quality, as well as in solving waste issues. Other topics include progress in:

* Eliminating harmful transportation subsidies and subsidies in other areas.

* Introducing fiscal and market mechanisms to protect the environment.

* Integrating environmental policy with economic policy.

* A special chapter on chemicals in Japan.

“We are trying to say what is going well . . . what other (OECD members) can draw from the Japan experience,” he said.