Underfunded NGOs raising domestic issues

by Eric Johnston

NAGOYA — The United Nations COP10 conference is focusing on how to reduce biodiversity loss globally. In addition to formal negotiations, there are hundreds of seminars on everything from protecting marine life to accessing genetic resources on land occupied by indigenous people.

The Japanese government, Aichi Prefecture, and the city of Nagoya are hosting dozens of workshops on nature and biodiversity in Japan, and these are getting excellent local media coverage. But the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity is also an opportunity for smaller citizens groups from around Japan to promote local campaigns to stop specific projects they say are destructive to nature or biodiversity.

These issues receive far less media coverage since those promoting them lack the funds to hand out media packets containing glossy brochures and complementary DVDs. Here, then, are some of the domestic issues being raised by NGOs at this international conference:

The Hirabari Satoyama Campaign: Japan is using COP10 in Nagoya to promote its “satoyama” culture internationally. Yet citizens in Nagoya are fighting to stop the destruction of a local satoyama. The mayor of Nagoya tried, and failed, to buy the area from the private owner because the asking price was too high. Those seeking to preserve Hirabari blame 40-year-old city zoning laws that favor private land developers over urban green zones, and a lack of strong national satoyama protection laws.

The fireflies of Aioiyama: Not far from Hirabari is Aioiyama, an area of forest that serves as a habitat for the “himebotoru,” a firefly species indigenous to Japan. Nagoya has plans to build a road through the forest, claiming it would ease city traffic. Alternate routes are being considered by the government, but concerns are that any road would negatively affect the delicate ecosystem of Aioiyama and kill off the fireflies.

Toyota’s test tracks at Tashiro: Not too far from Nagoya is the city of Okazaki, where Toyota Motor Corp. plans to build a straight, 2-km test course and two circuits of 4 km and 6 km in the Shimoyama-Tashiro district. This area is 90 percent forest, 10 percent rice paddies and home to at least 120 bird and 18 insect species.

Nineteen endangered species that live in the area are on the government’s endangered species list, including the Japanese night heron, which is believed to be down to about 1,000 now. Citizens groups are suggesting an alternate site on reclaimed land.

The Okinawa dugong: The Okinawa dugong is an endangered marine mammal of which fewer than 50 are believed to remain. One of its homes is the coastal area off Henoko and Oura Bay in northern Okinawa. It’s also where Japan and the United States have agreed to build an offshore replacement base for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which sits in crowded central Okinawa.

Local antibase citizens as well as international environmental groups like the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Greenpeace have criticized the plan. In 2008, a U.S. Federal Court ruled that the U.S. Department of Defense violated the U.S. National Historical Preservation Act in planning the new base and ordered it to comply with the law.

The Kyoto aquarium: Kyoto city is allowing a private developer to build an aquarium on public land not far from Kyoto Station. Those opposed to the aquarium, which will feature live dolphin shows, say it will degrade Kyoto’s traditional image and atmosphere further.