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Staff writer

Japan and other nations need to link nature to their economic calculations and include environmental considerations in decision making for a more realistic view of development and its consequences, the director of one of the world’s pre-eminent conservation organizations said.

“All the factors are not taken into account in Japan, as in most other developed countries, as to what the real cost of development is,” David McDowell, director general of the Switzerland-based World Conservation Union (IUCN), said in an interview with The Japan Times.

With more than 900 member organizations globally, including governments and nongovernmental organizations, IUCN’s major goal is to conserve biodiversity.

How to link economic calculations to the environment — or “environmental accounting,” is a major issue the group is tackling. “When you are doing a system of national accounts … no country in the world does an accounting for forests that are standing. Forests in the world that are standing have no value, they say. They only have a value when you chop them down,” he said. ” To an environmentalist, that is crazy,” he added, noting that a tree chopped down can be a loss in terms of nature conservation.

Natural areas such as forests which act as sponges and filters have inherent value that needs to be calculated and recognized if biodiversity is to be conserved, said McDowell, a former New Zealand government official who once served as ambassador to Japan.

While there are biodiversity hot spots around the world that often make the headlines, such as the Andes Mountains and the Amazon in South America, Japan has its own areas that need to be protected, he said, adding that in some cases the nation has successfully done so.

“Japan is a hot spot in some ways. Parts of Hokkaido for example. The cranes that migrate around Kushiro — that is a biodiversity hot spot. I think Japan has done a very good job preserving that area.”

McDowell also commends the nation’s high percentage of greenery, saying that it probably played a major role in mitigating the floods that claimed more than a dozen lives last week.

Yet apart from these endorsements, Japan is an important link in a chain of stop overs for migratory birds, some of which make their annual trek from Alaska to Australia and depend on Japan’s coastal areas.

“I myself still feel that there are a couple of areas where Japan has got to feed in more of an environmental angle into its decision making. And one of them is the wetlands. It seems to me, the services which wetlands provide are insufficiently understood in Japan.”

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