The cure for a decade of economic stagnation may be the focal point of Sunday’s general election, but Tetsunari Iida wants politicians to put energy and environment high on the political agenda as well.
“Compared with Europe, where the political agenda is balanced on the issues of environment, energy, human rights, labor and the economy, Japanese politicians talk 99 percent about the economy without a visionary philosophy,” said Iida, who is leading a grass-roots movement to use more renewable energy sources such as wind power, solar energy and biomass.
The senior researcher in charge of environmental and energy policy at Japan Research Institute Ltd. is calling for the “democratization of the energy policy” in the wake of a chain of nuclear power-related accidents and the expiration of Japan’s drilling rights in a major Saudi Arabian oil field.
While the government was recently forced to overhaul its long-term energy policy and supply-demand outlook, Iida maintains that Japan’s rigid planning system, reminiscent of the former Soviet Union’s central planning policies, can no longer keep up with the pace and complexity of change taking place today. He feels today’s system of bureaucrat-led policymaking has reached a turning point.
Instead of partially subsidizing an industry-favored energy source like nuclear power, Iida calls for adopting a more flexible and diverse scheme and introducing an environment tax and a market mechanism to promote the use of environmentally sustainable energy sources.
“The energy policy has long been confined to the hands of the bureaucrats in the Kasumigaseki (district),” Iida said.
“In surveying an energy and environmental policy for a sustainable society toward the 21st century, politicians must take back the initiative from the bureaucrats and develop the political process in a way that will allow broader local participation,” Iida said.
Calling Japan’s politics a “ritual democracy,” in which bureaucrats are the cat’s paw of the politicians, Iida said the nation must push for decentralization and grope for energy-planning decisions from all angles as in northern Europe, where he studied the virtue and potential of diverse renewable energy sources.
A grass-roots movement like the 1996 plebiscite held by the town of Maki, Niigata Prefecture, where a plan to construct a nuclear power plant was defeated, is a rarity in Japan, he said.
But European governments have successfully developed networks with local communities in seeking consensus on the energy and environment policy, he added.
To meet growing public concern over the safety of energy and the environment, such a multifaceted approach will be more effective in supplementing the conventional representative political system, which according to Iida is designed more for distributing wealth througout society than minimizing its social concerns.
As grass-roots movements have come to contribute a greater share to society as seen in other industrialized counties, the conventional pork-barrel style of politics, centered on nurturing cozy relationships among politicians, bureaucrats and industry, will no longer be acceptable, he warned.
In Germany, meanwhile, the coalition government of the Social Democratic Party and the Greens has reached a historic accord with utilities on phasing out nuclear energy production.
The new administration of Taiwan is also reviewing the ongoing construction of a nuclear power plant in accordance with a pledge made by new president Chen Shui-bian.
Iida calls for such leadership from Japanese politicians.
As leader of the grass-roots Green Energy Law Network, Iida has received the help of some 250 bipartisan lawmakers in drafting legislation to promote renewable energy, mapping out rules for electric power companies to purchase electricity generated from renewable energy sources.
Although the bill has not been introduced in the Diet yet, due to conflicting interests over another piece of legislation that promotes local governments who support nuclear power facilities, Iida commends the bipartisan lawmakers for committing themselves to drafting a renewable energy bill of their own.
Regardless of their political affiliations, female lawmakers and those in the younger generation are becoming conspicuous in such policymaking movements, in accordance with a generational change from conventional bossy politics, Iida said.
The issue of renewable energy provides Japanese politics with sound food for thought as the government mulls the use of policy tools other than conventional public works projects to help enrich communities through such projects as wind-power generators, he said.