The Environment Ministry needs to work on making better presentations to the public if it hopes to create greater awareness of environmental issues, according to newly appointed Environment Minister Yuriko Koike.

“Environmental issues are deeply connected to our daily lives,” Koike, 51, said. “So if ways can be improved to attract the people’s attention, it will be easier (to convince the public to be more aware of environmental problems.”

Koike said she needs to learn how to generate greater public interest in her ministry’s policies. She noted Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara’s use of a plastic bottle containing suspended vehicle exhaust particulate drew people’s attention to his plan to ban diesel vehicles from the capital’s streets.

A House of Representatives member now with the Liberal Democratic Party, Koike is one of three women in Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s new Cabinet. Although an expert on Middle East affairs, she admits that environmental policy is not her strong suit.

However, the former television newscaster stressed that her experience working in the international arena as well as her personal involvement in environmental activities such as a tree-planting campaign in the Sahara Desert will help her take the ministry’s helm.

Koike said her main focus will be on balancing economic growth with efforts to protect the environment, as mandated by Koizumi. She feels the environment will play a key role in reviving the nation’s economy, which is now undergoing structural upheavals.

The ministry is preparing a bill that seeks to encourage companies to be more aware of the environment when conducting business. Koike said that when businesses are forced to become environment-friendly, they work to develop greener technologies, such as those for saving energy that emerged during the oil crises of the 1970s.

The ministry also seeks to introduce a carbon tax as early as fiscal 2005 to achieve the country’s pledge to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent from 1990 levels under the Kyoto Protocol on curbing global warming. The envisioned tax would help cut emissions by raising the price of fossil fuels.

The ministry’s draft of the tax faced stiff opposition from industry when it was unveiled last month; it calls for the tax to be levied on fuel importers and processors instead of retailers and consumers.

Koike said she will work hard to convince both industry and the public of the need for the levy.

At the same time, she said she is well aware that simply boosting public awareness is not enough when it comes to promoting renewable energy.

“Alternative energy sources such as wind power and photo-voltaics have yet to become mainstream energy sources despite having been promoted for decades,” she noted. “If the country really wants to increase (the use of) renewable energy sources, it should do so by creating a tax system and legal framework that favors such energy sources.”

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