The Cabinet has adopted the third Basic Environment Plan since the first one was approved in 1994. Based on a report by the Central Environment Council, the latest plan, a revision of the second plan (adopted in 2000), is titled “The Way to a New Rich Lifestyle in a Sustainable Society.”

Its main theme is “Integrated Improvements of the Environment, the Economy and the Society.” The new plan’s vision has been widened from matters previously considered under the jurisdiction of the Environment Ministry to encompass a long-term, comprehensive environmental policy that will cover industry and agriculture, and all of society.

The plan says that since environmental, social and economic aspects are intertwined in a complex way these days, environmental factors must be incorporated into social and economic systems if a rich environment is to be handed down to our offspring. This approach is reasonable, but the question is whether it will be backed up by concrete policy programs.

The plan, which covers the period from fiscal 2006 to fiscal 2010, sets down general directions and an environmental framework for a society envisioned by 2025. It includes policy programs in 10 strategic fields to achieve a sustainable society with numerical indicators for every program. It also issues clear messages to citizens, enterprises and other organizations about the kinds of roles they should play to realize this society.

Under the first and second basic plans, the central and local governments, citizens, enterprises and other private-sector organizations made various efforts to preserve the environment. But economic activities continue to be characterized by mass production, mass consumption and massive waste.

In the pursuit of convenience, people’s lifestyles continue to consume a large amount of energy and resources. As a result, greenhouse-gas emissions plus industrial and household waste are on the increase.

The plan, for example, says that while the Kyoto Protocol calls on Japan to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by 6 percent by 2012 from the level of 1990, Japan’s emissions of such gases in fiscal 2003 were 8.3 percent greater than in 1990. It adds that Japan’s export of plastic waste increased more than sixfold from 1998 to 2004, most of it destined for Hong Kong and mainland China. It is imperative that the government and the public understand the possibility that the Earth’s environment is heading toward a catastrophe and, therefore, undertake a radical review of their lifestyle, economic activities and society itself.

In spelling out policy programs in 10 strategic fields, the plan mentions short- and long-term measures. It calls for attaining the ultimate goals of the Kyoto Protocol and then setting down emission-reduction targets to be pursued continuously from 2030 to 2050, far beyond the period envisaged by the Kyoto Protocol. It also calls for working out other measures to cope with the inevitable warming of the atmosphere.

To establish a sustainable society, the plan proposes creating high-efficiency systems that use smaller amounts of natural resources while recycling industrial and household waste. It also proposes an urban-traffic system and an urban lifestyle that impose a lighter load on the environment in terms of emissions of heat and pollutants.

The plan suggests making both nationwide and local efforts to maintain biodiversity and inventing agricultural and fishing methods conducive to sustainable use of natural resources. In the marketplace, it stresses the importance of creating systems that duly appreciate and reward economic activities and products that are friendly to the environment.

It pushes the inclusion of environmental education in the activities of local communities in order to nurture people’s consciousness of conservation. It calls for creating a technological infrastructure that not only enables people to easily access environment-related information but also promotes research and development oriented toward creation of a sustainable society. It also suggests transferring environmental-control technology based on Japanese experience and expertise to East Asia and other regions so that they can share the benefits.

While these policy programs seem rather specific in their own right, the plan appears to fall short in presenting a comprehensive picture of how “Integrated Improvements of the Environment, the Economy and the Society” can be achieved. Measures that drastically change the current lifestyle and the way in which economic activities are conducted may be necessary. Such measures would serve as the basis for a concrete process leading to the attainment of the plan’s ultimate goals.

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