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Does Japan have a global environmental strategy?

16 3 0

WASHINGTON – Environmentalism and sustainability have come to form a significant cornerstone of Japan’s global image and soft power in recent years. Japan’s facilitation of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and its staunch advocacy for subsequent climate summits and agreements, today place Tokyo at the forefront of international efforts to combat climate change.

As a society, Japan’s respect for nature and minimalist traditions have filled the general public with images of a distinct Japanese cultural aesthetic that Tokyo is able to evoke as a national commitment to sustainability. With all eyes on Tokyo ahead of the 2020 Olympics, Japan has fed this cultural mythos, taking steps to make sustainability a central part of the games. Japan’s concern for the environment also reflects its inherent resource poverty and vulnerability to natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis and — per recent devastating news — typhoons.

During his international debut as environment minister at the U.N. General Assembly in September, Shinjiro Koizumi — deemed a future prime minister hopeful — emphasized the commitments of major Japanese cities, including Tokyo, Kyoto and Yokohama, to eliminating carbon emissions by 2050. Despite media coverage of Koizumi’s remarks focusing on his unusual articulation of the international response to climate change, Koizumi’s speech underscored the concrete ways that Tokyo is moving the needle on issues of sustainability.

However, though Japan’s signature foreign policy initiatives often allude to sustainability, they fall short of singling out the environment — particularly, climate change — as a primary area of concern. Official Japanese documents describing Tokyo’s vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) emphasize the importance of rules and norms protecting “international public goods” and maintaining “economic prosperity” and “peace and stability.” As a public good indispensable to the region’s long-term prosperity and stability, a clean and safe environment should fall within the natural confines of this framework. Instead, to date, the FOIP’s commitments to freedom of navigation and trade appear to have taken greater precedence in response to China’s maritime gray-zone activities and other efforts to encroach on regional sea lanes of communication and commerce.

Similarly, Japan’s 2013 National Security Strategy does not appear to embrace the concept of sustainability as central to foreign policy, instead elaborating on sustainable development within a broader discussion of “responding to … global issues” and “mainstreaming the concept of human security.”

Further, the absence of any mention of climate change in five-year National Defense Program Guidelines released last December suggests that environmental issues have yet to be securitized or elevated as credible threats to national security. Setting aside the disputed merits of securitizing the climate debate for the sake of galvanizing society, Japan’s........

© The Japan Times