2004 3. Efforts and Goals of Sustainable Development in Japan, 19th EAROPH World Congress in Melbourne, Sep. 21,2004

The 19th EAROPH World Planning and Housing Congress

“Efforts and Goals of Sustainable Development in Japan”

Hirohide Konami


Tokyo Jogakkan University

(This paper will be presented in the 19th EAROPH World Congress in Melbourne, 

on September 21, 2004) 

1. Introduction

When I made a plenary speech in Auckland in 1996 on “Sustainable Community Planning”, I proposed two additional goals for sustainable development. One is the safety in daily life and another is the convenience of women’s baby care. The former was explained by showing the videotape of Kobe big earthquake occurred in January 1995, saying that the sustainable development should be safe enough for human life. The latter was the proposal of nursery homes at every railway station so that workingwomen would become easier from baby care and could maintain the existing population. Both are well followed up in Japan. The safety check of wooden old houses is quickly promoted by almost all of municipalities in Japan and nursery homes attached to or nearby railway stations are increasing in big cities.

I also introduced the big efforts of Japan to improve urban environment on the occasion of 16th EAROPH World Congress in Bali in 1998. The conclusion in this report was as follows.

Environmental problems in Japanese urban area started in middle 1950s when Japan started her remarkable economic development. The first notice of danger always came from residents, and municipalities followed. The central government established National Environmental Protection Agency in 1971 and established various legal systems to protect urban environment based on the experience of municipalities and foreign countries. Legal system under the Basic Law to Prevent Public Nuisance consists of environmental standard, regulation of exhaust gas, regulation of waste water, regulation of soil pollution, regulation of noise, regulation of vibration, regulation of land subsidence, regulation of bad odor, regulation of chemical products, regulation of agricultural medicine and fertilizers, regulation of garbage and waste materials, land use planning, promotion of environmental improvement projects, financial support for factories and identified patients, and adjustment of disputes. Japanese industries faced difficult years since 1973 when the most of the above-mentioned legal system were enacted, but finally they overcame these problems by spending much expense for the environmental protection and developing new technologies in this field.

2. Four streams to approach sustainable community

Present effort of Japan to ensure the sustainable community consists of four big streams. The first is to control the development projects, the second is the introduction of the recycle system of materials and energy, the third is the introduction of less energy system and the forth is the introduction of clean energy systems such as solar generation and wind power stations.

Control of the development is the basic tool for the environmental protection. The environmental assessment system should be placed before the construction work for large-scale developments. Japanese system is as follows.

1) Larger scale projects decided by law are enforced to clear the environmental assessment procedure. They are express way and highway, dam, lake development, river, railway, airport, power station, waste treatment site, land reclamation, new town development including land readjustment project, industrial complex, freight complex, and port development project.

2) Next scale project should be screened by the governor through the legal procedure and clear the legal assessment procedure if necessary.

3) Preparation for the assessment should be carried out by the project body or the governor or mayor in case of city planning itself. This means that city planning itself sometimes decides large-scale highways or other project sites in advance while the project body is not decided yet.

Assessment factors are air pollution, water pollution, noise, vibration, odor, ground subsidence, soil pollution, effect on valuable animals and plants, and landscape.

Another movement is the constitution of local ordinance. In case of Funabashi City, located 20 km east of Tokyo, the ordinance for sustainable urban development was constituted in 1995. There is a discussion on this movement that such strong regulation by municipalities would become the hazard for the sound development and that, on the other hand, to set the procedure to ease the dispute among citizens would be necessary and make easier to get the people’s consensus.

The ordinance of Funabashi City is consisted by 5 chapters such as general rules, coexistence with natural environment, coexistence with regional environment, coexistence with neighbor communities and miscellaneous rules. This ordinance mainly shows the procedure to settle the regional dispute.

The stream to introduce recycles of materials and energy is developing quickly in Japan supported by the following laws.

1)      Basic Law of the Creation of Recycling Society

2)      Law to Promote Save Energy and Recycle

3)      Construction Waste Recycling Law

4)      Natural Resource Recycling Law

5)      Electric Appliance Recycling Law

6)      Food Recycling Law

7)      Container and Casing Recycling Law

Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (Polluter Pay Principle) has been also introduced in Japan and every manufacturer is trying better to minimize the output of useless waste. It is already common to Japanese families to separate the trash and garbage into several groups and contribute to the recycling system.

The introduction of less energy system is also promoted by the following laws and taxation system.

1)      Law to Promote Save Energy and Recycle

2)      Law to Promote the Purchase of Eco-friendly Products

3)      Tax Reduction for Eco-friendly Automobiles

The gasoline mileage has been improved a lot in these days, for example, a car with 1.5 litter engine like Toyota Prius can drive over 19 kilometers by a litter of gasoline and heat insulating materials for housing and building have also made a great progress, and it is recommended to cover the building roof by green plants.

The introduction of clean energy systems such as solar generation and wind power stations is quickly popularized by the amendment of the law that authorized electricity supply companies can buy the electricity produced by solar generation, wind power station and some other generating systems such as garbage treatment center. Then, it became popular to install solar generating system on the roof as supplementary equipment of houses and buildings. The introduction of natural gas is also important matter and the government is trying to construct the gas pipeline system to across Siberia and import it from Russia and China. If we can replace oil by natural gas, the output of CO2 would be greatly decreased.

3. Discussions on environmental capacity

There are a lot of discussions on the existence of the environmental capacity for urban development. For example, Tokyo 23 ward special district has the area of about 621 square kilometers and 8.4 million people. Can we say that this is too much population from the viewpoint of environmental capacity? 

1) There may be the discussion on the reasonable capacity based on the usable land area. In other words, this is the discussion of the population density. I feel that this discussion would be nonsense if we don’t supply some supplementary data such as height of buildings, transportation systems, water resources, energy resources, and etc. Population density of 100 people per 1 hectare may be too much in the historical area with narrow roads and 1000 people per 1 hectare may be acceptable in high-raised apartment areas. Then the capacity based on the land area would be the dependent index of urban planning.

2) Water and energy supply and the treatment capability of waste disposal may limit the urban capacity. But I cannot agree to this way of thinking. If we plan carefully and develop the necessary facilities in good timing, they cannot be the limiter of urban population and functions.

3) Urbanization will be the cause of the decrease of farming land. Then there will be the limit of urbanization from the viewpoint of food supply. But I don’t agree to this discussion. The world population is still increasing and there may be a great demand for the food supply along with the increase of food consumption per capita supported by the world economic development. There may be some limit of world population but it does not mean the limit of urbanization. There are two reasons. One is that if we develop urban area with high density, we can limit the growth of urban land area and another is that urbanization will increase the capacity of food stock and moreover urban area will also supply food by means of advanced technology of food factory like instant noodle and in-house vegetable production.

4) The risk of disaster may limit the growth of urban areas. But careful planning of disaster prevention measures such as rivers and ponds, streets and open space and fireproof buildings may ease the risk.

As a whole, the rapid urbanization may cause the problems such as the shortage of houses and traffic jams, but it may be hard to say that the environment may limit the size of cities.

4. Goals of sustainable development and governmental support in Japan

The first goal is that the succeeding generation will be able to enjoy natural resources just like we do now and develop the area within the environmental constraints. The second is to prevent any public nuisance caused by air pollution, water pollution and hormone disrupting chemicals. The third is to create desirable future urban areas not overly dependent on automobile traffic. The fourth is to keep the safe and heart full community where we can expect children’s sound growth and peaceful home for aged people.

Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, Government of Japan, is trying to promote the urban construction for the next era as follows.

1) To utilize clean natural energy such as solar generator,

2) To recycle the urban energy such as exhausted hot gas and water,

3) To promote the urban improvement to resist disasters, 

4) To establish high level urban and personal information systems,

5) To install modern treatment system for urban waste and garbage. 

In order to realize the above purposes, governmental low interest loan, tax exemption and bonus capacity are prepared for following projects.

1) Construction of Eco-buildings such as with green roof and wall of heat insulating materials,

2) Research and development of new technologies for recycle system and improvement of urban environment,

3) Construction of multi-purpose facilities to produce regional vitalization such as exhibition hall,

4) Installment of heat exchange facilities to buildings, and 

5) Also some bonus of capacity control is prepared for the areas with water recycle system or area heating system.

In general, it is easy to say the importance of sustainable development but it is quite difficult to make clear what the sustainable development is. Another cause to make it difficult is that the human society is growing and changing at any time and never stops. This means that we must also change the region and community day by day. Even if our knowledge about the global environment system might be poor, we must try our best to ease the intensity of environmental problems.

[Bio-data of Author]

Konami, Hirohide (Ph.D.): Born in Tokyo in 1942, graduated from the University of Tokyo, Department of Urban Engineering, and studied at Harvard University, Graduate School of Design from 1971 to 1972 as a Fulbrighter. After the governmental duty for 31 years as an urban engineer, worked for the Graduate School of Regional Development Studies, Toyo University for 7years as a professor and the president of the Institute of Regional Vitalization Studies and transferred to the professor of Tokyo Jogakkan University, Faculty of Liberal Arts in 2004. 

URL: http://konamike.net/hiro/   Mail: hiro@konamike.net