Message from the Minister of the Environment

Picture Yoriko Kawaguchi

Yoriko Kawaguchi
  • Minister of the Environment

Yoriko Kawaguchi has served as Minister of the Environment since January 2001, succeeding her appointment as Minister of State and Director-General of the Environment Agency in July 2000. Aside from her cabinet position, she serves as a member of the Trilateral Commission and a special member of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives. Prior to her appointment to the cabinet, she was a managing director of Suntory Ltd. since 1993, responsible for customer relations and environment. At that time she was also serving on Japanese Government advisory boards, namely the Regulatory Reform Committee, the Central Council for Education, and the University Council. She was also on the board of directors of the Japan Center for International Exchange and on the advisory committee of the Center for Global Partnership of the Japan Foundation. Before joining Suntory Ltd., she worked in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) of the Japanese Government. Her past assignments for MITI included Director-General for Global Environmental Affairs. She also had worked for the World Bank as an economist and for the Embassy of Japan in the United States as Minister.
B.A. in International Relations, University of Tokyo
M. Phil. in Economics, Yale University

I would like to begin by offering my heartfelt congratulations on the grand opening of the International Symposium of the Asia Pacific Forum, Awaji Conference Japan 2001 with the theme of Sustainable Development and the Environment in the Asia Pacific Region.

The Asia Pacific region is rich in economic, social and natural diversity. The Asia Pacific is home to 40% of the global population and three quarters of the poor people of the world. On the other hand, this region, including both India and the People's Republic of China has great potential for economic development. This implies that the region also holds latent potential to place a great burden on the global environment.

In the Asia Pacific region, to review methods for realizing sustainable development is a task of great importance when considering environmental issues not only on a regional scale but also on a global scale.

In this context, this conference is well-timed and truly significant, and I would like to express my great respect for the efforts the organizers have put into its opening. I was given the opportunity to speak at this conference on the theme of the "creation of "Wa-no-kuni"--an eco-society--and the Asia-Pacific," and was greatly looking forward to this opportunity. It is therefore with great regret that I find myself unable to attend the conference today due to sudden official duties.

Please allow me to take this opportunity to give an outline of what I had planned to speak about today.

he history of humankind is said to stretch back millions of years, and, in its history, we have experienced two "revolutionary" changes that greatly changed our society.

The first revolution followed the beginning of agriculture and cattle breeding. Through this revolution, humankind changed its lifestyle, which was at the mercy of the balance of nature in hunting and gathering, to the one that improved the productivity of nature to create surpluses that enabled the stable supply of food. However, this revolution resulted in the balance of nature being broken and it was from this time that various environmental degradation, such as land degradation, began to take place. It is said that the decline of ancient civilizations, including that of Mesopotamia, was influenced by environmental issues.

The second revolution was the Industrial Revolution. The creation of energy from coal enabled humans to dramatically expand their economic activities. However, 19th century Britain was beset by damage from atmospheric pollution, and, in the 20th century, pollution grew into a serious issue throughout the world. What is more, the phenomenon of global warming caused by carbon dioxide emitted through the burning of fossil fuels is now the greatest challenge humankind faces today. These two revolutions in the history of mankind have ultimately resulted in prosperity due to the destructive power we exert on the balance of nature. Therefore, this has naturally led to environmental destruction.

There is now a necessity to correctly redirect such trends that occurred right up until the end of the 20th century. In the 21st century, we must pursue human prosperity in a form that seeks not to destroy the balance of nature, but rather to invigorate it. If we do not do this, the global eco-systems on which human existence is based will be themselves in grave danger.

This is an urgent challenge for humankind and requires a shift in a totally different direction compared to the previous two revolutions humans experienced in their history. In this context, the third revolution we now face would be best termed as the most brilliant revolution in our history in the sense that it is linked to perpetual development of the human race itself.

In order to advance such measures, in Japan, I proposed a concept for the creation of "Wa-no-kuni", or an eco-society. The Chinese characters used in "Wa-no-kuni" are those used for the "environment" and "cycle," each having the same pronunciation, and can mean revolution, cooperation and harmony, and it is for such a reason that they were chosen.

The aim of "Wa-no-kuni" is to co-operate each other regionally, nationally and globally with considerations and efforts of each and every person as basic elements in working towards environmental protection and to finally achieve a permanently sustainable society, coexisting with nature. In order to maintain the level of human civilization we enjoy today without destroying the balance of nature, I believe, we should create "Wa-no-kuni" or eco-society in which we do not unilaterally deprive natural world of energy sources and dispose of man-made products; in other words, we should return what we have taken from nature and recycle the man-made products instead of throwing them away.

In order that the government takes concerted action in the creation of "Wa-no-kuni", the Conference on the Creation of "Wa-no-kuni"--An Eco-society Through Partnership--in the 21st Century was established in February this year under a directive from the Prime Minister. This conference aims to review measures towards the modalities for the basis of "Wa-no-kuni" and its realization, and comprises Cabinet members and ten intellectuals. In July, its report presenting five principles was compiled.

The first of these principles is "global cycle" in order that we can live in harmony with the planet, the second is an "environmental and economic cycle" aiming for an eco-friendly industrial revolution, the third is a "recycling cycle" that realizes a recycling society through a zero waste strategy, the fourth is an "eco-system cycle" for the realization of a society that lives in harmony with nature and the fifth and final principle is a "person-to-person cycle" implementation through partnership.

I will not go into the details of these five basic principles here, but we wish to proceed with various policies in the future, based upon these clear directions shown in the report.

Now, I would like to report to you a brief outline of one of the most recent hot topics, the Resumed Sixth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the Untied Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP6), which was held last month in Bonn in Germany. This conference could be regarded as an effort to create "Wa-no-kuni" on a transnational basis.

The meeting in Bonn was important to finalize rules for the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted at COP3 held in Kyoto in 1997, and followed the discussion at COP6 held in November last year in The Hague in The Netherlands, which were suspended without final agreement being reached.

In Bonn, from 19 to 23 July, a ministerial meeting was held and I took part in negotiations as the representative of the Government of Japan. The negotiations proceeded with difficulty and the closing stages of the meeting resulted in two days of all night sessions. Ultimately, a basic agreement on the so-called "core elements" of the Kyoto Protocol was reached and named "Bonn Agreement." Thanks to this agreement, a significant result was produced; international momentum towards the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol in 2002 has been enhanced. Concerning the compilation of the detailed regulations based on the Bonn Agreement, although we reached an agreement on some of the issues, such as issues of assistance to developing countries, other issues remained unresolved. They will be carried over to COP7 to be held at the end of October in Marrakesh in Morocco.

The Government of Japan is resolved to continue to exert maximum effort to conclude the final agreement by the time of COP7 so that the Kyoto Protocol will enter into force in 2002.

Furthermore, it is of the utmost importance for Japan to achieve the reduction target of 6% of our emissions. To this end, we will continue to channel our efforts into tackling the improvement of domestic structures and systems in Japan. In the implementation of measures to combat global warming, the understanding and cooperation of all the people of Japan, including industry, is of vital necessity. In particular, it is of importance that each and every person in Japan understand the importance of anti-global warming measures, and that they implement environmentally-friendly actions in their daily lives and businesses.

Finally, allow me to conclude my remarks today by saying that I sincerely hope that not only the participants of the conference, but also the people of the Asia Pacific region will deepen their common understanding and recognition of environmental issues through this conference, which, in turn, will lead to great results and new measures in environmental action. I sincerely hope that the Awaji Conference is both successful and fruitful.

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