May 31, 2008


Environmental NGO Activities in Japan: On the Path to the Hokkaido Toyako G8 Summit

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.69 (May 2008)

The Group of Eight (G8) Summit, to be held from July 7, 2008, in Toyako, Hokkaido, Japan, is being popularly called the environment summit, because environment and climate change are its main themes. Many citizen groups in Japan are taking this opportunity to strengthen and expand their activities, and here we provide an overview in this issue of the JFS newsletter.

2008 Japan G8 Summit NGO Forum

Many Japanese non-governmental organizations (NGOs) participated in the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, which was a good opportunity for NGOs and citizen-led activities in Japan to take a big step towards participating in international actions.

The 2008 Japan G8 Summit NGO Forum is a civic coalition of Japanese NGOs striving towards a sustainable society and working to address diverse issues such as the environment, peace, human rights, global poverty, and development. The NGO Forum, set up for the upcoming Toyako G8 Summit, was officially established January 31, 2007, but the momentum towards creation of the coalition had already started one year earlier.

Since the level of citizen-led activities in Japan is basically smaller in scale than those in the United States and Europe (even the biggest environmental NGO in Japan only has about 48,000 members), Japanese NGOs have had fewer opportunities to work at the global level due to language barriers. They have also tended to focus on their own local themes, and have rarely established any partnership with other groups in Japan. When Japanese NGOs became more active recently and began attending more international meetings, where they met people from worldwide NGOs and other groups, they seemed to have felt a strong need for cross-organizational collaboration in Japan. Such experiences were the driving force in setting up a big network such as the NGO Forum.

Due to the fact that the G8 Summit will be held in Japan, where the leaders of the eight major countries will meet, the NGO Forum is aiming to make effective policy recommendations to solve global problems. Three issue-based units were created to carry out forum activities under the banners of the "Environment," "Poverty and Development," and "Peace and Human Rights." The number of member NGOs was initially about 30, but it had grown to about 135 as of May 27, 2008. This is the first attempt to work together on such a large scale and beyond the issues framework.

Japanese NGOs Release Position Paper for G8 Summit 2008 in Toyako

Environment Unit Activities

About 60 organizations belong to the Environment Unit, which is dealing with environmental issues in the NGO Forum.

The Environment Unit is concerned with the following three activity themes: climate change (or global warming), an urgent problem on a global scale; biodiversity, working towards the 2010 biodiversity target of significantly reducing the current rate of biodiversity loss by 2010; and the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, and recycle) initiatives, aiming to regulate the export of hazardous waste and internationally call for true recycling of resources. Let's look closer at the unit's activities, with a focus on the theme related to climate change.

As is commonly known, the major cause of climate change is the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that developed countries have generated and continue to emit. Considering that developed countries are largely responsible for global warming to date, the Forum's Environment Unit made proposals to the Japanese government to take initiatives so that the G8 leaders might set medium- to long-term GHG reduction targets and build international consensus on those targets.

The Environment Unit's proposals include the following: (1) the world's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions must peak within the next ten years, then reduced by more than 50 percent by 2050 from the 1990 level, and developed countries must reduce their CO2 emissions by at least 25 to 40 percent by 2020 from the 1990 level; (2) a reduction requirement for the total amount emitted must be established for developed countries based on the United Nations' framework; (3) sufficient funds must be provided to developing countries for their measures to deal with the negative impacts of climate change as well as for technology transfers to them; and (4) Japan, as the host country, must establish its own mid- to long-term objectives and realize early implementation of effective national policy measures.

To facilitate clear understanding and acceptance of its proposals, the Environment Unit has held study sessions on climate change with some members of Japanese political parties since the fall of 2007. In March 2008, it held a public session, titled the G20 Gleneagles International NGO Workshop, which was focused on climate change and the proposed framework for the future, with featured speakers from overseas NGOs, as well as director-generals from Japan's ministries of Foreign Affairs, the Environment, and Economy, Trade and Industry.

According to Tomoko Hoshino, Environment Unit chairperson, one of the main points of its efforts was the Civil G8 Dialogue 2008, held on April 23 and 24, which was an attempt to have a dialogue between international civil society and the G8 countries, the same as was held before at past summits in Russia (2006) and Germany (2007). Nearly 200 representatives from Japanese and foreign NGOs gathered in Kyoto for the Dialogue, and they engaged in discussions with the G8 sherpas (the personal representatives of leaders at the G8 Summit) to seek solutions to global challenges.

At the Dialogue, the NGO Forum issued the Urgent Civil Society Statement on the Current State of Play at the G8 Summit to the national government, where it insisted that discussions have not been making progress, mainly because the Japanese government, as the host country, isn't taking initiatives to propose concrete policies. Expressing concern about holding the Toyako Summit, the Forum especially urged the government to release medium-term targets to reduce Japan's GHG emissions and to take an initiative to solve the poverty issues outlined by the UN Millennium Development Goals.

In response to the efforts at the Forum, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's Cabinet eventually said in May that the government should set long-term number targets to reduce Japan's GHG emissions. Although the result of such discussions is somewhat unpredictable, simply gaining recognition of this fact was an accomplishment of the Forum.

Relationships with Citizens and their Involvement in Future Tasks: Examples of Citizens' Activities for the Summit or the Environment

While strengthening relationships among NGOs and lobbying the government, the NGO Forum regularly holds study sessions for the public. An ongoing project is Tanzaku Action - One Million Wishes.

Tanzaku are colorful slips of paper to write wishes on and hang from a bamboo tree in the Japanese equivalent of the tradition of making a wish upon a star on Tanabata Day on July 7 every year. As Tanabata Day in 2008 falls on the opening day of the G8 Summit, the NGO Forum came up with the idea of using this tradition to collect messages of hope for a better future on "virtual Tanzaku" from people across Japan and then deliver them to the G8 leaders.

The Tanzaku Action project is being promoted with slogans like "You Can Change the World" and "Your Voices Will Move the G8 Leaders!" which, Hoshino says, "is creating a momentum mainly among Japanese youth." People who may never have been active on civil issues are expressing their wishes at events and through the Internet. The G8 NGO Forum is working to provide a major base for civil actions across Japan.

A new movement is rising in Hokkaido as the host venue of the upcoming G8 Summit. Most notable is the Hokkaido Peoples' Forum on the G8 Summit (Peoples' Forum Hokkaido), which was established in September 2007 as a network of about 50 groups to discuss global issues from local perspectives. The aim of the forum is to build a flexible network of local groups and call for an open summit to citizens, as well as take up local issues such as the indigenous rights of the Ainu people from a global perspective.

The G8 NGO Forum and Peoples' Forum in Hokkaido are jointly planning several events in July 2008 at the same time as the G8 Summit, especially the Alternative Summit, which will include its own international conference, workshops, and exhibitions to reflect and communicate people's voices to the G8 leaders.

Finally, activities among Japanese youth are also noteworthy. Japanese students are becoming increasingly involved in environmental actions, and they have started to take a leading role in environmental events in urban areas. For example, the Japan Youth G8 Project was organized in August 2007 by student groups to communicate youth voices to leaders at the G8 Summit. They held a youth summit with 150 young people in March 2008, and they plan to hold the World Youth Summit, a global-level event involving world youth in June 2008.

The agenda of discussion set for the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit is a precise concern for the future of younger generations. Japanese youth got together to take the summit as an opportunity, and they hope to pass on the framework they create this time to future colleagues with the support of the G8 NGO Forum.

The NGO Forum, which has now organized several campaigns and events, will be seeking opportunities for networking after the summit. In a movement that crosses generational and sector boundaries, Japanese citizen groups are taking concrete steps to work together for a sustainable future society.

(Written by Nobuko Saigusa)