March 31, 2008


Hokkaido - Handing Down Its Rich Environment to Future Generations

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.67 (March 2008)
"Initiatives and Achievements of Local Governments in Japan" Article Series No.18

In July 2008, Japan will host the Group of Eight (G8) Summit in Toyako, Hokkaido. One of the most important issues on this summit's agenda will be climate change. In preparation for the summit, the Hokkaido government, a new corporate member of JFS, has started making an effort to communicate information about the environmental technologies being spearheaded in Hokkaido and is drawing up an environmental declaration. This article looks at these environmental efforts in Hokkaido, as well as its regional characteristics.

Hokkaido is Japan's largest prefecture and also the northernmost island in the Japanese Archipelago. Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Japan, and the Sea of Okhotsk, the prefecture has a lot of stunning scenery: beautiful lakes such as Toyako and Akanko, grand mountain ranges such as the Taisetsu and Hidaka, large wetlands designated as Ramsar Sites, including Kushiro and Sarobetsu, and steep sea cliffs such as on the Shakotan Peninsula. It is also notable that the Shiretoko Peninsula was registered as Japan's third natural World Heritage Site in 2005.

The Natural World Heritage Site at Shiretoko:

Hokkaido is also habitat to specific northern biota, including many species not commonly found in other regions of Japan. These include many large-sized mammals such as the Brown Bear and Yezo deer, and rare birds not found elsewhere in Japan such as the Red-crowned Crane and Blakiston's Fish Owl. These abundant and precious natural assets of Hokkaido must be conserved and passed down to future generations. To protect its unique natural environment, Hokkaido has been working on various environmental projects.

Vision and Strategies to Cultivate the Future of Hokkaido

In December 2007, the Hokkaido government compiled a new comprehensive development plan, "the New Hokkaido Comprehensive Plan: Vision and strategies to cultivate the future of Hokkaido" -- so-called Hokkaido Future Creation Plan, after reviewing its earlier plan. The new plan includes a vision and strategies for developing Hokkaido's future, and comprehensively lays out the basic direction for the prefectural government during the next ten years: It is designed as a set of guidelines for citizens and the government to work together towards the vision.

The prefecture also established a Hokkaido Environment Basic Plan in March 2008, in response to recent social changes including the coming into effect of the Kyoto Protocol. This plan sets the long-term goal of establishing a sustainable society Hokkaido that will have fewer environmental impacts as a result of recycling resources and coexisting with nature. The basic policies of the plan are divided into four categories: conservation of the global environment by local communities; establishing a recycling-oriented society; conserving and creating an environment in harmony with nature; and ensuring environmental safety in each region of the prefecture. In addition, the plan also defines some other common principles, such as environment-friendly city planning.

The plan also gives top priority to the following categories of measures: promoting efforts to prevent global warming based on locally-oriented schemes, for example, by expanding the use of eco-friendly transportation fuels such as bioethanol; establishing a sustainable society by using local resources such as biomass; creating a society where people and nature coexist; and securing healthy water cycles on the scale of entire river catchments.

As for global warming issues, the Hokkaido government set high targets in its Hokkaido Global Warming Prevention Program formulated in 2000. One target was to reduce net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (excluding forest carbon sinks) 9.2 percent by fiscal 2010, as compared to levels in the base year of fiscal 1990. However, according to a survey conducted in 2005, GHG emissions in fiscal 2003 showed an upward trend, with a 14.2 percent increase in gross emissions and a 2.9 percent increase in net emissions compared to the base year.

Utilizing Biomass

As an effective measure to curb these increases in GHG emissions, Hokkaido is actively working on utilizing biomass.

Hokkaido is one of the prefectures in Japan that can boast of flourishing agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries. Especially, its livestock industry accounts for about 45 percent of Hokkaido's gross product, as well as 40 percent of raw milk production in the nation. Thus, there are abundant biomass resources of various types, such as livestock waste and organic sludge. Aiming to promote the effective use of such resources, Hokkaido set up a biomass network in 2007. As a way of promoting the discussion of measures suitable for each region of the prefecture, this network has been collecting research data and other information on successful cases and forming study groups on practical or commercial applications of various types of biomass and potential applications.
(Japanese Only)

Introducing biomass fuels, including bioethanol, is expected to offer a wide range of advantages such as making a contribution to preventing global warming, realizing a sustainable society, creating new environmental businesses, and revitalizing regional economies.

However, in order to expand the use of biofuels, low-cost production processes and an official support system for each stage ranging from production to distribution will have to be set up. Since 2004, Hokkaido has been supporting pilot projects being conducted in the Tokachi District and elsewhere that make use of livestock waste and wood thinned from forests, in collaboration with the national and local governments, companies, and research institutes. Hokkaido has also been asking the national government to introduce a system of tax awards for biofuel use, and also for assistance in securing a stable supply of raw materials.

In addition to those efforts, the Hokkaido government started building bioethanol production plants in Shimizu Town and Tomakomai City in 2007. Likewise, prefectural agricultural experimentation stations have started research and development programs on bioethanol production technologies, in cooperation with universities and private enterprises. In this way, Hokkaido's efforts to establish biofuel production and supply systems are steadily progressing.

Hokkaido's Environmental Declaration and Future Commitment

Prior to the G8 Summit in July 2008, the Hokkaido government has developed an environmental linkage program. The program aims at strengthening Hokkaido's environmental measures based on three objectives; increasing the momentum of the environment-oriented summit, disseminating information on environmental technologies, and introducing Hokkaido's unique natural heritage. (In Japanese)

Hokkaido plans to use the G8 Summit as an opportunity to publish the Hokkaido Environment Declaration. The declaration will clarify the importance of nature conservation and Hokkaido's environmental vision in passing Hokkaido's natural environment down to future generations. It will also introduce Hokkaido's rich natural heritage to the rest of the country and the world. Based on this declaration, the prefectural government will implement measures to raise awareness among people and enterprises in Hokkaido and to promote environment-conscious lifestyles.

Moreover, in February, Hokkaido started a cleanup campaign to prepare for the G8 Summit. It also plans to host the 'Integrated Exhibition of the Environment in celebration of the Hokkaido Toyako Summit, 2008,' which will introduce advanced initiatives now being carried out by local enterprises and citizen groups throughout Japan and the world.

In the past, coal mining was one of the main industries in Hokkaido, and many pioneers moved there in search of jobs at coal mines. However, most of Hokkaido's coal mines have closed; this has caused an imbalance in local population distribution, and some villages face serious depopulation. In spite of this problem, Hokkaido still has rich, unique natural ecosystems not found in other areas of Japan, as well as the wisdom and culture nurtured by the native Ainu people, who co-existed with nature in Hokkaido.

Hokkaido is seeking for ways to co-existence with wild animals such as the Brown Bears and Yezo deer, trying to find ways to effectively utilize them as natural resources, though people have so far tended to focus on the agricultural damage they cause. As the host venue of the upcoming G8 Summit, Hokkaido's ongoing efforts will be worth watching.

(Written by Nobuko Saigusa)