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Loss and Damage - Adverse Impact of Climate Change

With advancing urbanisation due to the rapid pace of economic growth in Asia, biodiversity conservation has become a pressing environmental issue. A particularly important concern is that of combining development with sustainable use in relation to biodiversity. Biodiversity and human environments are increasingly threatened by incidents having the potential to severely impact the environment as a whole, including large-scale natural disasters associated with climate change, as well as the nuclear accident triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Dr. Akira Tanaka, Professor of Environmental and Information Studies at Tokyo City University, studies the restoration and creation of urban ecosystems. We interviewed Dr. Tanaka about the kinds of innovative approaches that are needed for biodiversity conservation in Asia.

Akira Tanaka
A professor in the Department of Environmental and Information Studies at Tokyo City University and holds a Ph.D. in Applied Science. Graduate of the Department of Environmental Science and Conservation, Faculty of Agriculture, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology. Holding a master’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Michigan and a doctoral degree from the Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, the University of Tokyo. His past positions include Pacific Consultants International, Nomura Research Institute, and the Overseas Environmental Cooperation Center, Japan.
Related Link:
Tokyo City University Environmental and Information studies (Landscape Ecosystems) Dr. Tanaka's HP

August 2011

The Need for Integrative Policy
as an Innovative Approach in
Biodiversity Conservation in Asia


Dr. Akira Tanaka
(Professor, Department of Environmental and Information Studies, Tokyo City University)


Differing historical background of Asia and Europe/US

COP 10 has led to a great deal of institutional debate concerning biodiversity conservation, including the themes of “biodiversity offsets” and “biodiversity banking” in relation to urbanisation and development. Are these measures being implemented in Japan and Asia?

Tanaka:
Biodiversity offsets(*1), biodiversity banking(*2), and other methods of biodiversity conservation are already well established in advanced Western nations, but it seems that this discussion is only now getting started in Asia. In the West, the Polluter-Pays Principle (PPP) calls attention to the responsibility of businesses with regard to bearing the costs of restoring and conserving ecosystems that are destroyed by development. However, in Japan and the rest of Asia, there is a low level of awareness concerning ecological losses. Any efforts to address such problems are generally based on the Beneficiary-Pays Principle (BPP), and the tendency is to turn first to the idea of environmental taxes. In other words, the gap between Asia and the West in introduction of these programmes is due to radically different perspectives on nature.

This situation is related to historical differences with regard to nature and nature protection. The West has experienced ecological disruption and loss for centuries, including the effects of stock farming in Europe and the Gold Rush in the nineteenth century in North America. Nineteenth-century philosophers and scholars who stressed the importance of living in harmony with nature, such as Emerson and Thoreau, emerged in reaction to the commonly held notion of nature as something to be conquered. When ecological restoration was attempted, these efforts were hampered by the difficulties facing ecological restoration under the dry climatic conditions of Europe and North America. The School of Natural Resources at University of Michigan, my alma mater, was founded in that era and is the oldest institution of its kind in the world. Meanwhile, in the hot and humid climates of Asian monsoon regions, vegetation flourishes with no human intervention, so there seemed to be no particular need for attention to protection or restoration of the natural environment. In Japan, the development of environmental awareness was prompted by industrial pollution. Thereafter, environmental protection was established in Japan in remote regions, but for a long time, efforts for environmental protection and biodiversity conservation in residential and industrial spaces remained irregular and inadequate.

Traditionally, Japan and the rest of Asia have possessed wisdom concerning coexistence with the natural environment, but it is highly regrettable that some of the world’s most outstanding wisdom has been lost along with disorderly urbanisation during periods of rapid economic growth. There are historical and attitudinal differences between Asia and the West in attitudes toward environmental protection, and there has been a time lag in institutional measures for restoration of the natural environment. However, biodiversity offsets have been institutionalised in the eight nations of the Philippines, Thailand, Nepal, Pakistan, China, Republic of Korea, India, and Vietnam; and biodiversity offsets have also been introduced in Japan in the form of “compensatory fees” under the Environmental Impact Assessment Law, which was implemented in 1999. Since COP 10 in 2010, this concept has become widespread in industry as well as in government, and further practical developments are anticipated.



Proposal for Satoyama banking

--- Please explain “Satoyama Banking,” which you advocate as an innovative, Asian-style mechanism that could “kill two birds with one stone” in the resolution of issues related to Satoyama ecosystems.

Biotope Package in the garden of the Yokohama campus of Tokyo City University (winner of the Eco Products Award, December 2010 and the Award of the Tokyu Environmental Prize, July 2011)
Tanaka:
Satoyama(*3) ecosystems face the twofold threat of losses due to development along with deterioration due to discontinued utilisation. I am proposing Satoyama banking as a new mechanism that will promote coexistence and mutual benefit between human beings and the plant and animal kingdoms while training up young people as successors in traditional Japanese wisdom regarding the use and management of Satoyama ecosystems, as well as the use of biodiversity banking, a market economy method of biodiversity offsets that has become popular in the U.S., Germany, Australia, and other countries.

In Satoyama banking, landowners who no longer utilise their Satoyama areas will supply these lands to a “Satoyama bank,” ensuring that the Satoyama ecosystems maintained by our ancestors over many generations will continue in a healthy state into the future. The Satoyama bank will restore and enhance Satoyama ecosystems through the work of specialised contractors, NGOs, and citizens who have received expert training. In this process, young people will be trained as human resources who will work in Satoyama management. The effects of these efforts to restore and enhance such ecosystems will be evaluated and quantified by third-party agencies. Meanwhile, developers in the vicinity of such regions will be able to purchase credits from the Satoyama bank for ecosystem restoration and enhancement as a means of biological compensation (biodiversity offsets) for the loss of natural ecosystems due to their own development activities. Local governments will be able to attract new Satoyama bank establishments in line with green master plans and the like, as a means of implementing strategic land use programmes. These start-ups can also be supported by conventional measures such as subsidies and tax breaks. In other words, Satoyama banking will make it possible for the environmental restoration and maintenance work of Satoyama management to develop as a new type of economic activity, instead of being operated at full cost or through dependence on volunteers as in the past, while also enabling the conservation of Satoyama ecosystems and their active utilisation by local residents.

Researchers at Tokyo City University are currently operating pilot studies in the town of Shimokawa in Hokkaido, the city of Chiba, and the city of Yokohama. It is my hope that through repeated discussions with stakeholders and trials, this will be expanded in Asia and the world as a model of an innovative mechanism to promote biodiversity conservation.


Asia's ancient wisdom and the West's rationalism

--- With ongoing trends of economic growth and urbanisation in Asia, how should biodiversity conservation be advanced from the standpoint of sustainable development?

Tanaka:
Japan and the rest of Asia have a great deal of ancient wisdom concerning how best to interact with the natural environment. However, there are also extremely large-scale environmental issues, including environmental destruction through development and economic activities; and traditional wisdom alone is not adequate to deal with the complex, long-term impacts of the indirect cumulative effects of such activities. The greatest issue facing Asia is to pursue biodiversity conservation while promoting sustainable development. It is important to learn and integrate the essence of rational Western environmental conservation policies while also fully exploiting traditional wisdom. One challenge for the resolution of Japan’s Satoyama issues is the realisation of a Satoyama banking programme that will incorporate the approaches of biodiversity offsets and banking. We need to steadily implement the kind of environmental education that will help urban dwellers to see biodiversity conservation not as a unique problem of some remote region, but as an issue that affects the spaces where they themselves live and the scope of their own daily activities from morning to night.


How to eliminate "unanticipated" environmental problems

--- The situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is still out of control with no resolution in sight, and it is having a serious impact on the environment. It is possible that this kind of “unanticipated” situation could occur elsewhere in Asia as well. What lessons can we learn from this nuclear accident?

Tanaka:
Environmental assessment programmes are the key to preventing adverse impacts for the sake of effective ecological conservation including biodiversity, and this accident has given me a renewed sense of the importance of environmental assessment. Environmental assessment is the only programme in place that allows the general public to obtain information and state their opinions concerning business activities that could be anticipated to involve a serious environmental impact, but until 1999, nuclear and other electric power plants were exempt from the common environmental assessment programme in Japan (established by a 1984 cabinet decision on the implementation of environmental impact assessment); and prior to 1984, the common environmental assessment programme did not even exist in Japan. Incidentally, construction work began in 1967 on the No. 1 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, where the accident occurred. The electric power generation industry, including nuclear power, was brought under the common Environmental Impact Assessment Law in 1999, but the assessment items under that law do not include radiological contamination. The strategic environmental assessment programme was institutionalised after the Environmental Impact Assessment Law and is applied to projects at an earlier stage (2007 Strategic Environmental Assessment Guidelines), but this programme also excludes radiological contamination.

Environmental assessment programmes exist in Japan and the rest of Asia, but they are limited in their application and effectiveness. Approximately five to six thousand such assessments are performed each year in the U.S. on the national level, but only about twenty per year take place in Japan. In the U.S., assessments are performed as needed whenever it appears that an environmental impact may emerge, but Japan uses a completely different screening-based approach which covers only certain predetermined large-scale development projects.

How should this problem be addressed? First, I think that understanding our own environmental assessment system and the way it is currently being applied should be the first step toward the goal of eliminating “unanticipated” environmental problems. In addition, it is necessary to understand the actual mechanisms of environmental assessment, especially the mitigation hierarchy (order of priority of environmental protection measures). Mitigation consists of three stages: avoidance, minimisation, and compensation. The highest priority must be avoidance of any adverse environmental impact that is avoidable, including termination of the business activity. Next, if avoidance is impossible for various reasons, the impact should be minimised. If both avoidance and minimisation are impossible and an adverse impact occurs, the last stage is compensation. In the area of biodiversity, such compensation mitigation measures constitute biodiversity offsets. An environmental assessment basically consists of studying these three stages of environmental mitigation in that order, and then publicly disclosing the results. Unfortunately, Japan’s existing environmental assessment programme does not clearly indicate this kind of mitigation hierarchy.

I believe that in order to properly implement mitigation according to the stages of avoidance, minimisation, and compensation, the most important step is quantitative evaluation of the adverse environmental impacts of human activities such as development in advance, by methods such as Habitat Evaluation Procedure (HEP)(*4). It is important to look at the extent of environmental impacts, the extent to which such impacts can be avoided or minimised, and ultimately, the extent of adverse impacts that cannot be avoided or minimised. It is also necessary to consider the extent of compensatory mitigation (biodiversity offsets) that could be required as a last resort concerning such impacts. This applies to the present nuclear power accident as well, but at the planning stages of future development projects, if developers could be made aware of the types and scopes of compensatory mitigation not only for wildlife and the habitats of wildlife, but also for people and human habitats, culture, and history, it would cause developers to form judgements on risk avoidance from the standpoint of self-protection, making it possible to avoid or minimise this kind of accident at quite an early stage.

In the future, it will be important for Japan to promote effective, sustainable mechanisms such as Satoyama banking that integrate traditional Japanese and Asian wisdom with the rationality of advanced Western nations, not only in relation to “hardware” aspects but also with respect to “software” aspects, while pursuing mutual learning with other Asian nations.


--- Thank you very much.


---------------
*1 Biodiversity offsets: When spatial losses of ecosystems and habitats are an unavoidable result of human activities such as development, businesses take steps to restore, create, or maintain similar ecosystems or habitats in a nearby location at their own responsibility. Biodiversity offsets have been institutionalised in approximately 50 countries. This is also called “compensatory mitigation.”

*2 Biodiversity banking: A third party (banker) consolidates and operates biodiversity offsets previously handled by individual businesses. This is a market economy method in which environmental restoration or protection is handled as an economic activity rather than a cost.

*3 Satoyama: Japanese term applied to the border zone or area between mountain foothills and arable flat land.

*4 Habitat Evaluation Procedure (HEP): Developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this is the world’s most widely used method for quantitative evaluation of wildlife habitats. Akira Tanaka introduced HEP into Japan in the 1990s as a method that is suitable for mosaic land use in Asia, and has authored Introduction to HEP (in Japanese; published by Asakura Shoten). Preparations are underway for this Asian version of the HEP manual to be published in the Republic of Korea as well.




About "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability"

Until 2010, IGES has released “Top News on the Environment in Asia” on a yearly basis. For over 12 years since its establishment of IGES in 1998, “Top News” has collected and organised information about environmental issues and policy trends in the region.

In January 2011, IGES launched the new web-based series "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability" in which leading environmental experts deliver their take on latest trends of sustainable Asia.

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