AICHI EXPO 2005 Story
By Douglas Jarrell
Environmental protection may be the most important international issue of the 21st century, and the 1997 COP3 Conference in Kyoto shows the possibilities of greater international cooperation-many nations including the host country, Japan, have committed themselves to achieving significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years.
Now preparations are underway elsewhere in Japan for another international event with an environmentally-friendly theme. Aichi Prefecture will host the 2005 World Expo and has chosen as its theme, "Beyond Development: Rediscovering Nature's Wisdom," which shows how important "green" PR has become. As with any advertising, however, let the buyer beware.
The Governor of Aichi Prefecture never ceases to link the Expo with three major projects for the 21st century: the Chubu International Airport to be built on a manmade island in Ise Bay, a second Tokyo-Nagoya expressway, and a new maglev train. This echoes the government literature on the Expo which includes the following line, "...an experimental urban community that re-builds the environment and re-establishes the relationship between humankind and nature." The Expo appears to be about rather than beyond development, and the promoters demonstrate more interest in human control than in nature itself.
A close look at the Kaisho Forest, the proposed site for the Expo, reveals an area noted for its biodiversity that is still within easy reach of Nagoya, Aichi's major city. A total of 111 species of birds, 718 species of insects and 725 species of plants have been identified within the forest confines, together with many species of mammals and freshwater fish and shellfish.
Of great concern is the fact that Kaisho Forest is home to two endangered species - the star magnolia and the Gifu butterfly - both listed in the Red Data Book of Japan. While the Aichi government has reduced the scope of its original plans, they still call for an access road cutting through the center of the forest and extensive landscaping and pavilion construction.
The disappearance of large tracts of natural growth, upstream pollution of the watershed and the adverse effects of heavy traffic of Expo visitors will devastate the living populations of the forest. This is hardly in keeping with the spirit of "Coexistence with Nature", the sub-theme of the Expo. It seems remarkable that an international organization such as the B.I.E. (Bureau International des Expositions) could give its approval to such a project.
The Expo has created little enthusiasm even among Aichi residents. According to an Asahi Shimbun telephone poll conducted in January, 50% showed no interest, and the other 50% are divided equally between supporters and opponents. Opposition to holding the Expo in Kaisho Forest crystalized among bird-watchers and concerned citizens who launched a campaign for a prefectural referendum on its fate in October 1997. In a two-month period they collected the signatures of 140,000 registered voters, far more than the 106,000 minimum required by law, and a measure for the referendum will be put to a vote in the prefectural assembly in March. Prospects for its passage are very slim, however, both the Governor and the ruling LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) support the Expo and appear to regard plebiscites as unwarranted interference in government affairs.
THE FUJIMAE TIDAL FLATS
Although the fate of these coastal wetlands is not directly connected to the Expo, I introduce the subject here as another example of government negligence in Aichi Prefecture when environmental issues are concerned. These tidal flats lie at the mouth of the Nikko River in the Nagoya Port area, an unlikely place for such an important sanctuary for migratory birds. The flats do meet the criteria for protection under the Ramsar Treaty and are listed as an important stopover for migratory birds by the national government's Ministry of the Environment.
Japan's coastal wetlands are quickly disappearing, depriving wildfowl of places to stop over on their migrations between Siberia or Alaska and Oceania. Statistically, Fujimae is second in importance only to the Isahaya tidal flats in Kyushu, or it was until Isahaya was cut off from the sea ostensibly for "flood control" last summer. Fujimae, now the most important stopover for plovers and godwits, soon faces a similar fate. Nagoya is pushing ahead with plans to fill approximately 50% of the flats with garbage once its present dump is full in the year 2001.
The city has appointed a committee of academics, from a variety of fields, to review the environmental impact this project will have. In spite of numerous requests by activists, the meetings have been held in secret, but it is obvious from the committee chairperson's press comments that members feel obligated to consider factors other than the environment in their final decision. The city's expressed need for a quick decision on the new garbage dump was the stated reason for rejecting a request for a bird count in spring, the season of the greatest influx of birds at Fujimae.
Experts have raised doubts that the available data on both birds and marine life is accurate. For example, the government's autumn bird count fell far short of the numbers recorded by NGOs, and the government's survey of marine life literally only scratched the surface, missing shellfish that burrow down several meters into the mud. The committee has now released its assessment, effectively giving the green light to the city project, even though it acknowledged that adverse effects to the ecosystem were inevitable. As a compromise, the committee suggested carrying out the spring bird count independently of the environmental assessment and the creation of an "artificial tidal flat" in a different area. The latter idea was subsequently ridiculed in the Japanese press for its lack of both scientific and economic sense.
The press has also attacked the city government for its lack of efforts to reduce the garbage which is at the root of the Fujimae problem. It has come out that Nagoya, unlike some Japanese cities, does not enforce strict garbage separation in 7 of its 15 wards. Estimates indicate that progress in this direction would relieve the city of the immediate need to find a new garbage dump by 2001.
THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT IS THE COMMON PROBLEM
There are many similarities between the way in which the Nagoya government deals with the proposed garbage dump at Fujimae and the way in which the Aichi government deals with the proposed Expo site at Kaisho. In both cases a variety of environmental groups including NACS (Nature Conservation Society of Japan), the Japan World Wide Fund and the Wild Bird Society of Japan, have informed the appropriate government agencies of the ecological importance of the sites, but they have been ignored. Both governments refuse to consider viable alternate sites for their projects, a lapse that signals their intention to proceed with the initial plans regardless of any adverse effects on the environment. Both local governments are showing their attachment to old, discredited formulas for economic growth at the expense of the environment instead of opting for ecologically-friendly formulas that balance the need for development with environmental conservation. Finally, both governments claim to encourage citizen participation in the decision-making process but deny access to information and to the very bodies that make the decisions.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR - I have been living and teaching English in Nagoya for the past 20 years. Although I have spent many weekends traveling around the neighboring prefectures, I only became aware of Kaisho Forest and the Fujimae wetlands in the past year. Where once Japanese politics was a byzantine web of intrigue divorced from my realities, seeing a natural setting soon to disappear, made me aware of the need to get involved. We can't help wondering if it is the inertia of the Japanese bureaucracy or other, less seemly reasons, that prevent the voice of reason from being heard at the decision-making levels of the Japanese government. In either case, the environment of this part of Japan and the future of migratory birds in East Asia need as much international help as they can get, and fast, especially in the case of the Fujimae tidal flats.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP
You can contribute by sending your objections to these plans to:
MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry):
Chubu (includes Aichi) Bureau of International Trade and Industry: EXPO e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org FAX 81-52-962-6804
2005 World Exposition Promotion Division, Seto City Hall:
Minister for the Environment Hiroshi Oki:
Aichi Governor Reiji Suzuki:
In order for us to keep track of how many comments are being received, please send copies to Douglas Jarrell: FAX 81-52-853-7541 or e-mail email@example.com
Return to the May/June Issue Index page