[HGPI Policy Column] No. 32 – From the Planetary Health Policy Team, Part 4 – Initiatives for Planetary Health from Central Ministries and Agencies in Japan
date : 1/16/2023
- The Government of Japan has declared it will achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and is aiming to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 46% of FY2013 levels by FY2030.
- Among health-related topics, the Assessment Report on Climate Change Impacts in Japan from the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) emphasizes measures to combat heat stress and infectious diseases.
- The MOE and other ministries and agencies have presented policies for responding to climate change. The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) is emphasizing measures for heat stroke. Expectations are high for future efforts to address the health impacts of global climate change, including efforts for mitigation and adaptation.
Heightened awareness toward the climate crisis is driving a major global paradigm shift in attitudes toward climate change. Health and Global Policy Institute (HGPI) will collaborate with multi-stakeholders to outline an agenda for joint action throughout Japan, deepen understanding toward that agenda, and disseminate it in Japan and around the world. In doing so, we will create opportunities to take the next steps for ensuring sustainable health for the Earth and its people. In this column, the fourth column, we will introduce efforts the Government of Japan and its central ministries and agencies are making to advance this cause.
We will start with a look at some Government-led initiatives that involve the Government of Japan and the international community.
Initiatives from the Government of Japan
Enacting laws on climate measures and establishing the Global Warming Prevention Headquarters
To implement the Kyoto Protocol adopted at the Third Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP3) in December 1997, the Global Warming Prevention Headquarters was established in the Cabinet by a Cabinet decision made later that same month. The Act on Promotion of Global Warming Countermeasures was enacted in 1998 and was amended when the Kyoto Protocol came into effect in February 2005. The Global Warming Prevention Headquarters was reestablished in the Cabinet under the amended law.
The Climate Change Adaptation Act was enacted in 2018. For many years, efforts to promote mitigation measures in Japan were examined within the framework of the Act on Promotion of Global Warming Countermeasures, but the Climate Change Adaptation Act established systems to promote measures for climate change through both adaptation and mitigation.
Ambitious goals were also set at the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit
In 2008, a G8 Summit was held in Toyako, Hokkaido and was attended by leaders of current G7 members (France, the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada, and the European Union) and Russia. There, the G8 Leaders agreed on the long-term goal of reducing carbon emissions, stating, “We seek to share with all Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) the vision of, and together with them to consider and adopt in the UNFCCC negotiations, the goal of achieving at least 50% reduction of global emissions by 2050.” As developed countries agreed to an ambitious long-term goal of halving global emissions by 2050 and Japan started working to achieve a low-carbon society, this Summit earned high recognition.
After the Summit, the Basic Energy Plan was revised in 2010 to set numerical targets for increasing the ratio of energy generated through nuclear power and renewables to 50% or more by 2020 and approximately 70% by 2030. However, Japan had to change its course in environmental policy when policies to promote nuclear energy were withdrawn after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.
Declaring carbon neutrality by 2050 and aiming for a 46% reduction in carbon emissions by FY2030
In October 2020, Japan declared it would become carbon neutral by 2050. After a revision in May 2021, this objective was clearly stated in the Act on Promotion of Global Warming Countermeasures.
Then, at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate held in the U.S. in April 2021, Japan raised its greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction target to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Japan also raised its FY2030 reduction target from 26% to 46% of 2013 emissions levels, which is 1.7 greater, while stating the country would set its sights even higher toward achieving a 50% reduction. Opinions both for and against this objective are now being exchanged, with some supporters saying that meeting this ambitious target will be an essential step for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, while others have criticized it as highly unrealistic.
Previous developments that led to this declaration include the agreement on the need for carbon neutrality by 2050 made at COP26 in 2019. The Paris Agreement adopted at COP21 in 2015 included the target to “achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gasses in the second half of this century” to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C.” However, the agreement made at COP26 included even clearer targets which require “reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level” and “net zero around mid-century.” By December 2019, 123 countries and 1 region had pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Some say Japan was driven to set this objective by the international community, highlighting the fact that actions for climate change are not only a domestic concern and demonstrating that Japan cannot avoid incorporating opinions from overseas.
We will examine the health-related initiatives for climate change from each ministry and agency in the following sections.
The Ministry of the Environment
While advancing domestic policies to conserve the environment, the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) is engaged in various initiatives to counteract global warming and adapt to climate change. Below, we will take a brief look at the history of how the MOE has handled environmental issues with a focus on the Assessment Report on Climate Change Impacts in Japan, a report that covers the health impacts of climate change.
Domestic measures to combat environmental problems began with pollution prevention. Japan’s first law for pollution was the Environmental Pollution Prevention Act, which was enacted in 1967 in response to an increase in pollution, such as air pollution. In response to a growing need for government action on pollution problems, an agency called the Environmental Agency, which would later become the MOE, was established in 1971. The responsibilities of the MOE grew over subsequent years as it was tasked with addressing issues for the global environment, like global warming and ozone layer depletion.
The Assessment Report on Climate Change Impacts in Japan
Figure 1. Schematic of projected impacts of climate change (human health), Assessment Report on Climate Change Impacts in Japan, Ministry of the Environment p67, Figure 3-9
In December 2020, the MOE released the Assessment Report on Climate Change Impacts in Japan, which provides a comprehensive assessment of climate change impacts conducted in accordance with the Climate Change Adaptation Act. It was the second assessment on climate change impacts following the report presented in 2015. The 2020 Report was the first report that provided a comprehensive assessment of climate change impacts in Japan that was compiled under the Climate Change Adaptation Act. The report details the impacts of climate change across various sectors devoting 29 pages to the impacts of climate change in the human health sector, which are outlined in Figure 1 (the English version of the report is summarized into three pages). It discusses topics such as heat stress (heat stroke), which increases the risk of heat-related mortality due to rising temperatures; changes in the distribution of arthropods that cause infectious diseases, such as mosquitoes; increased mortality risks from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases due to enhanced production of air pollutants; and damage from natural disasters caused by extreme weather events.
The Climate Change Adaptation Plan
Among topics in the human health sector, the Climate Change Adaptation Plan mainly focuses on heat stress and infectious diseases. Important methods of managing heat stress include providing weather information and Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) notifications and warnings, building awareness for prevention and response, and disseminating information regarding cases of heat stroke. Regarding actions to counter the risk of domestic infectious disease outbreaks that may occur due to changes in mosquito habitats and population densities, this plan also mentions the need to aggregate scientific knowledge on the relationship between outbreak risks for those diseases and rising temperatures, to monitor outbreaks and trends on a continuous basis, and to exterminate the larvae and adult mosquitoes that do emerge.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
The party that is responsible for advancing economic and industrial policies in Japan is the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). Another key role of METI is enacting policies that will ensure stable, efficient, and sustainable energy can be supplied in a manner that protects the Earth’s environment. This section will review the METI’s initiatives for the environment being made in accordance with a plan formulated with each ministry and agency called the Green Growth Strategy Through Achieving Carbon Neutrality.
The 2020 Green Growth Strategy Through Achieving Carbon Neutrality (December 2021)
In accordance with the Government’s pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, METI collaborated with relevant ministries and agencies to formulate the Green Growth Strategy Through Achieving Carbon Neutrality in June 2021. This Strategy identifies 14 areas where growth is anticipated in both industrial and energy policies. Looking to 2050, it provides action plans and time frames for policies in each of the 14 areas to kick off virtuous cycles in the economy and the environment. To achieve these plans, a number of policy tools have been put in place, such as setting aside a budget of 2 trillion yen called the Green Innovation Fund; developing a tax system for investments, business restructuring, and R&D; achieving reform and standardization of regulations; engaging in international collaboration; promoting initiatives at universities; utilizing the 2025 World Exposition in Osaka; and establishing a working group of members of younger generations. It is safe to say that in the future, how these plans are carried out, what sorts of results they produce, and how the health sector will be included as a key area will all influence the path Japan takes toward achieving carbon neutrality.
The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare
The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) is responsible for comprehensive, integrated policies that help to secure and improve everyday life for the public while promoting economic development. These include policies for social welfare, social security, improving and promoting public health, improving conditions surrounding the workforce, providing job security, and encouraging the development of human resources. Among central ministries, we can say the MHLW is the one that handles human health most directly.
Efforts at the MHLW are focused on disseminating information to the public for preventing heat stroke, which is viewed as a growing threat due to rising temperatures that are related to environmental issues. In addition, starting in February 2021, the MHLW has been holding meetings called the Study Group on Promoting a Healthy and Sustainable Food Environment. Discussions at the Group examine methods of achieving a sustainable food environment from a variety of perspectives. Reference points in these discussions include the 2019 report in which The Lancet put forth the term “planetary health diet,” a diet that has been optimized for human health and environmental sustainability; as well as “Sustainable healthy diets – Guiding principles,” which was formulated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In particular, the Group has cited the perspective that in addition to health measures, environmental measures will also be crucial for achieving sustainable and healthy diets. As the MHLW occupies the best position among the various ministries and agencies for promoting health measures, close attention will be placed on the initiatives it advances in the future.
Other MHLW initiatives for the environment are described in the latest FY2021 revision of the “MHLW Policies for Environmental Considerations.” It details the results of self-assessments on progress in various measures from each agency which are described in annual reports that are submitted to the environmental measures headquarters. Measures from the MHLW are split into two broad categories and progress on each initiative is reported. Those categories are measures for environmental conservation, and measures for the environment implemented as part of normal operations. One initiative for the former category provides GHG emission reduction targets for three areas: health and welfare co-ops, pharmaceuticals, and hospitals. Work style reform in the healthcare sector, another topic of great interest in recent years, is also included as a method of combating climate change by reducing overtime hours worked. It also reports progress on environmentally-friendly initiatives from parties like pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers and distributors and at medical, health, and social welfare facilities. Overall, the assessments provided in the report are more qualitative than quantitative, and expectations are high for concrete efforts for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
Other ministries and agencies
In addition to these three ministries, other ministries and agencies are also undertaking initiatives and working to disseminate information regarding issues facing the global environment. For example, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) presents reports titled, “Impact of Global Warming on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and Possible Countermeasures in Japan” which summarize the effect of heat and related climate impacts on agricultural production and describe measures for adaptation. MAFF has also formulated specific guidelines for various crops. These are called “Climate Change Adaptation Guidelines for Agricultural Production” and their purpose is to help crop-producing regions implement their own risk management measures and measures to adapt to climate change. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) also prioritizes issues related to climate change in its statements, referring to this as “climate change diplomacy.” Within the constantly-shifting circumstance around environmental policy in Japan and around the world, actions are also being taken at other ministries and agencies who are working under the concept of the Government-wide “Plan for Global Warming Countermeasures.”
In this column, we introduced some of the initiatives being made to address climate change and its human health impacts by the Government of Japan and its ministries and agencies. Various ministries and agencies starting with the MOE have presented measures for climate change, but at the current stage, assessments and efforts for the impacts on human health are limited. In addition, while the main Government body for human health measures, the MHLW, is focusing on measures for heat stroke, there have been no measures in recent years for the human health impacts of environmental issues. Now that joint initiatives from industry, Government, academia, and civil society are gaining momentum both in Japan and overseas, expectations are high for word from administrative bodies in Japan regarding their future initiatives. Following the declaration to go carbon neutral by 2050, opinions are being actively exchanged on the economic impacts of climate change. We must speak up on the importance of also discussing climate change’s impacts on health.
In our fifth column, we will introduce efforts to address climate change and its human health impacts being made by local governments in Japan.
 Major Steps and Decisions Taken (kantei.go.jp) (English site)
 Background to the Enactment and Reform of the Act on Promotion of Global Warming Countermeasures | The Global Environment and International Cooperation | Ministry of the Environment (env.go.jp) (Japanese)
 Adaptation to Climate Change|The Global Environment and International Cooperation | Ministry of the Environment (env.go.jp) (Japanese)
 G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit Leaders Declaration (mofa.go.jp)
 Microsoft PowerPoint – Reference Materials 6 – Domestic Efforts for Achieving Carbon Neutrality by 2050 rev5 (env.go.jp) (Japanese)
 Japan’s Emission Reduction Targets | Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (MOFA) (mofa.go.jp) (Japanese)
 Overview of COP26 Results – Topics – Decarbonization Portal | Ministry of the Environment (env.go.jp) (Japanese)
 Assessment Report on Climate Change Impacts in Japan (env.go.jp) (Japanese) (English version)
 01 Climate Change Adaptation Plan (env.go.jp) (Japanese) (English version)
 The Green Growth Strategy Through Achieving Carbon Neutrality in 2050 (meti.go.jp) (Japanese) (English version)
 Preventing Heat Stroke – Information and Resources | Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (mhlw.go.jp) (Japanese)
 EAT-Lancet_Commission_Summary_Report.pdf (eatforum.org)
 [Reference 2] Policies for Environmental Considerations (mhlw.go.jp) (Japanese)
 2021 Global Warming Impact Assessment Report (maff.go.jp) (Japanese)
 Global Warming Countermeasures: Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (maff.go.jp) (Japanese)
 Climate Change | Ministry of Foreign Affairs (mofa.go.jp) (Japanese)
- Sayaka Honda (Program Specialist, HGPI)
- Eri Cahill (Intern,HGPI)
- Shu Suzuki (Associate, HGPI)
- Joji Sugawara (Senior Manager, HGPI)
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