Tools and Legislation for Environmental Management available to Local Governments

The drive for decentralization comes from a fatigued centralized administrative system that is characterized by an overconcentration of power, money, people and information among central/national authorities that have, in many cases, stripped local regions of their resources and vitality, and by an overemphasis on nationwide uniformity and fairness that have ignored local conditions and diversity. As a result, it is now being increasingly felt that the promotion of decentralization is needed to respond to the circumstances and challenges of a 'new age.'

Decentralization has also been touted for greater subsidiarity and localized decision-making among communities and local governments, for better definition of roles and responsibilities among various levels of governance, for diversified government services that match needs of local conditions, and for reduction of national governmental control and interference in local government to a minimum.

Parallel to this process of decentralization and increased local autonomy, is a growing realization among all levels of stakeholders that solutions for global environmental problems can be found only at the local level, through local actions that are taken by local stakeholders. This has put the spotlight on local governments to take the initiative to develop innovative policies, programmes and projects in order to protect the local environment in a concerted and coordinated manner - that would lead to positive global impacts. Local governments have also been expected to create a more facilitative environment where deeper stakeholder participation can take place.

Decentralization in Japan

With the passage of the Decentralization Promotion Law, the decentralization movement in Japan moved from the debate stage to the implementation stage. Reforms that were made are being regarded as the 'third wave of reform' to take place in Japan, following those made during the Meiji Restoration and the early post-Word War II years. In December 1996, the Committee for the Promotion of Decentralization submitted its First Recommendation Report to the Prime Minister, followed by a second report in July 1997. Based on these recommendations, the Government put together a comprehensive plan for decentralization and submited it to the Diet.

In order to achieve meaningful results from decentralization, local institutions will have to promote administrative reform by restructing their organizations as well. With respect to implementing the measures cited by the Report, the Ministry of Home Affairs intends to promote local reform through the merger of local municipalities, restructuring national treasury grant expenditures and reviewing local tax systems. Moreover, now that the system of delegating certain functions to local institutions will be abolished, MHA will also formulate a general policy regarding local government operations in general and the systems related to them.

Source: Ministry of Home Affairs

A thrid trend driving the focus on local governments is the shift of developmental emphasis from quantitative growth of the local economy to qualitative improvement of citizens' lives. Development slogans of the 1960s and 1970s primarily emphasized the quantitative growth of the local and national economy - and attendant infrastructure and developmental services. This has now given way to emphasis on a more qualitative approach to development, focussing more on the quality of life of its citizenry. Once again, the creative energies of the local government and other local structures have been called upon to develop a living environment that suits the wishes and desires of the citizens, and is 'sustainable' at the same time.

The above three trends are particularly significant in the light of local environmental management - both within the city itself, and its impacts/effects on the larger regional and global environments. Local governments, and the local stakeholders they work with and serve, are faced with the situation of increasing and strengthening their capacity to manage the local environment.

There are several tools and legislation that are available for local governments to effect good environmental management. Many of these have been instituted internationally, but have put the local government as a key actor and stakeholder in its implementation, and expect a range of partnerships with local stakeholders at various stages of decision-making and implementation.

Buzzwords such as quality of life, water and waste management, natural resource saving, pollution abatement, consumption patterns, administrative changes, etc. have been linked to environmental management tools. For example, a high quality of life and good urban environments have been linked to the implementation of the Local Agenda 21; reducing the waste problem and savings scarce resources have been associated with the implementation of life-cycle assessment analyses and Eco-labeling; pollution abatement, sustainable consumption patterns and changes in manufacturing and production with the setting up of an environmental management system and the ISO 14001; and use of alternative energy, energy savings, natural resource savings etc with streamlined and rationalized urban planning rules and building codes; carbon emissions and air pollution with the Kyoto Protocol; and local democracy/autonomy, governance, and decentralization through the World Charter on Local Governments. A sampling og tools are described below.


Tools and Legislation available for Local Governments and Local Environmental Management

Local Agenda 21
In 1991, at the UN Conference on Environment and Development, Chapter 28 of Agenda 21 stipulated a mandate for all local governments and authorities to prepare a "Local Agenda 21." Local governments in each country are to undertake a consultative process with their population and achieved a consensus on a 'Local Agenda 21 Plan' for their communities. The LA 21 preparation processes, in principle, are participatory in nature, resulting in new commitments by local governments and their communities to improve and extend urban services in a sustainable way. More than 102 local governments in Japan (about 89% of the total number) have developed and/or implemented a Local Agenda 21

Life-cycle assessment analyses and Eco-labeling
Life cycle assessment determines the environmental impacts of products, processes or services, through production, usage, and disposal. This is done by compiling an inventory of relevant inputs and outputs; evaluating the potential environmental impacts associated with those inputs and outputs; and interpreting the results of the inventory and impact phases in relation to the objectives of the study. Since the late 1980s, there has been a growing demand by consumers for products that do not harm the environment. This is evident in the sale of products such as non-toxic household cleaning agents, chlorine-free paper, recycled oil, and mercury-free batteries. Such sales reflect a 'greening' of the market place. Public willingness to use its buying power as a tool to protect the environment provides manufacturers with an opportunity to develop new products. The need for rules about environmental labeling or eco-labeling has led to concerted efforts to develop labeling protocols or standards worthy of public trust. Local Governments in Japan have been playing an important role in generating awareness among the general public on these issues, and in pressuring business and industry actors to participate and adhere to the requirements of such initiatives. Both are part of the ISO 14000 series (ISO 14040 - Life Cycle Assessment and ISO 14020 - Eco-labeling)

Environmental Management System and the ISO 14001
ISO 14001 is a voluntary international standard, which at its core, sets the requirements for establishment of an environmental management system. It calls for the identification of significant environmental impacts of an entity's activities, and voluntarily put an environmental management system in place to minimize or eliminate the negative impacts of the activities. Cities in Japan have been in the forefront of acquiring the ISO 14001 certification for themselves in order to be a role model for industry and other organization to follow suitii. More than 40 prefectures, cities and town around Japan had acquired ISO 14001 by December 1999.

Kyoto Protocol
Binding targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions were agreed for the first time by major industrial nations meeting at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Kyoto in December 1997. the Third Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, more simply referred to as COP-3, reached agreement on the overall targets to be adopted for greenhouse gas emissions by 2008-12 - an 8% cut from 1990 levels for the European Union (EU), 7% for the USA, and 6% for Japan and Canada. Australia was allowed an 8% increase, while Russia has a target of 0% (i.e. 1990 levels). Meeting these targets needs the active participation at the local/micro level - precisely where the GHGs are being emitted. Thus cities and urban areas have a critical role to play in instituting measures that reduce the carbon emissions.

Urban planning rules and building codes.
The City Planning System in Japan stipulates the basic provisions for the planned development of urban areas . They include (i) the types and standards of city planning, (ii) planning procedure, (iii) planning control and (iv) urban development projects. Details of regulations and planning practices are specified in separate legislation. For instance, the Building Standard Act regulates building activities in accordance with the zoning plan, and the Land Consolidation Act provides legal procedures for land consolidation projects on sites specified in the authorized city plans. The City Planning Act of 1968 forms the basis for city planning in Japan featuring effective land-use control, functional city panning areas, and delegation of power to local governments. The effective designation and implementation of urban planning regulations and building construction codes go a long way in creating a living environment that has a high quality, and also respects the natural environment.

World Charter on Local Governments
The World Charter on Local Governments is relatively new and is still being subject to signatories throughout the world. The Charter addresses the need for the development of national laws and regulations that clearly specify the roles and responsibilities of local governments vis--vis national governments and provide for effective decentralization and local democracy, taking into account the principles of autonomy, subsidiarity and proximity, setting out the key principles underlying a sound constitutional/legal framework for a democratic local government system. The Charter is currently being introduced to various local governments in Japan, through a series of consultations, by the UNCHS.

Thus local governments will have to reconcile with a series of polarizing issues such as globalization, quality of life, social and economic growth, and particularly environmental issues. Due to the greater attention being focused on them as a result of the decentralization, localization and local autonomy processes, they are also realizing their own limitations in attempting to solve these multi-faceted and interlinked issues. Emphasis is shifting to partnerships and participation to maximize benefits from a finite set of natural and man-made resources. This realization has also called for a highlight of local sustainable development that harmonizes social, economic and environmental goals.

Return to MEAs and Cities
Contact: Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org