Kyoto Shimbun 1997.12.4

World environment NGOs CO2 reduction urged by "power to the people"

by Yasutaka Yamauchi and Tetsuya Ishizaki

Environmental NGO parade in Kyoto to appeal to the citizens to cherish the Earth (April 1997)
People from countries all around the world have started to arrive in small groups in Kyoto to represent Greenpeace and other environmental NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) at the 3rd Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP3) Kyoto Conference. The number of people from NGOs participating in the conference is said to exceed 1000. At the Kyoto Conference, where government representatives from each country will decide on policies to prevent global warming, NGOs have no right to vote, and furthermore, are limited to being merely conference observers. Environmental NGOs are public action bodies formed from among ordinary citizens, but what do they hope to gain from the Kyoto Conference, and what kind of role are they themselves trying to play? We took a good look at environmental NGOs, which have been called another leading light of the Conference.

"The Kyoto Conference is an important conference that is dealing with the world environment, which will have a serious effect on people's lives and food supply in the 21st century. We are calling for a major reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2), which is causing damage to the world's environment, axide (CO2), which is causing damage to the Bill Hare, head of Greenpeace's Climate Change Policies Division does not mince his words. Greenpeace boasts approximately 2.9 million members in 32 countries around the world, and is powerful enough to motivate government environmental administration in Europe.

Besides Greenpeace, and besides international NGOs such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which is involved in wild animal conservation, a total of 170 Japanese organizations such as Climate Forum (Head Office: Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto) and the Japanese Wild Birds Society are also participating in the Kyoto Conference.

While, on the one hand, the economy has boomed since the war, citizen activities, which first sprouted both in the West and in Japan during the 1960s, when both pollution and destruction of the natural environment grew truly severe, proved to be the mother of modern-day environmental NGOs. Greenpeace also started out as a small anti-Vietnam War organization in the 1970s, and came to expand its activities to cover everything from the anti-nuclear movement to environmental conservation.

Isatoshi Onodera (34) of the environmental NGO "Friends of the Earth" says, "Environmental problems are mainly caused by government policies such as uncontrolled development, and if we just leave it to the government, no solution will be forthcoming. It is the environmental NGOs who can appeal directly to the hearts of the public." Organizations like Greenpeace and the WWF occasionally have greater political power, information, and analytical skills than the government.

Environmental NGOs do not have the right to vote in international conferences such as the Kyoto Conference. However, those environmental NGOs like Greenpeace, who have had the fruits of their labor acknowledged in the past, are permitted to speak at public conferences, and are in such a position as cannot be ignored by international governments.

As preparation for the Kyoto Conference, at the end of October, Yasuko Matsumoto of Greenpeace Japan gave a speech at a special conference in Bonn as an environmental NGO representative. She called for all nations to become seriously involved in preventing global warming.

However, running an environmental NGO is no easy task. Basically, its running is funded by the annual dues collected from its members but, in Japan's case, both lack of membership and lack of funds are common environmental NGO worries.

Climate Forum is involved with this Kyoto Conference by such means as inviting NGOs from developing countries to attend, but is in difficulties over its approximately 10.2 billion yen operating costs. They have had no choice but to rely on financial support from both foreign governments and the Kyoto Conference Financial Support Executive Committee, which is made up of leading lights of the Kansai financial world. Forum's volunteers planned to run a train directly from Tokyo to Kyoto in order to appeal for people to use environmentally friendly railways, but only about 50 people applied to ride the train. "Japanese understanding of NGO activities and NGO supporters are still few and far between," sighs their spokesperson.

Ahead of the peak during the latter half of the Kyoto Conference when approximately 50 government ministers will be gathered, Climate Forum plans to hold an event on the theme, "Decide at Kyoto! Mobilize the people!" at Kyoto's Heian Shrine on 7th December. The aim is to gather several tens of thousands of people, and to lead a parade through the city. Bureau head Mie Asaoka says, "Through our activities, people pay attention to the future of the Earth, and if we can mobilize them, we can also mobilize the government. We would like for everyone to consider what kind of planet they want to pass on to their children, and what kind of environment they will leave for posterity."