Keynote Speech: Lessons of the 20th Century and a Vision of the 21st Century

February 21, 2000

1. Introduction

I am deeply honored to have received your gracious invitation to attend the 25th anniversary meeting of the Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI) and to deliver this speech to you today.

It is profoundly significant that this grand event at which I am to express my thoughts on sustainable development in the 21st century is being convened here in India with participants in attendance from every corner of the globe.

Since ancient times Japan has learned a great deal from Indian culture, as epitomized by the enduring influence of Buddhism on our national life. Also, at the end of World War II, Indira, an Indian elephant presented to a zoo in Japan as a sign of our mutual friendship, gave hope to Japanese children traumatized by the ravages of war, and Indira is still remembered with fondness by many Japanese, together with the radiant smile of President Nehru. In October 1957, while an undergraduate at Keio University, I remember, as if it were yesterday, the moving words spoken by President Nehru on the balcony of our library to a throng of students filling the yard below. His speech at my alma mater that day was full of insight as he appealed to us to keep a harmonious balance between nationalism and humanism.

Later, while in public office, I had several occasions to visit India and thus have been afforded the opportunity to come in direct contact with the Indian culture and way of life. On each visit here I couldn't help but feel a sense of wonder at the richness, happiness, and the steady progress of humankind.

So in some way, I feel that I am destined to speak today on the lessons of the 20th century and my vision of the 21st century--lofty theme indeed that I wish to address based on my own personal experience.

(Basic perception)

First, I would like to share with you my basic perception concerning our relationship as an human being with the earth we live on. Honestly speaking, I have grave concerns about the direction in which modern civilization is moving.

I think that there are three reasons why such problems are now more serious than ever.

First, while modern civilization has progressed since the second half of the 20th century, the speed and scale of the destruction wreaked on our global environment has accelerated at an unprecedented rate.

Secondly, though such global-scale environmental destruction has become a grim reality, we have yet to establish a viable socio-economic system that would effectively control such environmental havoc.

Thirdly, if humankind fails to come up with a sustainable society that will preserve our global environment, there is no other place that we know of in the whole universe where humankind could continue to exist.

Therefore, the most basic and urgent task for political leaders in the 21st century is, I believe, to establish a means of sustainable development.

2. Lessons learned from the 20th century

(1) Two world wars and the destruction of the national land

Looking back on the 20th century, we see a century of war and peace in which we experienced two world conflicts. World War II, in particular, left behind the devastation of nature. I was eight years old when that war ended. An old Chinese poet once wrote of his homeland after a devastating civil war, "Though our nation be destroyed, hills and rivers endure; spring comes to the city, green again the trees and grassland." In 1945 in Japan, not only had our cities been rent asunder but also our mountains and rivers laid to waste. In wartime trees were wantonly cut down in large number for lumber, and no amount of replanting can ever replace that loss. Forests were further decimated in the restoration of Japan after World War II, which urgently called for Herculean efforts in flood control and afforestation.

Since then our global community has so far managed to escape another world war. However, it is to my regret that regional conflicts keep breaking out in many parts of the world, using up enormous amounts of natural resources and thus bringing about further devastation of nature. When I look back on the 20th century, I am struck by the critical importance of security in assuring sustainable development.

(2) Economic development and egregious environmental pollution

The 20th century was a century of growth. It was the first time in the history of humankind that we endeavored on our own to increase our ability and assets, and actually the existence of humankind on our planet has become quite significant.

Yet, this growth has both positive and negative aspects.

A typical example of the negative aspect is environmental destruction. This has such an adverse impact that it offsets the positive aspect of growth.

One egregious example in Japan was the pollution caused by organic mercury observed about fifty years ago, some eight years after World War II, in an area surrounding Minamata City--the notorious case of so-called Minamata disease. Fifty years ago was the time when Japan had just about completed its postwar restoration efforts on the eve of a period of high economic growth.

Organic mercury from the drainage discharged from a chemical plant in Minamata City accumulated in fish and shellfish and in the brain and cranial nerves of local fishermen and their family members who had consumed the contaminated marine life. Many of those people died a horrible death due to the effects of mercury poisoning, and even those who escaped death suffered from terrible aftereffects. Moreover, the organic mercury that accumulated in the bodies of pregnant women caused brain defects in many of their unborn babies, causing them to be born with cerebral palsy. This chemical poisoning, a terrible pollution rarely seen, affected a vast number of people with profound clinical symptoms. In fact, over 2,200 men, women and children were eventually designated as victims and another approximately 14,000 individuals showing symptoms of Minamata disease were designated as requiring medical care. It wasn't an easy task to determine the origin of this disease, and it was not until more than 15 years after the first 57 victims showed the initial symptoms of this disease that the Government of Japan finally acknowledged that the cause of the disease was the effluent from the chemical plant. The company suspected of precipitating the outbreak of Minamata disease was slow to take countermeasures, which resulted in an increase in the number of victims over a protracted period of at least another fifteen years or so. The discharge of that poisonous substance into the environment did not totally stop until 32 years ago. That was a long time ago, yet it was not until only four years ago that the question of compensation for those who fell victim to the dreadful disease was settled once and for all. This means that this particular issue remained an aggravating social problem in Japan for half a century.

I personally feel that this kind of pollution is morally unforgivable and, moreover, had extremely uneconomic consequences.

I was keenly interested in Japan's foreign aid policies when I served as Minister of Finance. Naturally, I was also very much attuned to measures for environmental protection involving development. So I ordered the personnel at the Environment Agency to analyze the cost efficiency of various cases of environmental pollution that had occurred during Japan's period of high economic growth.

The conclusion we came to regarding the Minamata case was that the company that caused the disease had sustained a loss of over one hundred times any profit it might have made if it had taken countermeasures against that environmental pollution. Today, the company is making compensation payments to the victims as well as repayment of the huge loan they took out for lump-sum restitution payments to the victims. These outlays amount to a loss of over six billion yen (approximately sixty million US dollars) annually, and there is no escape for this company from this debt obligation for another hundred years.

In the past, the Japanese people, the Government of Japan, and business interests all believed that only by economic growth could economic welfare be assured, and so all parties avoided anything that would seem to hinder high economic growth. As a result, the paradox of lowering economic activity by stressing its fundamental importance is now clearly observable throughout our country. The National Institute for Environmental Studies has used a macro-economic model to examine how measures to reduce sulfur oxide emitted from factories might affect economic growth. Japan's decisive countermeasures against sulfur oxide, though unable to prevent some asthmatics from falling ill, dramatically reduced the amount of SOX emission, which has been hailed around the world as a good example of an eco-friendly policy. Even so, the Institute's study concluded that an earlier strengthening of such measures would have been even better to achieve macro-economic growth.

Environmental pollution by sulfur oxide is still found in many parts of the world today. Such pollution is the cause of acid rain and is thus problematical from the viewpoint of global pollution. Measures against such environmental pollution as well as other forms of large-scale environmental pollution, though requiring enormous amounts of money, should never be regarded as uneconomical.

Let me frankly stress based on my experience as a Japanese that an economy that pays little attention to environmental protection will not be economical over the long term.

3. My vision of the 21st century

(1) The establishment of an eco-cycle society

One sure prescription for the various issues that humankind faces in the 21st century is to create a world order in which human activities are carried out in harmony with the natural ecosystem. A world order in which humans behave like parasites living off the earth's resources cannot last much longer. The resources of our earth are finite, so we must come up with a way to extend their utility over the long term.

Measures for constructing such a socioeconomic world have already begun in Japan. Let me now speak on the current status.

Japan's environmental protection policies of today hark back to the period of high economic growth that began some ten years after World War II. The Minamata case mentioned earlier and other so-called pollution-related illnesses, such as asthma, that come from water contamination and air pollution due to sulfur oxide, broke out all over Japan and became increasingly alarming with the rapid pace of economic growth. By 1965, a decade after the onset of economic growth, Japan's Basic Law for Environmental Pollution Control was enacted, under which countermeasures for the new phenomenon of environmental pollution were further strengthened. In 1971 as many as fourteen related laws were either enacted or amended, and, in 1972, the Environment Agency was established under the Prime Minister's Office to deal specifically with countermeasures for environmental pollution.

Thanks to this comprehensive legislation and the institutional machinery set up to administer it, the enormous amounts of industrial pollution in Japan were dramatically reduced. However, just at the time that this problem was being surmounted, totally new forms of pollution caused by small amounts of chemical substances and large amounts of waste, not to mention the mounting damage to the earth's environment as a whole, all became increasingly conspicuous. Appropriate countermeasures against environmental pollution as seen in the Basic Law for Environmental Pollution Control and the establishment of the Environment Agency were just beginning to emerge.

Japan's environmental policies, which in their early days were basically aimed at the prevention of pollution caused by the discharge from factories, began to undergo radical change after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

At this summit the attainment of sustainable development became a policy guideline for the world. This concept should not be narrowly interpreted, however, to mean that we merely give consideration to economic development that will not engender environmental pollution. Rather, it should be more broadly interpreted to mean that, with the recognition that the environment is the foundation for a sound economy, we should positively change the economy in such a way that we will be able to enjoy the benefits provided to us by the environment.

Immediately after the Earth Summit, the Government of Japan replaced the Basic Law for Environmental Pollution Control with the new Basic Environmental Law, enacted by the Diet in 1993. As Chairman of the Research Commission of Major Environmental Issues of the Liberal Democratic Party, Japan's ruling party, I was responsible for seeing this law through the legislative process.

Based on the recognition that quality of life among the Japanese people cannot be maintained unless the global environment is sound, the new law does not just attempt to control the environment so that it will not worsen to the point where it causes pollution but also to make it the country's policy to maintain the soundness of the environment so that it will continue to bring us its benefits.

Since then various policies aimed at industries and, of course, environmental administration are constantly updated to strengthen the intention of this Basic Environment Law.

To give one example, when I was serving as Prime Minister of Japan, for rationalization and simplification purposes, I decided on a policy for a large-scale administrative restructuring of the central ministries of the Government of Japan, taking the view that Japanese political institutions should be improved so as to better adapt to future challenges. We decided to reduce the number of the central government ministries--over 20 in all--to 12, either by abolishing or consolidating them. Of these ministries and agencies, we decided to turn the Environment Agency, which had initially been set up as a division of the Prime Minister's Office, supervised and controlled by the Prime Minister, into a separate ministry equal to the other 11 ministries. This new Environment Ministry, with increased responsibility and an expanded scope of activities, will be created in January next year.

A new kind of society in which nature and humankind can coexist is thus now emerging in Japan.

In the first part of my speech today, I stated that "an economy that pays little attention to environmental protection will not be economical over the long term." Now I would like to, once again and as forcefully as I can, reiterate that a real economy is one in which consideration is given to environmental concerns.

The means to realize such an economy are being steadily prepared.

Such a means for Japan would be excellent manufacturing technology in cars having good mileage but little negative impact on the environment. India's most precious weapon would be its information technology in which the country has maintained its superior advantage throughout the history of humankind since the Indians discovered the number "zero." India's recent progress in bioscience and biochemistry will exert a tremendously positive influence in the 21st century. If humankind is to live together in harmony with the earth, we cannot just sit and wait for the inevitable development of technology. We must continue to conquer various obstacles to spread environment-oriented technology.

We thus need an enlightened environmental policy. This is why your wisdom and courage are needed.

(2) Sustainable energy supply system for the 21st century

Ladies and gentlemen, one of the areas in which our wisdom, courage and incessant effort are required is energy. We have to realize an eco-social system that will curtail the demand for energy as quickly as possible and, on the energy supply side, make utmost efforts to introduce non-fossil energy by developing the technology for new energy. Even for fossil-based energy, it would be indispensable to change the energy supply system to one with a less negative impact on the environment with due consideration given to stable supply and economy.

Just as important a concern as the environment would be energy security. When considering energy-related issues, we have to keep in mind that they have always been affected, as in the two oil crises, by global and economic policy. We cannot totally deny the possibility of another sudden and large-scale suspension of energy supplies such as we so painfully experienced at the time of the first oil crisis.

If we look at the demand for energy, we readily see that it is rapidly increasing in Asia, and we have to accept the fact that the introduction and development of alternative energy sources, such as solar-power and wind-power, that would replace petroleum have not advanced as much as we expected despite the fact that the number of years in which we will be able to obtain a reliable supply of traditional energy sources is limited.

Thus, to maintain a stable mid- to long-term energy supply we must find new energy sources that will replace petroleum. In other words, when we look at the energy supply system for the 21st century, we must develop and utilize new, not-yet-even dreamed-of sources of energy, rather than develop innovative technology for more efficient use of existing energy sources. At the same time, we cannot forget that we have to continue to steadily make efforts to secure a stable supply of existing energy until a new dream source has been developed. We must not only make incessant efforts to come up with a new dream source of energy, but also take various measures such as the diversification and dispersion of supply sources of resources like petroleum, the promotion of the utilization of nuclear energy, as well as spurring the development and utilization of new sources of energy. In addition, if we all bear in mind the tenacity of the problem we are facing, we can better manage the risks inherent in energy security.

Now allow me to say a few words on the issue of atomic energy. As you are well aware, Japan is the only nation in the whole world to have suffered from a nuclear attack when atomic bombs were exploded in the sky over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This fact makes the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes an issue of immense significance to the Japanese people. With the usefulness of atomic energy as an energy source and concern for earth's environmental issues in mind, we have been making our utmost efforts for the peaceful use of atomic energy with consideration given to security. Although not without a few setbacks, we have been doing our best in this regard. However, there was an incident, not too serious, and not inside a nuclear power plant, which greatly shook the confidence of the Japanese people in our nuclear policy. Today, as the role of atomic energy is ever growing, we are desirous of obtaining the good understanding of the Japanese people on the premises of national security if more use of atomic energy is to be countenanced. This is not an easy task. I regret to say that we have yet to find a complete answer to this challenging issue.

As clearly seen in the case of atomic energy development, a sustainable energy supply-and-demand system for the 21st century cannot be hastily realized. Facing squarely its difficulty and not making light of the danger involved in the utilization of nuclear energy, the only way for us to resolve this issue is to gather our wisdom and accumulate our efforts steadily in a deliberate and positive manner.

(3) The interests of the earth must be secured by all-out participation of its inhabitants

The most important challenge for a politician has always been to find ways to maximize the interests of his/her own country. Of course, it still remains an all-important task for politicians. However, when we think of the issues involving environment and energy, we have already moved into an age in which the primary political issues have to be the securing of the interest of the earth.

When I was serving as Prime Minister of Japan in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol based on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climatic Change was adopted. However, the negotiations for its effectuation that have ensued since that time, unfortunately have not been progressing smoothly.

If global warming continues as it has been, its impact will extend to the whole earth, encompassing both advanced countries and developing countries. For example, according to estimates by Japan's National Institute for Environmental Studies, the production of wheat and corn in countries such as China and India will dramatically drop unless effective countermeasures are taken. In India, in particular, with a little less than ten percent of the world's wheat production, the production of winter wheat is expected to drop by 55% due to the impact of global warming. Moreover, the world's climate is feared to become unstable, which will possibly lead to natural disasters such as large-scale droughts, floods, and cyclones.

Of course, I am not saying that no place will benefit from global warming in terms of food production. However, when we think of its possible effects, such as the rising sea level, as a whole, the damage to our global environment is unfathomable. As globalization progresses and the world's economies and societies become more and more interconnected, we must remember that the reduction or instability of food production was the major cause for the decline of past civilizations. Thus the problem of global warming must be seen as a problem facing all the countries on this earth.

In this sense, the problem of global warming is a touchstone for judging whether we will be able to protect the interests of the earth with the participation of the whole world.

I say the participation of the whole world because cooperation cannot be attained if it is advantageous only to some parties while it is perceived as disadvantageous to others. From now on, it is important for both developing countries and advanced countries to make an effort to help one another, aware that switching tracks from one-sided economic development to sustainable development will be the foundation for mid-to long-term economic development.

This coming November the Sixth Conference of the Parties for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climatic Change will be held in The Hague, the Netherlands, aiming for the effectuation of the Kyoto Protocol. The Government of Japan is determined to make efforts for its success from the viewpoint of securing the interests of the earth with the participation of the whole world.

This concludes what I have to say in my keynote speech. I would be deeply gratified if you find something of use in what I have said today for your deliberations. I would also like to express my sincere appreciation to everyone at the Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI).

You have all been so kind and helpful to me. In conclusion, allow me to wish each and everyone here much health and happiness. May your conference be a resounding success. Thank you.

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