Largest forest reserve in Japan announced

A forest reserve area of about 240,000 hectares will be established in national forests extending from the Daisetsu to Hidaka mountain ranges in Hokkaido next month, it has been learned.

The planned conservation area will be the largest of its kind in the nation. It will increase by 2.5 times the current area of such reserves, to an area greater than that of Tokyo, which is about 220,000 hectares.

The Forestry Agency will designate the zones as forest biodiversity protection areas to protect old-growth forests with abundant biodiversity.

Read the rest of the story: Largest forest reserve to be set / 240,000-hectare Hokkaido swath tabbed for biodiversity protection.

Japan’s obssesion with tuna – Does it mean loving it to extinction?

Japan is known as the biggest consumer of tuna. Be it raw for sushi or sashimi or fried, broiled or canned, tuna is an important element of the food culture.

But concerns are growing because tuna is disappearing, and this is putting Japan in a difficult diplomatic position.

How much tuna does Japan consume annually, and how does the rest of the world feel? Following are basic questions and answers:

How many types of tuna are there?

Read the rest of the story: Does Japan’s affair with tuna mean loving it to extinction?.

Tokyo’s first electric-powered taxis hit the streets

Tokyo’s first electric-powered taxis hit the streets on Thursday Two ‘Zero-taku’ (Zero-taxis), so called because the electric cars produce no carbon emissions, began picking up fares at JR Tokyo Station’s Marunouchi South exit after an inauguration ceremony. ‘If fully charged, we can drive to Yokohama, operator Hinomaru Limousine Co. boasted. The company’s Mitsubishi Motors Corp. i-MiEV electric cars can travel 160 kilometers on a fully charged battery. Fares start at 710 yen ($7.80) for the first 2 kilometers, similar to most taxis.

Read the rest of the story: Emission-free taxi debuts in Tokyo

World observes Earth Hour in the dark

On Earth Hour hundreds of millions of people around the world will come together to call for action on climate change by doing something quite simple—turning off their lights for one hour. The movement symbolizes that by working together, each of us can make a positive impact in this fight, protecting our future and that of future generations.

In Tokyo the usually brightly lit and iconic landmark that is Tokyo Tower was thrown into darkness at 8:30 p.m. Saturday to join this year’s Earth Hour global environmental campaign.

The move came along with some 125 countries and regions where people shut off their lights for one hour to highlight a commitment to tackling climate change.

Besides Tokyo Tower, the southwestern Japanese port city of Hiroshima was an active participant, where the Hiroshima Peace Memorial went dark at the same time according to local media.

Learn more about how Earth Hour began.

Nano-Optonics Energy to Mass Produce Electric Cars in Japan

Nano-Optonics Energy Inc., a closely held energy technology firm, plans to start producing electric vehicles next year, becoming the first non-automotive company in Japan to make the vehicles.

A factory site owned by Japan Tobacco Inc. in Yonago, Tottori Prefecture, will be purchased as early as next March, Masayuki Naruoka, a spokesman for the Kyoto-based company, said today by telephone. The plan was announced yesterday by Shinji Hirai, governor of the western prefecture.

Nano-Optonics, set up in 2005 by researchers from Kyoto University, would be the first company to produce electric vehicles in Japan other than carmakers such as Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.

“We hope to produce around 1,000 vehicles in the first year and increase the number up to 100,000 in the future,” Naruoka said. “Our first model should be a high-end product to show that electric cars are an option.”

Read the rest of the story: Japan’s Nano-Optonics to Mass Produce Electric Cars

Disney High-Speed Train and JR Central’s bid for the bucks

Walt Disney World in Florida may be the next stop for bullet-train makers in Japan and China.

Central Japan Railway Co. and China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Corp. are competing for the $8 billion President Barack Obama granted for 13 high-speed corridors across the U.S., including a Tampa-Orlando line that may include a station at the Walt Disney Co. resort in Orlando. The Japanese company, also known as JR Central, is eyeing North America as a shrinking population at home limits its growth.

France’s Alstom SA, Germany’s Siemens AG and Canada’s Bombardier Inc. also want to sell trains, tracks and operating equipment under an initiative that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHoodcalled “an absolute game-changer for American transportation.” The high-speed corridors include New York- Buffalo, New York; Los Angeles-San Francisco; and Chicago- Detroit.

“High-speed rail is going to be a big industry in the U.S.,” said Masayuki Kubota, who oversees the equivalent of $1.8 billion in assets at Daiwa SB Investments Ltd. in Tokyo. “A lot of companies are going to try and get a piece of the action.”

‘Top of Our List’

Read the rest of the story: Disney High-Speed Support May Boost Japan, China Trainmakers
See related: Let’s get Obama to Pledge Really Green Public Works

Photo by Awesome Joolie

Japan opposes bluefin tuna ban

Japan opposes plans to list the Atlantic bluefin tuna, which is highly prized in sushi and sashimi, as a most-endangered species and to ban its international trade, an official said on Monday.

The UN-backed wildlife trade agency supports a call to stop cross-border trade in the fish when 175 member nations to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meet next month in Doha, Qatar.

Marine wildlife experts say that, despite fishing quotas, bluefin tuna stocks have plunged by 80 percent in recent decades in the Western Atlantic and Mediterranean, threatening the predator species with extinction.

Japan will not join in any agreement to ban international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna under the United Nations treaty on endangered species, the country’s top fisheries negotiator said.

The negotiator, Masanori Miyahara, said in a telephone interview this week that Japan “would have no choice but to take a reservation” — in effect, to ignore the ban and leave its market open to continued imports — if the bluefin tuna were granted most-endangered species status.

“It’s a pity,” he said, “but it’s a matter of principle.”

Read the rest of the story: NYTIMES and AFP

Panasonic Eco Technology Center

Seeking to turn an environmental problem into an economic opportunity, high-tech companies in resource-poor Japan are mining mountains of toxic e-waste for precious materials.

One model project, the sprawling Panasonic Eco Technology Center, sits in lush rice fields an hour’s drive outside of Osaka city.

Inside, workers and humming machines disassemble flat-panel televisions, refrigerators and air conditioners, sorting their metal and plastic components into boxes for recycling.

tv-recycling

About 90 percent of dismantled parts are reused in one way or another, says Yutaka Maehara, a manager at the plant.

Among the most precious parts are metals such as copper that are becoming more expensive on the world market, while the plant also isolates toxic components such as heavy metals and dangerous gases.

The plant aims to leave a minimal environmental footprint and to be a good neighbour in its quaint rural setting.

“In the beginning residents here had some concerns,” said Panasonic spokeswoman Kyoko Ishii. “But as you see, we’ve been operating the plant without polluting the water and the rice is growing without problems.”

Japan has come a long way since the 1950s, 60s and 70s when it emerged at breakneck speed as Asia’s economic engine room, boosting living standards but often at a devastating environmental cost.

The skies over Tokyo, Yokohama and other industrial centres then were often choked with pollution, in the way those over parts of China are today, while waterways darkened with industrial effluent.

Since then Japan has tightened many emission standards and other safeguards and launched in 2001 a recycling system that separates paper, glass and aluminium cans from household rubbish that can be incinerated.

Today people who want to dispose of electronic appliances have to pay an average of 28 dollars for a washing machine, 32 dollars for a TV set and 54 dollars for a fridge, according to the industry ministry.

The volume of garbage dumped in landfills every year has shrunk to roughly one third of 1990 levels.

Used mobile phone handsets and digital cameras are now often called ‘city mines’ for the precious metals they contain, such as gold, silver and copper.

The government recently launched a campaign to encourage cellphone users to return their old handsets to mobile phone companies for recycling.

One pioneer in Japan has been camera maker Canon, which started recycling toner cartridges from its printers about 20 years ago and now reuses 90 percent of the components of its photocopiers.

“Our system is closed loop recycling, which means used parts from our products are used again in our products,” said Tomonori Iwashita, the executive officer in charge of Canon’s environmental policy.

“Because we are a corporate entity, we don’t make recycling efforts unless it is useful for our business. If you can recycle cheaply and reduce the burden on the environment then that’s good for your business too.”

But despite manufacturers’ efforts to go green, some disposal companies still dump dangerous materials, said Tetsuya Sekiguchi, an activist who has joined several residents’ lawsuits against waste landfills.

“I’ve been working on the problems of garbage pollution for decades, but the situation of illegal dumping has not improved a bit as there are few conscientious recycling companies,” he said.

Another challenge is “the impact of economic globalisation on the recycling industry,” said Yuichi Moriguchi, head of the waste and recycling research centre at the National Institute for Environmental Studies.

“Asian countries, led by China, are absorbing Japanese waste materials and thereby causing a shortage of materials for the Japanese recycling industry” which has the most sophisticated technologies, Moriguchi said.

Because of very basic and dangerous extraction methods — for example by burning the plastic off metal parts in the open — waste from Japan often causes health and environmental problems in other Asian countries, he said.

“We need to build an international system of recycling” so that Japan’s technologies can be fully utilised, Moriguchi said.

In the long term, he said, “it’s important to seek materials made from sustainable resources, such as plants, with less energy and less pollution … because relying on limited resources such as petroleum will bring trouble in the future”.

Canon and synthetic fibre maker Toray Industries Inc. have jointly developed a high quality plastic made from corn, which has been used in keyboards and components of its office machines.

“Even though it is made from corn, its fire resistance is about the same as that of conventional plastic,” Iwashita said.

To expand research into sustainable materials, he said, Canon needs other companies, including major materials manufacturers, to come on board.

“We can’t do it alone,” he said. “We have to work as a wider group.”

Source: AP

Japan Puts It’s Money Where it’s Mouth Is on Climate Change

Japan said Wednesday it would offer 1.75 trillion yen (19.5 billion dollars) to developing nations under a climate deal, offering a major boost to the summit in Copenhagen.

The figure amounts to more than half of the money as part of a plan to assist developing nations, a key sticking point at the 194-nation conference in the Danish capital.

“Japan as a country takes very seriously its responsibility in the international community,” Environment Minister Sakihito Ozawa told reporters.

“Japan has decided today that we will provide financial assistance to developing nations of approximately 1.75 trillion yen including public and private finances,” he said.

Ozawa said that Japan was making the pledge “all on the premise that a fair and effective international framework should be built and that this framework should involve all major countries.”

He said that 1.3 trillion yen would come in public funds, with the rest consisting of private money in the world’s second largest economy.

Ozawa gave the dollar figure of 15 billion for the pledge, although it comes to 19.5 billion with the current strength of the Japanese currency against the greenback.

It marks the biggest contribution yet to the so-called fast-track fund aimed at helping developing nations cope with climate change through 2012.

It tops the pledge by European leaders to provide 7.2 billion euros (10.6 billion dollars). The United States has said it is ready to pay a “fair share” but President Barack Obama has not yet announced any figure.

Ozawa said the funding would include mitigation efforts and the development of low-carbon technology, along with adaption by small island states.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s left-leaning government has ramped up pledges by Japan to battle global warming and to find a successor to the landmark Kyoto Protocol negotiated in the Asian power’s ancient capital.

Japan earlier said it would also take part in a six-nation, 3.5 billion-dollar fund to address deforestation, a major source of climate change.

Photo by Greenpeace Finland

Toyota unveils 600 Prius Plug-in Hybrids for lease to governments and corporations

Toyota Motor Corp. unveiled on Monday the plug-in version of the latest Prius gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle with extended range when it runs on electricity.

Toyota plans to lease out 600 of the plug-in hybrids to governments and corporations in Japan, the United States and Europe and gain feedback.

It says it will start selling the plug-in hybrid at home and abroad in two years.

The five-seater has a gasoline-powered internal combustion engine and an electric motor. Increased capacity of the lithium-ion batteries gives it a longer electric-motor-only cruising range. Its plug also allows users to charge the batteries using household electricity.

“A plug-in hybrid vehicle eases concerns about electric vehicles because it includes the hybrid system,” said Takeshi Uchiyamada, executive vice president at Toyota.

The Prius Plug-in Hybrid has a cruising range using only electricity of 23.5 km under Japanese standards. Its fuel-efficiency in hybrid mode is 57 km per liter, the carmaker said.

By using a 100-volt socket, it takes three hours to fully charge the battery. With a 200-volt socket, it takes 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Toyota will lease 230 of the vehicles domestically to local governments, ministries and companies, including electric power utilities.