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Japan - Country Profile

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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

Japan, with a small land area of about 38 million hectares, has rich biota. The number of known species in Japan is estimated to be over 90,000, and to exceed 300,000 if unclassified species are included. The country also has a high rate of endemic species, including nearly 40% of land mammals and vascular plants, 60% of reptiles and 80% of amphibians. The surrounding seas also have a rich diversity of species, containing 50 of the world’s 127 marine mammals, 122 of the world’s 300 sea birds and 3,700 marine fish species. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of threatened species identified in the Japanese Red List increased from 3,155 to 3,597. Indeed, the Red List identifies, as endangered species, over 20% of mammals and vascular plants, over 10% of birds and about 30% of the reptiles, amphibians and freshwater fishes. About one-third of the waterweed species in Japan are designated as threatened, and many other threatened species live in the waterside environment.

According to a recently developed vegetation map, forests account for 67% of the total land area, including 17.9% of natural forests. Much of the natural vegetation (consisting of natural forests and natural grassland), which currently accounts for nearly 20% of Japan’s total land area, is distributed in the natural mountain area.

Satochi-satoyama areas have been formed as a result of human interactions over a long period of history, and are illustrative of people living in harmony with nature and being the beneficiaries of a variety of ecosystem services. These areas are vast, comprising parts in which artificial forests take precedence and other parts that contain rice paddy fields, as well as rural areas. In total, the satochi-satoyama areas account for about 40% of Japan’s total land area. In satochi-satoyama, secondary forests surrounding communities account for about 20% of the country’s total land area, and agricultural land, reservoirs and grasslands account for another 20%. According to research done by the Ministry of the Environment, more than half of the habitats of threatened species and other species that used to be found easily are distributed in the satochi-satoyama areas. On the other hand, the number and distribution of large and medium-sized mammals, including deer, monkeys and wild boar, in these areas, have increased.

In addition to its four main islands – Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu – Japan has over 6,800 large and small islands. These unique ecosystems possess distinctive biota and are highly vulnerable, being affected by the destruction of habitats and introduction of invasive species. For instance, in the Ryukyu Islands, 21 endemic species or subspecies of mammals have been identified, with 19 of them being included in the Red List published by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The main threats generated by human activities and development include illegal digging, overexploitation of resources for ornamental or commercial uses, destruction or deterioration of habitats due to land reclamation/development in coastal areas, and changes in land use. Recently, the negative effects associated with land use changes have begun to stabilize due to a decrease in reclamation of forested, agricultural and coastal areas for urban uses as compared to the level evidenced during the previous period of high economic growth. Coastal areas have been subject to severe environmental stresses such as land reclamation, water pollution, interruption or reduction of the water flow from rivers to estuaries and coastal waters, due to large concentrated populations and many industries. Marine ecosystems are disturbed by the introduction of alien species, wastes, harmful chemical substances and oil spills from ships and boats. In addition, coral bleaching, induced by climate change, is aggravating the negative impacts on marine biodiversity.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The National Biodiversity Strategy of Japan (2012-2020) was adopted by Cabinet in September 2012, following two major events: the adoption at COP-10 in Nagoya of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2011-2020), including the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and the Great East Japan Earthquake that occurred in March 2011 that made us think anew about the relationship between human beings and nature. The current Strategy provides a national roadmap for achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, as well as outlines direction for realizing a vision of “Living in Harmony with Nature”. It contains 13 national targets and 48 key action goals (accompanied by target years for implementation) whose achievement will be monitored by a set of 81 indicators developed for this purpose. The Strategy also contains around 700 specific measures which will serve as the national action plan for implementing the roadmap. With a view to reflecting the views of diverse stakeholders, several enabling activities were carried out (e.g. establishment of a committee of the ministries on the National Biodiversity Strategy of Japan; organization of townhall meetings nationwide; invitation for public comments; conduct of meetings for exchanging opinions with relevant academic societies and NGOs; consultation with the Central Environment Council). Notably, this is the fifth National Biodiversity Strategy that Japan has prepared in accordance with Article 6 of the Convention.

The Basic Act on Biodiversity was adopted in 2008 providing fundamental policies for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use. This Act requires governments at all levels to develop and implement biodiversity strategies, encourages biodiversity-friendly business activities and describes basic policies for environmental impact assessments. Japan has also taken action to conserve biodiversity, based on legal structures, through the adoption of the Natural Parks Law, Nature Conservation Law and the Law for the Conservation of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

Japan hosted COP-10 in Nagoya (Aichi Prefecture) in 2010. Notable progress has been made towards the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. The Japanese Government has established significant ecological networks, both at the national and regional levels, through the expansion of protected areas and the creation of green corridors linking protected forests. The country has established 5 wilderness conservation areas (totaling 5,631 ha), 10 nature conservation areas and 541 prefecture-level conservation areas (totaling 77,342 ha). In addition, 82 national-level wildlife protection areas and 3,759 prefecture-level wildlife protection areas (totaling 3,032,035 ha) have been created. Protected forests are national parks in which virgin natural forests or habitats for precious wildlife species are protected through management processes using natural succession. Natural parks cover 14.4% of the country’s total land area. Cultural landscapes have also been taken into consideration, with the designation of 154 Natural Scenic Beauties, 994 Natural Monuments and 30 Important Cultural Landscapes. Various ecosystems, including forests, grasslands, satochi-satoyama areas, rivers, lakes, wetlands, tidal flats and coral reefs, have become subject to the implementation of the plan for nature restoration projects (there are a total of 35 projects).

The Satoyama Initiative aims to preserve traditional agricultural ecosystems and promote sustainable and organic farming. Indeed, an action plan to enhance measures to revitalize abandoned agricultural land (totaling 396,000 ha in 2010) has been implemented through the collaborative efforts of all relevant organizations and citizens using a mix of both traditional knowledge and state-of-the-art biomass technologies. Efforts have also been made to strengthen marine and coastal biodiversity, through the development and conservation of underwater plant beds and tidelands.

In order to conduct scientific and systematic wildlife management, Japan has developed a Specified Wildlife Conservation and Management Plan, to address population control, habitat environment management and damage prevention in regard to several species. A total of 127 plans have been developed, including 40 for Japanese deer, 21 for Asiatic black bears, 20 for Japanese monkeys, 37 for wild boars, 7 for Japanese serows and 2 for great cormorants. The country also implemented ex situ conservation measures for 16 critically endangered species, involving a wide range of stakeholders. Also, the Japanese Association of Botanical Gardens set a goal to collect and conserve 75% of endangered plants in response to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. In addition, many local governments have developed their own biodiversity strategies and compiled local Red Lists. As a result of the review of the Red List conducted from 2008 to 2013, most of the species on the list rose to a higher rank, however, some species moved down on the list. To date, a Red Data Book and Red List have been produced by every prefectural government in the country and serve as the basic materials for biodiversity conservation, as well as for the creation of local biodiversity strategies.

Measures for the control of the use of living modified organisms have been implemented in accordance with the Cartagena Protocol. The Chemical Control Law has also been amended to minimize the impacts of chemicals on ecosystems. The Government pursues the preservation of gene resources through the Genebank Project, in addition to Programs for the Rehabilitation of Natural Habitats and Maintenance of Viable Populations.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

To support national implementation of biodiversity policy, Japan has developed a wide range of economic measures to promote the voluntary efforts of diverse parties in the field of biodiversity, including subsidies and grants-in-aid provided by the national government, tax incentives, fundraising via various foundations, goodwill fundraising or financial contributions by civic groups or businesses, and forest environment taxes to be collected by local governments. To promote research and technology development, competitive research funds, such as the Global Environment Conservation Research Fund and the Global Environmental Research Fund, are available. This has resulted in various research institutes conducting studies on a range of different topics.

In terms of policy and legislation, the implementation of a number of international conventions, such as CITES, Ramsar, International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation (OPCR), UNCCD and the World Heritage Convention, is a means for Japan to translate biodiversity protection into national targets. Japan also cooperates with other countries and actively contributes to biodiversity conservation through various challenges, such as the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Program, Group on Earth Observations (GEO), etc. In order to address the impacts of development projects and plans and programmes on the environment and biodiversity, Japan has developed and implemented guidelines for environmental impact assessment (EIA) and strategic environmental assessment (SEA).

The main legislative tools framing biodiversity protection at the national level include a series of laws and administrative regulations. For instance, a restriction on the import and control of invasive alien species, implemented in accordance with the Invasive Alien Species Act (2005), has resulted in the management of ballast water and controlled release of plants and animals in protected areas. The Basic Act on Biodiversity adopted in June 2008 requires all levels of government to develop biodiversity strategies and action plans. Japan’s official development assistance (ODA) policy was reviewed and revised to provide support to the efforts of developing countries in matters related to biodiversity conservation and sustainable use. Many Japanese NGOs at various levels have been promoting communication, education and public awareness (CEPA) in schools, as well as organizing conservation and restoration activities at various levels. Several community-based activities are being conducted. Japan’s Biodiversity Clearing-House Mechanism was operationalized in 2004.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

In recent years, Japan has completed a significant number of large-scale surveys on natural resources and biodiversity. The Government will continue to carry out the National Survey on the Natural Environment (conducted since 1973) to monitor current biodiversity conditions in land areas and the status of changes, while trying to improve the promptness of data provision. The “Monitoring Sites 1000” project, begun in 2003, promotes long-term ecosystem monitoring of Japan’s typical ecosystems (forests, Satoyama, inland water areas, coastal areas) through the participation of researchers, regional experts, NGOs and citizens. As of July 2011, 1,013 fixed monitoring sites have been established. The project also carries out the monitoring of the effects of global warming on ecosystems and examines appropriate measures to take, such as the development of ecosystem networks. In addition, a census of rivers and riparian areas has been undertaken to identify the status of the habitats of organisms living in rivers, as has a forest resources monitoring survey of around 15,700 forest sites.

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  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme