March 31, 2005


Tokyo's Role in Addressing Air Pollution in Japan

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.31 (March 2005)

In December 2000, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government completely amended its Pollution Control Ordinance for the first time in 30 years and passed the Municipal Environment Protection Ordinance of Tokyo, officially known as the Environment Ordinance to Ensure Tokyo Citizens' Health and Safety. The original ordinance had for years played a significant role in protecting citizens' health from industrial pollution and in helping to improve the urban environment.

But new regulations and approaches became necessary to respond to the emergence of other environmental concerns, such as car pollution and hazardous chemical emissions, the heat island effect, and global warming. The new ordinance aims to secure an environment in which citizens can continue to lead healthy, safe and comfortable lives.

For years, the Tokyo metropolitan government has been promoting innovative environmental measures that are often ahead of efforts by the national government. This article looks back on the history of air pollution in Japan and introduces how the country's capital city has been dealing with pollution.

Municipal Environment Protection Ordinance of Tokyo (Japanese only)

- Tokyo's History with Air Pollution The history of institutional steps by the government to address environmental issues this century begins with anti-pollution measures. Post-war Japan experienced a rapid economic recovery, and entered an age of high economic growth. This growth, however, was promoted by heavy industry and chemical industries, which resulted serious air pollution throughout Japan, mainly soot, dust and sulfur oxides (SOx). The national government was slow to institute pollution controls.

In contrast, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government had established the Tokyo Prefectural Ordinance for Factory Pollution Control in 1949, the first ordinance of its kind in the nation, and in 1955 it established the Tokyo Prefectural Ordinance for Soot and Smoke Control. In many such cases Tokyo took institutional steps to address pollution even before the national and local governments.

In 1969, the capital city established the Tokyo Pollution Control Ordinance, which included environmental standards as well as a system for factories to report their activities that may cause air pollution. At the time, this was recognized as the most advanced and comprehensive environmental ordinance in Japan. Several other municipalities later established similar ordinances, and these developments prompted the central government to establish national environmental laws.

In 1968, the national government enforced the Air Pollution Control Law to regulate industrial smoke emissions and set the maximum permitted level of vehicle exhaust gases. Emission standards for SOx and soot and dust were included in the law. In 1970, during what became known as the "Environmental Pollution Diet Session" the government amended the law, making harmful substances such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), cadmium, chlorine, fluorine and lead also subject to regulation. In 1974 the law was further amended to allow prefectural governors to set stricter standards for area-wide total air pollutant loads for SOx.

Outline of the Air Pollution Control Law by the Ministry of the Environment:

- Automobile Exhaust Gas Regulations As industrial pollutants such as soot and smoke from factories were dramatically reduced, over the years urban air pollution from the daily activities of citizens became noticeable in Tokyo. Increases in vehicle traffic and the number of diesel cars on the road prevented any improvements in air pollution from automobile exhaust fumes.

For years, there were no adequate measures in place to prevent car-exhaust pollution. Achievement of the environmental standards remained dismal, especially in terms of emissions of NOx and particulate matter (PM) from diesel cars. Environmental quality standards for air, water and soil pollution as well as noise were defined as "the desirable levels that will maintain protection of human health and our living environment."

In 1992, the government enforced the Automobile NOx Reduction Law (officially known as the Law concerning Special Measures for Total Emission Reduction of NOx from Automobiles in Specified Areas) to achieve environmental standards for NOx. This law designated some large cities where vehicles with high NOx emissions would be regulated.

- Diesel Vehicle Regulation The Tokyo government introduced the Diesel Vehicle Regulation in 1999, concerning the health effects of the PM contained in gas emissions from diesel vehicles. A landmark court decision in the Amagasaki pollution lawsuit in January 2000 found that the PM from diesel vehicles was correlated with health problems, especially cancers and respiratory disorders.

Tokyo enacted its own environmental ordinance in December 2000 to regulate emissions from diesel vehicles. Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures later introduced similar laws. In 2001, the Japanese government revised the Automobile NOx Control Law, finally making PM subject to regulation along with NOx. (The law was renamed the Automobile NOx PM Law.) Despite this, the government has postponed the enforcement of this law. Tokyo has been criticizing the central government's approach and calling for early enforcement of the law.

Starting on October 1, 2003, Saitama, Chiba, Tokyo and Kanagawa prefectures have prohibited traffic of diesel vehicles whose emission levels do not meet the PM standards specified in their ordinances (islands under Tokyo's jurisdiction are excepted). Non-conforming vehicles must be replaced with vehicles that meet the standards or with low-emission vehicles, or be fitted with proper PM filter equipment that has been certified by the prefectural governments.

In order to promote their ordinances, the four prefectures and their major cities (i.e., Saitama, Chiba, Tokyo and Kanagawa prefectures, and Saitama, Chiba, Yokohama, and Kawasaki cities) have specified several kinds of equipment that reduce PM.

These prefectures and cities have also designated compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vehicles, electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles as low-emission vehicles and promoted the use of these cars.

Environmental Bureau of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Information on the regulation of diesel vehicles

- Asian Network of Major Cities 21 (ANMC21) In many rapidly industrializing countries in Asia, air pollutant emissions have been on the rise. The Asian Network of Major Cities (ANMC21), established in 2001, has jointly launched the "Asian Cities' Network for Controlling Vehicle Emissions," to reduce air pollution, now a serious problem facing Asian metropolises.

Representatives from Delhi, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei and Tokyo participated in a working-level meeting on automobile emissions, held in Delhi, India on November 8 and 9, 2004.

For years, Tokyo has been positively addressing environmental concerns such as industrial pollution, vehicle-related pollution and global warming. The measures taken by Tokyo, one of the world's largest cities, to secure the health and safety of its citizens could become a useful model for other Asian countries. Tokyo's efforts to become a sustainable metropolis with environmentally conscious social and economic system systems are giving it a leading role not only in Japan but also internationally.

Asian Network of Major Cities 21 (ANMC21)

(Staff Writer Ichie Tsunoda)