International Treaties

Sustainable Development

Environmental Law

Case Studies


Environmental Crime Legal Framework In Japan

Japan is a mixed civil and customary law nation without explicit environmental provisions in its constitution. However, the government has introduced new environmental regulations aimed at addressing domestic and international pollution and promoting greater conservation of resources. Japan also ensures that the environmental decision making process is more open to environmental citizens’ groups. In addition to national legislation, local governments in Japan have enacted ordinances. The Basic Environmental Law (BEL) is the principal piece of legislation governing environmental law which outlines general policies and guidelines.

Featured Legislation

1968: The Air Pollution Control Act (APCA) was passed. The legislation sets emissions standards for air pollutants from fixed sources (factories and business facilities) based on the type of pollutant and type and scale of the facility. It obligates dischargers to comply with these standards and stipulates regulations governing certain specific activities that cause emissions of hazardous substances.

1968: The Noise Regulation Law was created in 1968 and aimed to protect the nation’s health by regulating noise from factories and construction over considerable ranges, as well as deciding the allowable noise limit from cars.

1970: The Water Pollution Control Act was signed, creating a framework for the prevention of pollution of water in public water areas by regulating effluent discharged from factories or business establishments into public water areas. In addition, it promotes measures against domestic effluents and aims to protect the nation’s health and to conserve the human environment.

1976: The Vibration Regulation Law was introduced in 1976 and aimed to conserve the human environment and to protect the nation’s health by regulating vibration from factories and construction over considerable ranges, as well as taking measures for traffic vibration

1993:The Basic Environmental Law was instituted, providing details about basic national policy concerning the environment. It was revised from the Basic Law for Environmental Pollution Control and was added to the formation of the environmental conservation society and the global environmental protection without consideration of borders or generations as a basic policy. This Law comprises three chapters. Chapter 1 sets forth general provisions, including a statement of its goal to comprehensively and systematically promote policies for environmental conservation for present and future generations; a recognition of the delicate environmental balance of the eco-system and its finite carrying capacity; the need to reduce the environmental “load" of economic activities and to enhance scientific understanding in order to prevent interference with conservation. Three “basic principles" are spelled out in articles 3 through 5: the “enjoyment and future success of environmental blessings"; the “creation of a society ensuring sustainable development with reduced environmental load"; and “active promotion of global environmental conservation through international cooperation". The relative responsibilities of the state, local governments, corporations and individual citizens in relation to these “basic principals" and with respect to the reduction of environmental “loads" associated with their activities are articulated. Corporations must make efforts to use recyclable resources, and take steps to ensure proper disposal of wastes. Chapter 2 (arts. 14-40) deals with basic policies for environmental conservation. The Government is obligated to establish a Basic Environmental Plan outlining overall policies for conservation, which shall be subject to Cabinet approval and thereafter implemented without delay by the Prime Minister. The Government is also obligated to establish environmental quality standards for air, water, soil and noise.

1994: The Basic Environment Law (BEL) was approved,  outlining four long-term objectives of cycle, harmonious coexistence, participation, and international activities. It also indicated the direction for measures to be taken for the early 21st century, to be developed comprehensively and systematically.

2002: The Soil Contamination Countermeasures Act was enacted, facilitating the implementation of countermeasures against soil contamination by formulating measures to grasp the situation of soil contamination by Designated Hazardous Substances and measures to prevent harm to human health resulting from such contamination, and thereby to protect the health of the citizens.

2005: The Law concerning Special Measures for the Preservation of Lake Water Quality was adopted, establishing basic policy for conservation of lake water quality. The measures and policies were formulated to be implemented for lakes which need to secure the Environmental Quality Standards, and also take special measures to regulate facilities which discharge polluted water, effluent and the other sources of water pollution, in order to ensure the nation’s health and culture.

2018: Climate Change Adaptation Act was adopted. The purpose of this Act, divided into four Chapters, is to promote Climate Change Adaptation through establishing necessary measures such as formulating plans for Climate Change Adaptation and providing information on the Climate Change Impact and Climate Change Adaptation, thereby contributing to the health and cultural life of the Japanese people both at present and in the future in recognition of the impact that global warming (as stipulated in art. 2 of Act on Promotion of Global Warming Countermeasures (Act No. 117 of 1998)) and other climate change has on daily life, society, economics, and the natural environment, and the risk that this impact will increase over the long term. In promoting policies on Climate Change Adaptation, the national and local governments shall endeavor to cooperate with measures to prevent disasters, measures to encourage agriculture, forestry and fisheries, measures to conserve biodiversity, and other related measures.

Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

  • In 2020: Japanese media reported that the government  decided to release more than one million tonnes of treated radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. The decision was made despite opposition from local communities, fishermen and environmental advocates. Some NGOs are calling the decision  “an appalling environmental crime." Neighboring country South Korea laments Japan’s decision and has already begun facilitating radiation tests on its shores – a practice attributed to the country’s bans on imports of seafood from the Fukushima region. According to Tomohiko Taniguchi, a professor at Keio University, the only remaining radioactive material is tritium – a purportedly  harmless substance that can be found naturally in water. However, environmental activists in South Korea argue that there remains a lot of uncertainty about the effects of tritium, and the Japanese government’s decision is just another example of negative externalities disproportionately impacting local communities. The uncertainties about the effects of radioactive wastewater on human and environmental health warrant the application of the precautionary principle, instead of prematurely releasing this water into the ocean.

References and Further Reading


Japanese Ministry of the Environment: Mr. Kazuyuki Harada: KAZUYUKI_HARADA@env.go.jp