Ash Center: Making the World a Better Place by Giving the Japanese a Voice

September 21, 2011
Ash Center: Making the World a Better Place by Giving the Japanese a Voice
Kanoko Kamata, Ash Fellow ‘12, pictured testing new tree seedlings at nickel mine

Roy & Lila Ash Fellow Kanoko Kamata Studies
Public Deliberation at HKS

By Kate Hoagland 

From fertilizer plants in Turkmenistan to nickel smelting in the Philippines, Kanoko Kamata’s consulting work for Environmental Resources Management (ERM) has taken her across the globe to provide a full spectrum of environmental and social assessments for Japanese and multi-national automotive, chemical, and electronic companies. An incoming Harvard Kennedy School mid-career student and selected as one of the Ash Center’s two 2011-2012 Roy and Lila Ash Fellows in Democracy, Kamata hopes her background at ERM as well as her interest in public deliberation will inform her future goals to motivate Japanese citizens to become more active in the policymaking process, especially as it relates to environmental and social sustainability.

In the Philippines, Kamata performed a complete environmental and social assessment of a nickel mine transitioning into a smelting plant. As nickel mines typically cause deforestation and erosion, Kamata reviewed the company’s plans to revitalize the natural habitat while adhering to strict regulations such as water safety and the proper resettlement of the area’s native residents.

“I am proud of my achievements and was engaged by my work,” said Kamata, “but I have become increasingly disillusioned by Japan’s inadequate laws and my country’s opaque policy process.” She believes that the Japanese business community wields too much power, aiding in the creation of diluted ecological regulations and policies that lack the necessary strength to truly reduce the country’s waste and emissions. “Japan’s future is bleak if we continue down this path of weak environmental and social regulations and an unengaged citizenry,” said Kamata.

She attributes her country’s ineffective environmental regulations over the last ten years to a lack of public participation in the policymaking process. For example, unlike the European Union’s frequent public deliberations in the crafting of REACH—the 2007 European Community Regulation on chemicals and their safe use—the 2008 Chemical Law Revision of Japan was crafted with little public input. “Currently Japanese citizens are disengaged and disempowered—they don’t think their opinions matter in making our society better,” said Kamata, “and I want to change that.”

Intent on curbing such pervasive apathy towards government, Kamata has devoted her personal time to the creation of Earth Summit 2012 Japan, a multi-stakeholder event resulting from a series of deliberations with everyday citizens across Japan. Deliberations are held monthly for citizens to share recommendations for making their country more proactive in the areas of renewable energy, food supply, an aging society, carbon emission reduction, and consumer behavior. The resulting proposals will be presented at Earth Summit 2012 to potentially shape government environmental and social policy.

Kamata’s work with Earth Summit 2012 was her first formal experience with administering public deliberations, an experience she aspires to build upon during her year-long Mid-Career Master in Public Administration at the Kennedy School. She plans to study the American nonprofit sector, especially as it relates to public participation, and explore real-world examples of how change on a local level can influence forward-thinking national legislation.

“I was attracted to the Kennedy School’s mission of making our world a better place,” explained Kamata, “and I hope I can translate such classroom lessons into solutions that make a real difference in Japan.”