Ms. Kataoka gained her LLM from the Graduate School of International Cooperation Studies of Kobe University, Japan. Prior to joining IGES in 2001, she worked at the Global Environment Centre Foundation (GEC) (1992-2001), and was involved in international cooperation projects on environmental issues in Asia such as technical training of local governments and case studies of water treatment. She has focused her research activities on lawmaking and development processes in international environmental law, and on water resources management.
--- Why did you become a researcher involved in issues concerning the environment and sustainable development?
In my case, I did not start out being particularly interested in environmental issues. My first place of employment was the Global Environment Centre Foundation (GEC), which is involved in international cooperation on environmental issues faced by local governments. In that position I learned about Japan's experiences of environmental problems so far and engaged in training aimed at developing countries. In this way my interest in development and environment-related issues grew. Every year the GEC would accept 20 to 30 trainees from overseas and it was fascinating for me to come to see their differences in perception of environmental problems and their ways of dealing with such problems, depending on the situation in their own country including social and economic aspects, and their own responsibility.
I studied the issue of climate change for my master's course, specialising in the legislative process with a focus on the organisational aspects of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This interest led me to a desire to engage in international environmental issues from a wider perspective, not just limited to climate change. It was based on this desire that in 2001 I joined the Long-term Perspective and Policy Integration Project (LTP) at IGES.
I aim to come into contact with a variety of concepts and international trends on the theme of sustainable development
In 2004 I was involved in launching the Freshwater Resources Management Project and since then I have engaged in research relating to groundwater for that project. In addition, I have been involved in the Asia-Pacific Forum for Environment and Development (APFED), a cross-sectoral research project.
APFED's membership, comprising intellectuals and experts from the Asia-Pacific region, discusses not only environmental issues, but also a wide range of other issues and from a variety of aspects, based on the international agenda. Through my involvement in APFED I have been able to polish my own "macro" perceptions and sensibilities. Of course, while research devoted to one specific field is of incredible importance and necessity, at the same time, I aim to come into contact with a variety of concepts and international trends on the theme of sustainable development. For that reason, as a researcher, I truly feel the advantages of being involved in APFED, in addition to my specialisation in water issues.
In March 2006 a policy brief was issued by the IGES Freshwater Resources Management Project that raised the issue of groundwater. The brief was based on case studies in several Asian cities, and made a proposal for the introduction of economic instruments towards the rationalisation of industrial sector water use, including tax reductions to introduce water-saving practices, and taxation on wastewater treatment.
--- What is your current conceptual framework for tackling water-related issues?
Water-related issues can be viewed from a variety of different perspectives and if we look at the issue too generally, then we lose sight of the specifics. For example, if we only concentrate on industrial sector water use, the overall view of water intake balance becomes distorted, but if we focus too much on water intake balance, then we stop being able to consider individual problems. We must look at the issue as a whole, but at the same time, we need knowledge of individual problems and issues. It is this conundrum that makes research into water-related issues so interesting.
The issue of groundwater is one that is gaining particular attention at the moment. International attention highlights trends in surface water, including rivers, etc., but in actual fact it is groundwater that is still the source of a great deal of water use. As groundwater has stable water qualities and temperature, and the costs of drawing it are low, it is one of the most easily exploited water resources. When examining the issue of securing water resources in an area where overexploitation of groundwater has resulted in ground subsidence or other problems, it is a challenging but worthwhile exercise to look into methods of optimising use of such resource of groundwater, as well as to distribute it in a manner that satisfies society's needs.
By clarifying "best practices," we are working in the hope that our research can be useful for countries that are currently compiling measures to deal with the same problems, or countries that will have to deal with such problems in the future
Bangkok and Tianjin, which are included as case studies in our current research, have both followed a growth process and groundwater usage pattern that has been similar to the experiences of Tokyo and Osaka in Japan. As populations increase and industries and the economy develop, groundwater usage volume increases, causing problems such as ground subsidence. In response to such problems efforts are then made to reduce groundwater usage. In the case of Japanese cities and also in Tianjin, supply from other water resources was secured and by strictly regulating water use, it was possible to alleviate the problems caused by drawing up excessive volumes of groundwater. However, in the case of Bangkok, although water demand increased rapidly, infrastructure development failed to keep pace, and efforts to find water supplies from alternative sources failed to make the progress that had been expected, resulting in regulations on the use of groundwater failing to have much effect. However, over the course of recent years water supplied from water mains has become more widespread, in addition to which the water usage rates for groundwater have been gradually increased, making it possible for Bangkok also to reduce its groundwater usage volume. Thus, but these cases illustrate the considerable differences in the specific situations faced in various societies that result in differences in the effect of policies.
By clarifying a precedent by comparing the case studies in various countries and analysing what particular measures are effective in what kind of situations or what kind of boundaries exist, we are working in the hope that our research could be useful for countries that are currently compiling measures to deal with the same problems, or countries that will have to deal with such problems in the future.
APFED Showcase Programme
The "APFED Showcase Programme" was launched in this fiscal year that supports Showcase Projects. The programme provides a maximum of US$30,000 to support projects based on innovative ideas that aim to realise sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific region. Case studies derived from the programme are planned to be made public through the APFED database.
The deadline for applications has now concluded and we collected a total of 106 proposals. As we looked through the various proposals that were submitted I was struck once again by the broad-ranging awareness of environmental issues that exists in the Asian region and the various efforts that are being made to tackle such issues. From the proposals a total of 13 have been selected as Showcase Projects for this year and will now be implemented. I hope that this programme will prove to be broadly useful in that the projects themselves will not merely be implemented, but that the knowledge and experienced gained from their implementation can be put to good use. The programme will also be implemented in the next fiscal year.
---- In the course of your research have you felt any commonalities on water-related issues within the Asian region?
Water-related issues are said to be a serious problem in Asia as a whole, but the actual issues and problems differ from place to place. For example, in South Asia there are areas that suffer from a lack of water storage coupled with low rainfall, whereas in Southeast Asia the problem is how to respond to seasonal changes, where during the rainy season there is a great deal of rain, but at other times of the year there is not enough. At the same time, China may only be one country, but its tremendous size means that it is facing a number of completely different water-related problems, depending on the area in terms of accessibility of rivers and volume of rainfall. Another point is that water usage changes considerably depending on the status of water usage rights. So you can see, it is not possible to speak of water issues in Asia in general terms, and the form of any research will change depending on its particular focus.
Looking at Asia as a whole, the current major issue is what to do about issues in arid areas. For example, in some agricultural areas that are becoming increasingly arid in countries such as India and China, overuse of groundwater has exhausted resources and this is causing salt damage. However, in policy terms another significant challenge is to respond to the problems facing monsoonal Asia such as a lack of water despite water being present.
...very often it is impossible to try to apply modern, organised methods of water usage in areas where traditional forms of water usage remain
There are some agriculture-based countries that have a culture founded on a rich supply of water, particularly countries in the monsoonal region of Southeast Asia, and on the similarities in seasonal patterns, I feel some commonality with these countries, not in this case as a researcher, but as a Japanese person. The forms of water usage that have been developed in such an environment are essentially the same. The issue of water usage rights has a number of unique aspects, however, and very often it is difficult to try to apply modern, organised methods of water usage in areas where traditional usage remain. What I feel is important in the Asian region is that tradition and modern organised should be shared and one should learn from the other, making gradual improvements as we move forward.
--- What have you found to be enjoyable during the course of your research?
Research Meeting on the Sustainable Management Water Policy (Nov.2006 Viet Nam)
One of the great personal appeals of research is that it enables me to engage in dialogue not merely with other researchers, but with a variety of other concerned people, including industry figures and administrative officials. It is through such dialogue that we find new solutions and policies.
In the case of water-related research in particular, I have learned that it is of the greatest importance to first get to know your own area - in my case this is learning thoroughly about Japan's experiences to date. Of course, Japan's experiences alone will probably not be useful for other countries, but such experiences and knowledge are an important base from which to offer opinions to other regions.
In each country it is only natural that social systems, culture, geographical conditions and climate are different. In the midst of this diversity, what is truly of great interest is the process of finding out what differences there are in our water-related measures and seeking out the common points that we share.
One example I could give is the difference in perceptions of scale between China and Japan. In Japan a large-scale water usage plan would be one that extends across more than one prefecture, but in China this sort of scale is not perceived to be of any consequential size. There are also differences in conception. Through exchanging opinions it is possible to find a breakthrough to these conceptual differences.
...localised activities can lead to universal proposals
It is said that case studies are not particularly useful, but I feel that rather than merely presenting examples and skimming the surface of their content and lessons, case studies play an important role in facilitating discussion. The goal is not to come up with an appropriate solution for a particular region, on the contrary, the value of case studies lies their ability to make solutions to problems more generally known through the research process.
In that sense, I feel that localised activities can lead to universal proposals. This is because while in certain ways it is relatively simple to compile localised solutions, once we make the crossover from tackling single-issue problems to considering a universalised proposal to cover all levels, then it becomes more difficult.
Experiencing the process of something polluted becoming clean again through various efforts as a starting point for research...
I spent my childhood living in the Osaka region which was once famous for its pollution, and as I look back, I now believe that my experience of this pollution had more of an impact on me than I once thought. I experienced pollution that had an impact on daily activities such as photochemical smog and the bad smell from polluted rivers. However as I grew up I experienced a process in which air quality improved gradually and once-polluted rivers were becoming clean again as a result of anti-pollution measures. In addition, once I started work I witnessed the improvements that have gradually been made to the environment and the environmental consciousness that has been raised among citizens in Southeast Asia, which has also suffered from the effects of pollution. I feel that these experiences have nurtured inside me a positive attitude of "if you do it, it will happen," and that this has become the driving force for my research.
Today's children in Japan are unaware of the era in which our country suffered from the effects of pollution. It is also a little regrettable, therefore, that they have not seen the process of something that was once dirty become clean again.
It is certainly the case that the global environment as a whole is deteriorating, and some voices are suggesting that whatever we do in terms of environmental measures, it is already too late. However, at the same time, efforts for the environment and innovative measures are bringing about change. I believe it is therefore important for us to broaden these efforts and measures, and maintain our resolve to make things better. Research sometimes tends to focus only on the negative aspects of an issue, but it is necessary to examine both sides of any issue, and as researchers, it should be our mission to convey these realities to the wider world.