As will be described later in more detail, Japan depends highly on imported natural resources, which often have environmental relevance. Harvesting of timbers from tropical rainforests is a typical issue. Japanese participation in the OECD pilot study on natural resource accounting (NRA) at the beginning of the 1990s (OECD 1994c) was driven by concerns over this. The experience of the forest resource account was later applied to Asian countries (Koike 1999).
On the other hand, material flow analysis (MFA) was studied mainly in order to respond to the domestic issues of increasing solid wastes. A flow chart describing Japan's macroscopic material flow balance has been published in the annual Quality of the Environment report since 1992 (EAJ annual). Dissemination of an English edition of the report created the opportunities for European experts on MFA to involve Japan in international collaborative efforts in this field. In 1995, the SCOPE (Scientific Committee for Problems on Environment) organized a scientific workshop for indicators of sustainable development at the Wuppertal Institute in Germany. Participants from four industrialized nations, Germany, the USA, the Netherlands and Japan, agreed to launch an international collaborative study to compare their overall material flows at the national level. The results will be shown later in this chapter.
Interindustrial flows of some individual materials such as non-ferrous metals have been studied mainly from the viewpoint of material recycling (Clean Japan Center 1997). Substance flow analysis (SFA), which captures the flow of specific elements of environmental concern, was applied to some case studies, such as with an analysis of nitrogen flow and its impacts on eutrophication. The SFA framework for toxic substances has yet to be explicitly adopted.
Inventories of pollutants emissions (that is, 'emission inventories') may be categorized as one specific form of MFA in a broader sense. Official inventories are compiled for greenhouse gases (GHGs) in accord with an international convention, whereas those for others, even for traditional air pollutants, have not been made available by authorities until recently. This is mainly because the institutional basis for environmental statistics is rather weak. A PRTR (Pollutant Release and Transfer Register) system was tested in pilot studies in the late 1990s, and a nationwide system under the newly enacted law started in the year 2001.
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