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Environmental Issues

A few articles in the August 15th issue of Jinja Shinpō addressed environmental issues. Several of them were about the Mt Hiei Religions Summit, which had “Climate Change and the Responsibilities of Religious People” as its theme. One was about sacred forests, and their potential to operate as OECMs under the CBD. I’ll explain what that means later.

The Mt Hiei Religions Summit has been happening for 35 years, although it seems that it is only held once every five years. (That part of the description was a bit complex, and not completely clear on whether it only happens at all every five years, or whether there is a special event every five years.) The event was originally focused on peace, as it was first held towards the end of the Cold War, but this year the organisers decided that climate change was a larger problem. Jinja Honchō sent a representative, as did other branches of Shinto. The summit declaration called for people to move away from a focus on economic growth, and to a more human lifestyle. (Or “raifusutairu”, as they called it — Japanese has a perfectly good word for this already, so I don’t know why.)

In practical terms, the summit did not do very much, but the symbolism is important: many of the most important religious groups in Japan have publicly affirmed the importance of climate change, and the need to do something about it. That substantially increases the chances of practical action happening.

It is also grimly symbolic that much of the event had to be cancelled due to extreme weather — a very heavy rain storm settled in over the mountain.

The article about sacred forests was mainly to explain OECMs and the CBD. The CBD is the Convention on Biological Diversity, the international treaty to preserve biodiversity, and maybe even improve it. The signatories have committed to “thirty by thirty” (“saati bai saati” in Japanese, because “reiwa juuninen madë ni sanjuu” isn’t as snappy). This is a commitment to ensure that 30% of the land and 30% of the sea is protected by 2030.

In this context, one would naturally think of national parks and other areas of untouched wilderness, but that isn’t an option. Wilderness only covers about 10% of the world’s land area, and most of that is in the cold parts of Russia and Canada. That means that most of the protected land will have to be shared with people, and that is where OECMs come in. It is an abbreviation for “Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures”, and it is for areas that are managed by people in a way that preserves and promotes biodiversity.

The sacred forests of jinja are a perfect example of this. They could all be registered if Jinja Honchō put a bit of effort into it, and they probably all need to be registered if the Japanese government is going to meet the target. Of course, once they are registered, that will create a level of legal protection for them. (The government is currently developing the framework for this, and the pilot scheme is due to start in the next fiscal year.)

So, nothing here is practical yet, but OECMs, at least, could be a really significant framework for jinja.

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