Accepted paper:

Depopulation and the environment: how Japan can lead the way

Author:

Fernando Ortiz-Moya (Institute for Global Environmental Strategies)

Paper short abstract:

Japan is naturally depopulating, and hence can serve to explore the depopulation dividend of a shrinking population. Using case study methodology, and focusing on Kitakyushu City, this paper explores the impact of depopulation and urban policies on the environment.

Paper long abstract:

In the context of growing concerns about environmental preservation and conservation, the 'over population' discourse points to the possible environmental benefits of lower population figures due to the correlation between population growth and the emission of greenhouse gases. However, urban studies have not adequately addressed the depopulation dividend—the possible benefits achievable from decreasing population figures—and how it can contribute towards sustainable goals. Because of its low birth rate and aged population, Japan is naturally depopulating, and hence can serve to explore the environmental impact of depopulation. Focusing on Kitakyushu City, this paper studies the environmental impact of policies in response to depopulation. Kitakyushu was one of Japan's industrial powerhouses; its steelworks were responsible for the city's rapid population growth but also for severely damaging its environment. Since the 1960s deindustrialisation and environmental pollution worked as push factors triggering out-migration. The city's authorities, pushed by grassroots movements, hastened to respond to the double challenge of depopulation and pollution by implementing policies aiming at transforming Kitakyushu into a green city. Using case study methodology, including historical research and qualitative analysis of statistical data from official bodies -such as water quality of the city's major rivers, air pollutants, CO2 emissions or green area per capita, comparing this with the city's population change- this paper explores the impact of depopulation and urban policies on the environment.

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Environmental impacts of a shrinking population in Japan: towards a 'depopulation dividend'