The Good Society 11.2 (2002) 57-64
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Democratic Transition and Environmental Civil Society:
Japan and South Korea Compared
Miranda A. Schreurs
Korea's democratization occurred close to four decades after Japan's yet at the turn of the twenty-first century, civil society in many ways appears at least as vibrant, and possibly even more active, in Korea than Japan. In the space of a little over a decade, Korea's non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have grown remarkably in size and sophistication and have become a force that policy makers must reckon with in formulating policy. Japan's NGO sector has also undergone major changes in the past decade and this is helping to make the policy making process more pluralistic. Korea presents a fascinating case of a state that has had a relatively successful experience with democratic consolidation and the development of a relatively vibrant civil society in a remarkably short period of time. This makes the comparison with the much slower development of civil society in Japan so interesting.
In Japan's case, citizen protest was a critical factor leading to the environmental regulatory changes of the early 1970s. Yet, by the 1980s, environmental activism had sharply subsided in Japan. Going into the 1990s, Japan had one of the smallest environmental NGO communities of any of the advanced industrialized democracies. In Korea's case, authoritarian governments for decades restricted the ability of environmental and other protest groups to form although there were still many instances of local protest activities against severe pollution problems. In neither society could one point to a particularly active environmental movement in the 1980s. In contrast, the 1990s have been a period of environmental activism and societal mobilization in both countries. This article attempts to understand what the forces were that led to the emergence (or re-emergence) of societal mobilization for the environment, the character of the movements in Japan and Korea, and the meaning of the movements for state-society relations in these states.
Japan and Korea share many similarities in terms of their geographical and environmental conditions. Both are highly dependent on energy and natural resource imports. Both are highly urbanized and mountainous societies. Industry and residential communities must share limited land space in two of the most densely populated countries in the world. Korea and Japan also share the experience of serious pollution as a result of rapid industrialization that was promoted by the state with little consideration for its environmental consequences. This occurred almost two decades earlier in Japan than Korea. Yet, it is only since the 1990s that in both countries there has been a process of institutionalization of a national environmental NGO community.
I became interested in the comparison of environmental NGOs in Japan and Korea as a result of the findings of the cross-national Global Environmental Policy Network Survey, which was led by Yutaka Tsujinaka of Tsukuba University and in which I participated. The survey conducted in the late 1990s, found that environmental NGOs in South Korea had more voice in the environmental policy making process than did their counterparts in either Japan or the US. Given the newness of Korean democracy, this is a striking finding. 1
The article first discusses the survey's findings in more detail. It then compares the historical development of environmental NGOs in Japan and Korea and the obstacles they have faced in pursuing their goals. The article concludes with a comparison of the reasons for the different development trajectories of environmental NGOs in these two East Asian countries.
Environmental NGOs in National Decision Making
The Global Environmental Policy Network Survey was conducted in an effort to assess the makeup and influence patterns of environmental policy networks in several advanced industrialized societies. As one step in the survey research process, a group of experts in each of the three countries was asked to determine who the most influential actors were in relation to global climate change decision-making. Quite interestingly, the experts in the US listed individuals or groups associated with political parties...