Frode Pleym (right) is part of the Greenpeace delegation at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Nagoya, Japan.
I will be the first one to admit that my home country Norway is not perfect. Still, it is a relatively pleasant place in a lot of ways, especially when it comes to the major issues here at the CBD and the parallel REDD meetings taking place here in Nagoya.
I wanted to tell everyone out there not just about the important political discussions at the CBD, though. I wanted to share about something much more fundamental for a change-maker organization like Greenpeace – at international meetings as well as on the homefront - is how the authorities view the role of NGOs in society and how this affects environmental policy.
Last weekend Greenpeace Japan´s Programme Director Junichi Sato, Head of the Greenpeace CBD Delegation Nathalie Rey and I met with the Norwegian Secretary of State Heidi Sørensen and her top officials here in Nagoya. We covered the expected political issues but also briefed Heidi on the realities facing Greenpeace in Japan, including the completely disproportionate raid of our office and staffmembers home in the Tokyo Two case.
Norway is a small country and NGOs play a large role in Norwegian society. One example: Heidi came to Nagoya in the morning and the first thing she did – even before sitting down extensively with the Norwegian delegation – was to meet with Greenpeace. It is this kind of attitude that enables NGOs to play a vital role in contributing to change and in part explains why Norway - relatively speaking - has such strong environmental policies.
The status of NGOs in Japan – or not for profit organisations as they are called here – is very different. As NGO staff, you would not meet jet lagged political leaders in Japan. In fact, you do not get to meet them at all. In order to understand why you have consider that Japan experienced 300 years of control by the shogunate and imperial reign in the Meiji Era. Thorough hierarchical rule and bureaucratic control were the rules, not the exceptions. Unfortunately, the Japanese expression - the nail that sticks out gets hammered down – is still very much true. That coupled with the reality that Japan is a great country in which to be a bureaucrat or a company executive, poses serious threats to a democracy.
Of course, Japan is not the only country where authorities clamp down on non-governmental organisations. Indonesia is another example. But Japan, as a very rich and highly developed nation, should accommodate for and not try to shut down dissenting voices. Japan is very much a constitutional democracy but a true democracy should encourage more than free elections.
Frode Pleym, originally from Norway, is currently a Senior Advisor in Greenpeace Japan’s Tokyo office. Prior to living in Tokyo, he spent nearly 10 years working at Greenpeace Nordic.