Eco Business has reported the recent announcement of Japanese government plans to introduce certain legislative changes making it easier for abandoned farmland to be consolidated for use in renewable energy projects. The approach of the Japanese government toward abandoned agricultural land will create new opportunities for ethical investments in the country and it will be interesting to observe whether the initiative will be adopted elsewhere.
The problem of abandoned farmland exists in many countries for a range of different reasons. For example, agricultural land could have been abandoned on the basis of soil erosion or productivity loss, often the result of over-exploitation and unsustainable agricultural management. Another reason is human migration from rural to urban areas, a relatively modern-day phenomenon. Whatever the reasons, land abandonment is a serious problem in our world of finite resources and needs to be approached in a sustainable manner. Considering the growing global energy need and the problem of climate change, ethical investments in renewable energy projects present as one of the most efficient and environmentally-friendly ways to address the issue of abandoned agricultural land.
The Eco Business website on 12 February 2012 disclosed that the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries proposed law changes to simplify the approval and notification procedures prescribed under several statutes in order to provide opportunities for renewable energy projects such as solar and wind farms on abandoned agricultural land. According to the ministry’s estimates, approximately 170,000 hectares of farmland could thus be used for the generation of electricity from renewable energy sources. And whilst current legislation has certain provisions enabling the construction of power generation facilities in abandoned farmland, there is a shortage of land suitable for large-scale renewable energy facilities, such as panels for photovoltaic power generation.
Making use of abandoned farmland for renewable energy projects is in line with the energy policy of the Japanese government. In May 2011, BusinessGreen reported that Japan was aiming to generate at least 20 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020, doubtless prompted by the Fukushima nuclear power plant incident earlier in 2011. The planned legislative changes are likely to facilitate achievement of Japan’s renewable energy targets, at the same time making the country less reliant on nuclear energy.
If the Japanese parliament adopts the new legislation as planned, interesting ethical investment opportunities will emerge in the Land of the Rising Sun. The simpler procedures will create an additional incentive for private companies to invest in solar and wind energy projects and the establishment of power generation facilities will in turn create job opportunities. It would surely follow that other governments should consider emulating the Japanese example and enable investments in renewable energy projects on abandoned farmland. This could help revitalise local economies in targeted areas with the added benefit of helping the country in question to meet its renewable energy targets.
The Japanese approach toward abandoned agricultural land can be seen as an alternative to another ethical investment option, namely the use of abandoned agricultural land for bioenergy crops. This is yet another way to make use of agricultural land with ethical investments since growing energy crops on abandoned lands provides environmental benefits without leading to food-fuel competition for land, one of the major concerns of environmentalists when it comes to biofuels. Of course, with energy crops there are a range of factors to be taken into consideration, such as climate, soil type and so on. In consequence, in places where the appropriate conditions are not present, wind and solar farm projects could become a viable alternative to crop-based biofuels. In any case, governments should create the appropriate legal prerequisites in order to enable investors to make use of abandoned agricultural land, as is expected to happen in Japan.
Looked at from the perspective of this global issue of abandoned farmland, ethical investments in the renewable energy sector can help boost local economies, create job opportunities and contribute to climate change mitigation. In a nutshell, and regardless of whether it comes to wind or solar farms or to growing energy crops, governments as well as eco-minded investors should not let any land go to waste.