The Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe
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H.E. Junichi Kosuge

H.E. Junichi Kosuge

Junichi Kosuge was born in 1952. He studied law at the University of Tokyo and started his diplomatic career in 1976. After serving both at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo and being stationed overseas, in 2004 he became Consul General of Japan at Frankfurt am Main, Germany. From 2006 to 2008, he was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Afghanistan. From 2008 to 2011, he was Consul General of Japan at Munich, Germany. From 2011 to 2014, he was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. In 2014 he assumed duties as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Hungary.

With the fresh emergence of new environmental issues and proposed solutions — SDGs, Paris COP etc. — what special role do you see the CEE region playing in a Europe-wide or global context?
During the past 25 years, since the change of political regimes in 1989, the CEE region has achieved its transition to a democratic society and market economy. Hungary, where REC headquarters were established, and other Visegrad countries joined the EU in 2004. The V4 countries, first as recipients and later as donors, have been playing a leading role amongst other former Eastern European states during their transition period. The CEE countries have compiled through their own experiences a knowledge in various areas, such as what kind of environmental problems might arise during the transition period and how they should encounter with them in order to achieve satisfactory outcomes.

With this background, I believe that the special role to be played by the CEE region is to share and transfer the expertise compiled and the lessons learnt, as well as the technology in the area of environment, to the benefit of the Western Balkan and Eastern Partnership countries and future EU member states.

When we consider how to deal with the climate change issue on a global basis, the aforementioned expertise of the CEE countries will surely provide a useful input for the international community when it intends to act towards a common goal.

What first pops into your mind when you hear the name “REC”?
The name is self-explanatory, as REC refers to Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe. This name gives me an image that the REC is the regional centre that assists the CEE region in tackling various environmental challenges during its transition period towards democratisation and a market economy.

I understand that the REC has functioned as an implementing organisation to provide the V4 countries and other states in the CEE region with concrete forms of assistance in the area of environment. With the accession of the V4 and other countries to the EU, a certain level of environmental protection was achieved, and the REC has been expanding the geographical scope of its activities to the Western Balkan and Eastern Partnership countries. The scope of REC's activities has also become more diversified, not only limited to environmental protection but expanded to responding to climate change, capacity building, and environmental education etc.

I also recognise that the REC has established an effective network among governments, regional offices of international organisations, academic institutes and environmental groups in the CEE region, which can be characterised as an important asset of the REC.

It is my expectation that the REC will continue to undertake activities for the benefit of the CEE region while setting its priority on the needs and problems of the region, as a regional centre deeply rooted in the area.

Please can you share some general remarks regarding the REC or the CEE region?
Prior to answering this question, let me first draw your attention to Japan’s engagement with the REC since 1990. Japan is one of the original Signatories of the 1990 REC Charter. The reason for that is that Japan recognised the importance of the REC in its role to assist the CEE region in tackling various environmental problems across the state boundaries during the time of transition. The Government of Japan has assisted the activities of the REC through the Japan Special Fund from 1993 until 2012, and through various project-based contributions since 2013. Some significant examples of the project will be touched upon later.

Special attention should also be given to the generous donations made by Japanese private companies such as Sumitomo Chemical Ltd. and TOYOTA. The total donation by Sumitomo Chemical Ltd., amounting to JPY 21 million between 2010 and 2015, enabled the REC to engage in various activities in the field of climate change. Sumitomo Chemical’s financial contribution has also facilitated internship programmes at the REC. At the 20th anniversary event of the Japan Trust Fund held in 2013 during the REC General Assembly, three Japanese internship students made presentations about their experience at the REC. This had an effective impact on transferring the outcomes of the REC’s activities to the next generations.

As it is well known, the Green Pack is an educational material of the Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) developed by the REC through the kind contribution of TOYOTA. The Green Pack has been translated into 20 languages in 18 countries, in both the CEE region and Central Asia. Forty thousand teachers and more than four million students have been using the Green Pack. It has also been recognised as a “good ESD material” by UNESCO. During the UNESCO World Conference on ESD held in Nagoya, Aichi in Japan in November 2014, Mrs. Marta Szigeti Bonifert, executive director of the REC, and Professor Ryo Fujikura, a member of the REC’s Board of Directors from Japan, organised a side event. A representative from TOYOTA kindly attended the event and delivered a speech. The side event was a good opportunity for the Green Pack to be introduced as one of the most successful ESD materials in the world as well as for the REC to gain extensive international recognition.

It is thus very noteworthy and I am glad to witness that the REC has been receiving generous contributions not only from governmental and public authorities, but also from Japanese private companies. It is greatly expected that the REC will become more widely recognised in other parts of the world and receive assistance from a variety of donors in the future.

What spurred the Government of Japan to promote impactful capacity-building and awareness-raising programmes related to environmental issues and challenges across this region and beyond?
As mentioned above, the Government of Japan established the Japan Special Fund in 1993 at the REC for the purpose of assisting REC's activities. Until 2012 the Japanese Government has supported the REC through contribution to the fund. Since 2013 we have been cooperating with the REC in its activities on a project basis. Whenever we developed projects in collaboration with the REC, we duly took into consideration the priority area and tried to make the best use of the limited resources to the maximum extent. Some notable examples are as follows: during the REC’s very first years, we concentrated on environmental protection, such as combating river and land pollution. In 1993 we undertook a contamination assessment and identification of prevention measures for the Sajo Valley in Hungary. In the following years, we focused on assisting the development of environmental law. In 1999, we worked jointly with the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina through the REC to facilitate the codification of the environmental laws and regulations of Bosnia and Herzegovina. From 2000 to 2001, Japan assisted the drafting process of a national programme and strategy for waste management in Serbia and Montenegro through the REC. Afterwards we started focusing on capacity building in the field of climate change. Through our project with the REC we invited government officials from CEE countries in 2009 to the REC headquarters and provided them with a capacity-building programme which related to the implementation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

As the geographical scope of the REC’s activities have been expanded to Eastern Partnership countries in recent years, we collaborated with the REC in convening seminars for the promotion of green economy in GUAM countries (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova) jointly with the GUAM Secretariat in 2013 and 2014. The seminar in 2014 was especially well attended by experts from GUAM countries. It is my Government’s strong desire that these capacity-building seminars will be dedicated to encouraging the private investment necessary to introduce renewable energy technologies in GUAM countries.

I would like to mention that we are trying to meet the needs of the recipients in an appropriate manner, when we consider the size and type of a project. In this regards, in addition to a close cooperation with REC experts, we intend to consult closely with the relevant government officials and groups of the recipient states. It is also to be noted that Japan, a country in Asia, has been able to undertake projects effectively and efficiently in the CEE region because the REC facilitates a constructive relationship with us.

Which of the REC’s programmes or projects that Japan has promoted do you consider the most successful in the region?
It is my understanding that all of the projects undertaken by Japan with the REC were completed successfully and brought about the expected outcomes. This was reaffirmed on the occasion of the 20th anniversary event of the establishment of the Japan Special Fund held during the REC General Assembly in 2013. Since 2014, successful outcomes have been also observed upon completion of each project.

Such success is largely due to the REC, which maintains a human and organisational network deeply rooted in the CEE region. The REC has compiled highly qualified ability for effective implementation of projects in the past 25 years. Let me take this opportunity to express our sincere appreciation of the REC. Japan intends to continue to undertake more constructive projects in cooperation with the REC as it is equipped with an excellent knowledge of the region in many ways.

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