Creating waves of SDGs from Japan to the world

Alesse Nunes, Soka University, Japan

Some of the most complex problems in the world are outlined by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the SDGs. To solve so multi-complexes issues by 2030, it is imperative to further opportunities for collaboration among SDG actors at all levels.

The Japan SDG Action Forum was hosted as a partnership between UN SDG Action Campaign and UNDP Tokyo. More than 150 participants from a range of disciplines come together to share, learn, identify existing synergies and hopefully foster the much-needed connections to advance what already is happening in Japan. The event stressed solutions related to the aging population, and the need of the private sector, women, and young people participation.

In the forum participated more than 150 participants at the United Nations University in Tokyo

By 2020, it will take 10 years to achieve the SDGs and a lot of work remains to be done. In such a remarkable year, Japan will surely be in the spotlight of the world; in addition to hosting the Olympics and Paralympics, it is seen as an example of overcoming obstacles through unity, technology, and harmony. So, here are key points from this important forum:

Support from the government

In Japan, SDGs are increasingly perceived by the population. This movement tends to grow while the country is searching for SDGs Japan Model to inspire the world to act for SDGs. Toshiko Abe, State Minister for Foreign Affairs, declares that the country aspires to combine SDGs across Japan to sectors around the world. She points out that the strategy of the government is to support Society 5.0, which is human-centered and focused on leaving no one behind. Thus, the government aims to debate widely about women, rural areas, Japan ‘SDG Future Cities’, technology, and special attention to the private sector. “The Japanese private sector is expected to work harder on SDGs achievement,” said Abe.

Cities in an aging society

Moreover, Yuji Kuroiwa, Governor of Kanagawa Prefecture and Kenji Kitahashi, Mayor of Kitakyushu City, emphasized that cities are a focal point for solutions in the SDGs context. “How can we create a wave of SDGs in society? Let’s create space where people gather to interact,” explained Kitahashi, who further stated that the revival of the city and businesses are directly linked to the SDGs. Kuroiwa presented the me-byo, a Japanese word that defines the gray zone between health and illness, and connected this idea with another Japanese concept, inochi (“life”) that can be understood as a vibrant and diverse life is lived based on positive spirit, good environment, and well-being. In his conclusion, the aim of the SDGs is to create a vibrant, lively, and healthy community full of laughter.

“In order to move me-byo towards health, we need to promote a healthy diet, exercise, and social activities among elderly inhabitants. It is crucial to advance medical technologies to promote the health and longevity of elderly citizens in an ever-more aging society. Let’s make a city comfortable to live in despite old age”, Yuji Kuroiwa, Governor of Kanagawa Prefecture.

Science, technology, and Innovation

A society in which physical, natural and digital life is harmoniously combined requires a world where humans' well-being is at the center. For this achievement, a philosophy of the SDGs is important, claims Yoshiya Hoshino, Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations: “This means that we should take care of humans based on a harmonious relationship with the earth’s natural environment, driven by human-centered science, technology, and innovation."

Nishiguchi explaining that competitiveness means to present something unique that is also sustainable

Competitiveness means to present something unique that is also sustainable. This idea by Hiro Nishiguchi, Japan Innovation Network, was driven by some important questions as “SDGs are wonderful goals, but how do we achieve them?” He believes that collaboration is important for countries and local governments to become more competitive through “innovation and entrepreneurship spirit with a team of members and stakeholders.”

Also, Sogo Fujisaki said is fundamental to create companies that contribute to sustainability, “otherwise our companies will not survive — SDGs is important!” Following him, Ken Mizugami, IBM, defended the intersection of blockchain and the SDGs giving an interesting example of cobalt from the Republic of Congo.

“To create electronic cars, cobalt is necessary. Cobalt comes from China and the Republic of Congo. Unfortunately, in the Republic of Congo, child labor is used to mine cobalt that is processed to create electronic cars. Blockchain helps record the cobalt supply chain. It records the fact that cobalt was mined in Congo NOT BY CHILD LABOR before being sent to electronic car companies”, Sogo Fujisaki.

Defining humanity’s future

The event was joined by UNDP Goodwill Ambassador, Misako Konno, and UNDP Tokyo Director, Tetsuo Kondo in conversation. “Today, companies, NGOs and the UN are helping locals become economically independent and sustainable”, said Konno for whom everyone should work and contribute to society with fellow teammates.

Also, Kaoru Nemoto, UN Information Center Director, shared a rousing call to action through the lens of climate activist, Greta Thunberg’s COP24 speech. Nemoto defended a mobilization for SDGs in different levels: “We should all make the effort to protect and preserve our home, planet earth. Climate change creates hunger, epidemics, climate refugees, and war. How our generation reacts to climate change will define humanity’s future”.

Young people coming to action

“Leaving no one behind means that no matter where they are, everyone has a voice in development,” said Vasu Gounden from Accord; he shared that one youth said to him "governments talk about us, but they don’t talk with us". He was followed by ASEAN youth advocate Rizky Ashar that shared their personal journey to becoming SDG advocates and how intergenerational dialogues, creativity, and connecting young people can achieve great change: “Marginalized people, disabled people, and LGBT people, everyone should have a voice in development aimed at the 2030 agenda,” he concluded.

Vason Gounden and Risky Ashar sharing her experiences in SDGs activities with young people

Changing your view on disability forever

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics will be the legacy of the SDGs and from 2020 onwards, the Japanese government will include Paralympics education in the school curriculum. Both information was revealed by Naoe Yasuoka, Japanese Paralympic Committee: “Through the Paralympics, we will continue educating children about 'inclusive society' through the Paralympics,” she said.

Miki Matheson, Paralympic Gold Medalist, shared her passion for sports after getting involved in a car accident 25 years ago and becoming disabled. After watching Para athletes play basketball while seated in wheelchairs and blind skiers ski at over 100 km/hour by listening to a whistle blown by a skier skiing in front of them, she realized that nothing in life is impossible. For her, Paralympians demonstrate that the impossible can become possible.

“By thinking about making the seemingly impossible possible, we will be able to achieve the SDGs. Paralympians do not think about their own disability; they think about how to expand their scale of 'possibility',” Miki Matheson, Paralympic Gold Medalist.

Also, Craig Spence, International Paralympic Committee, said the organizers are also trying to incorporate an SDGs-related campaign into the closing ceremony and Para athletes taking the MY World survey. He said: “The 2020 Tokyo Paralympics is an opportunity to create an SDGs legacy. They will change you, your worldview, your life, and your view on disability forever.”

Spence, Matheson, and Yasuoka debating the ways Paralympics will inspire people for SDGs and create a legacy of inclusivity and awareness

Humans are limitless

A new set of ‘Butterfly Wings’ was unveiled by social innovator Robin Lewis and participants made the first commitments to start a Butterfly Effect for Goal 9 Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure. Towards the end of the Forum, Hiroko Kuniya, journalist, reminded us of challenges we must be prepared to face and ultimately overcome, for the kind of collaboration we hope to achieve to deliver on Agenda 2030.

"The SDGs are goals that were agreed upon when people realized that the earth has limits, but that humans are limitless,” Hiroko Kuniya.


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The Japan SDG Action Forum takes place at the United Nations University in Tokyo, Japan, on July 30.



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Alesse Nunes

Alesse Nunes


Journalist, SDGs Advocate, M.A. in International Peace Studies at Soka University, Innovation for Peace (i4P) founder, SGI member.