Predictions 2023: Japan Can Make This a Pivotal Year for the SDGs

Japan 2 Earth Managing Editor Susan Yoshimura looks at New Year predictions and can't-miss opportunities for significant progress toward achieving the SDGs.

The year of 2022 was one of upheaval. From the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a global energy crisis, soaring inflation, and the pandemic's third year, countries have had their hands full. Extreme weather events around the world have provided a constant reminder that we must address environmental issues. Japan is no exception. It experienced a tortuous heatwave in the summer of 2022 and recorded the highest ever average temperature for the fourth year in a row.

The SDGs, 17 goals adopted by all UN member states, provide a blueprint for a more sustainable planet. After officially going into effect on January 1, 2016, they are designed to be achieved in the 15-year period leading up to the end of 2030. This means that 2023 marks the midway point in the implementation period. In the coming year, we must take stock of how far we've come and how far we have to go. 

Where We Stand

Japan has a fairly good track record thus far and leads Asia. It ranks 19th globally on the SDGs according to the Sustainable Development Report 2022, the highest of any non-European nation. 

But that doesn't mean a business-as-usual approach will continue to produce results. As Japan adjusts to a post-COVID world, it must continue to innovate and work to transform into a more sustainable society. The work we do in 2023 will determine whether we are on track to achieve the goals by 2030.

Looking back, many of these issues have been our focus on J2E since our August 2022 launch. As we start the New Year, I'll highlight some can't-miss opportunities and responses Japan should make in 2023 to set itself on a course to success in 2030.

Predictions: Clean Energy and Climate Action

Japan's power generation from renewable energies has now topped 20%. But getting to the 36-38% goal for 2030 will require continued efforts. 

Of particular concern is the country's ongoing heavy reliance on fossil fuels like coal and natural gas for generation of electricity. The coming year's agenda for SDG 7 on affordable and clean energy and SDG 13 on climate action is a pressing one.

As highlighted in our article on carbon neutrality and branding, companies are increasingly relying on renewable energy to achieve their emissions reduction goals. In Japan, cities are leading the way in net zero carbon, as depicted in our article on Japanese cities' contributions to COP27

Kyushu Electric Power Company wind farm.

Over 800 local governments have declared commitments to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, including major metropolises like Tokyo, Yokohama and Kyoto. These corporate and local initiatives are the drivers of the growing renewable energy market.

While climate change concerns are a major factor, the ongoing energy crisis makes it even more important in the coming year to work towards greater energy independence. Restarting nuclear power plants could go a long way, and faithfully addressing safety concerns is a good place to start.

Japan will host the G7 Ministers' Meeting on Climate, Energy and Environment in the northern city of Sapporo on April 15-16. This is a can't-miss opportunity for Japan to exhibit leadership on energy and climate issues, starting with setting an ambitious agenda.

Predictions: Gender Equality

One area where Japan has continued to struggle is SDG 5 on gender equality. Japan has ranked dreadfully low over the years on the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report. In 2022, Japan came in 116th out of 146 countries. The vast majority of people in positions of power in both government and the private sector remain men. The gender pay gap, driven by the prevalence of women in lower-paying positions, is another factor affecting Japan's dismal rank.

Our articles have highlighted some promising developments. These include women taking on more leading roles in the resource recycling industry, interviews with women entrepreneurs, and a company president's efforts in Vietnam to help women "junk buyers". The private sector is leading the way in women's empowerment.

Speakers at the WAW!2022 high-level roundtable on the theme “Mainstreaming Gender into a New Form of Capitalism.”

But what about the government? Effective change often starts at the top. With the slew of scandals and resignations plaguing the current administration, appointing more women to male-dominated Cabinet positions seems like a no-brainer. Such a move by Prime Minister Kishida in the coming year would send a clear message that Japan is not all talk and no action on gender equality. 

Predictions: Responsible Consumption and Production

Japan is committed to creating a circular economy and promoting SDG 12 on responsible consumption and production. For example, the Act on Promotion of Resource Circulation for Plastics that went into effect in April 2022 was a major development in 2022. It is designed to promote a circular economy and reduce plastic waste, which often ends up in the oceans.

Our articles have highlighted research identifying routes by which plastic waste ends up in the oceans and why fish are consuming microplastics. Likewise, we've reported on the year's success stories, such as changing consumer behavior towards the use of plastic shopping bags

Plastic waste is a global issue, particularly because Japan also exports plastic waste to Southeast Asia. J2E columnist Tsuneo Taguchi has shared insights on what Japanese companies are doing overseas – in Vietnam – to promote recycling and control pollution.

Domestic waste landfill next to Hitachi Zosen plant in Hanoi (August 24, 2022, Photo by Tsuneo Taguchi).

As our interviews with the CEOs of J2E partner companies Otani Seiun, K.K., and Tsuneishi Kamtecs reveal, Japanese companies in material recycling and their work will be key to progress on SDG 12 in 2023 – and on the path to 2030.

Even with the new law coming into effect in 2022, change has been slow and consumers may be feeling helpless despite being willing to change. Yet laws on plastic bags have proved effective to date. If Japan seriously wants to reduce plastic, even stricter laws on reduced plastic packaging and single-use containers are called for.

Predictions: Biodiversity and Sustainable Communities

The recent COP15 biodiversity summit just wrapped up in Canada with a commitment to the 30-by-30 strategy – to protect 30% of land and coastal and marine areas by 2030. 

Japan established its 30by30 Roadmap in 2022 and is committed to working on SDGs 14 and 15, life below water and life on land. The plan is due to start full operation in 2023. It is focusing on identification and conservation of "other effective area-based conservation measures" or OECMs, which encompass satoyama. These are different from conventional protected areas (PAs), which already account for 20.5% and 13.3% of land and sea areas respectively.

Sekisui House biodiversity planting “Gohon no Ki” (“Five Trees”) project on urban biodiversity.

Our articles have highlighted scientific studies and innovative technologies aimed at conservation. Likewise, local action is often key to biodiversity conservation as communities work to conserve species locally. J2E reporting on grassroots efforts to protect the little tern and an endangered salamander species confirm the importance of OECMs, perhaps especially in major cities, for biodiversity.

Biodiversity and sustainable communities go hand-in-hand. Japan's plan to put more effort into protecting nature in our immediate environments via OECMs is a sound one, and local activities in the coming year will continue to be of considerable importance.

Peering Into the Looking Glass at the Year Ahead

As a leader in Asia, the time is now for Japan to move forward on its ambitious plans. Japan will be under close scrutiny in 2023 as it takes on the G7 presidency. As we reach the halfway point on achieving the SDGs, we must make 2023 a pivotal year. 

I've only covered a few of the 17 SDGs and perhaps the most striking omission is SDG 17 on partnerships for the goals. J2E has been fortunate to have numerous partners, both in the private and public sectors, that are committed to achieving the SDGs. We look forward to continuing to learn from their innovations and welcoming new partners in the coming year.

Reitaku University student and guest contributor, Kohei Arai, pointed out that even small activities can change the world for the better. It is in this spirit that I revisit the Japan 2 Earth (J2E) mission statement just four and a half months after our launch:

Japan 2 Earth (J2E) delivers stories and insights that highlight contributions by Japanese communities and companies to improving the global environment and achieving the SDGs.

We will continue in 2023, together with our partners, to communicate Japan's efforts on the environment and the SDGs to the world. 


Author: Susan Yoshimura, Managing Editor