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Kansai entities team up on U.N. development goals as Japan angles for World Expo

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

When the Group of 20 summit takes place in Osaka a year from now, the bulk of media reporting and commentary will no doubt emphasize what the presidents and prime ministers say about the international financial or geopolitical crisis of the moment, and what dramas are taking place among world leaders behind the scenes.

Possibly lost in the blizzard of reports and tweets will be what the G20 says about meeting the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The goals might not sound sexy to some editors and producers. But they are far more important to the future of our planet than pointing out which world leader behaved boorishly over dinner.

Over the past few months in the Kansai region at least, official recognition of the SDGs’ importance has increased dramatically.

Osaka’s bid for the 2025 World Expo relies heavily on a message that holding an expo in the city would provide solutions to meeting the 17 U.N. goals adopted in 2015, which include ending extreme poverty, achieving food security, ensuring healthy lives, achieving gender equality, and ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, among others.

Last December, before Osaka was awarded the G20 summit but after it had presented its expo bid in Paris, Kansai-based industry associations, universities, government leaders, the local bureau of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, as well as the Japan International Cooperation Agency, met to launch the Kansai SDGs Platform.

Its 10-member steering committee includes senior members of the Kansai Economic Federation and Osaka Chamber of Commerce, a representative from the Union of Kansai Governments, academics and NGO representatives. The platform is based in the JICA Kansai office in Kobe.

“There is a lot of great technology in the Kansai region that can offer solutions to SDG issues, and bringing people from different sectors together can lead to innovative solutions to realize the SDGs,” says Masahiro Tawa, deputy director-general of JICA Kansai. “At the same time, there are a lot of people in Kansai who wonder what the SDGs are. One of the platform’s goals is to expand local knowledge of them through workshops, symposiums and other events.”

Osaka Prefecture has also set up an office to address how it might contribute to SDGs, especially in the context of its 2025 Expo bid. Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui has said that next year’s G20 summit offers a chance for Osaka and the region to show it can contribute to specific SDG goals as well. For example, he has suggested the region’s firms and technology can make a strong contribution to the SDG goal of ensuring everyone has access to safe and affordable drinking water.

The official agenda for Osaka’s G20 summit will not be decided by the central government until December, after this year’s summit in Buenos Aires wraps up. But Tawa said the Japanese government will likely seek G20 support for SDG goals that are also areas of special interest to firms and scientific researchers in the Kansai region.

“In Kansai, we have Kyoto, home of the Kyoto Protocol (on global warming), so environmental issues will be raised, especially the problem of garbage disposal, as well as ensuring clean water,” he said.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also spoke on the SDGs and Japan’s efforts over the next year to promote them at the G20 and elsewhere.

“As we move toward the 2019 G20 summit and the TICAD conference (in Yokohama), we’ll strengthen efforts to meet the health and education goals, and promote the growth of green businesses as part of a long-term strategy to deal with climate change,” Abe said. The Tokyo International Conference on African Development was launched by the government in 1993.

The SDGs are sometimes assumed by the general public in developed countries to be goals in developing countries that are being met through national and international organizations. But the Kansai SDGs Platform also aims to focus attention on regional contributions, including technological innovations by local businesses and local expertise, as a way to meet the U.N. targets.

So whatever happens at the G20 next year, Kansai’s interest in regional solutions to the ambitious 2030 SDG goals appears set to continue long after the summit’s final photo op and news conference.