Over the past six months or so, efforts have been underway by local governments and private businesses to promote the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Numerous speeches are being made about what Kansai might do to contribute to lofty ideals like ensuring the world has access to clean water and proper sanitation, that children have access to education and that gender equality is achieved and women and girls are empowered.

One senses that the interest has less to do with a sudden burst of altruistic spirit and more to do with political realities. Osaka’s leaders want the 2025 World Expo and were wondering how to spin their bid to make it appeal to the international community. Somebody came up with the idea of tying it to helping achieve the 2030 U.N. goals, and an international marketing campaign was born.

However, Osaka and Kansai must now also think about the role of the SDGs in next year’s Group of 20 leaders’ summit in Osaka. This includes their own role in promoting and supporting those goals and pushing (very gently, of course) the Japanese government to consider whether SDGs of interest to Kansai-area firms could be put on the official G20 agenda.

Water, sanitation and medical technologies, including pharmaceutical research, are areas related to the SDGs where politically powerful Osaka and Kansai firms have traditionally been strong.

With international political and media attention now on the crisis of plastic waste in the ocean, especially the Pacific Ocean, Japan has said it will raise the issue with G20 members next year. No doubt Kansai firms and researchers in the sanitation industry are discussing how they might address, with technology, the issue of ocean garbage.

But whether suggestions from Kansai governments, businesses and nongovernmental organizations on dealing with the plastic garbage crisis might include one that G20 nations, especially Japan, stop manufacturing so many plastic bags, bottles, and wrapping, or that local governments in G20 member states ban the use of certain plastic items, remains to be seen. No doubt, anything along those lines would immediately run afoul of politically connected businesses in Japan’s plastic industry.

That is a problem when considering how Osaka, and Kansai, can influence the G20 members on SDG-related initiatives that are politically unpopular or opposed by certain corporate interests. There is much cynicism, often justified, on the part of those working to implement the SDGs about what 20 disparate nations operating by consensus can jointly agree to in Osaka, or anywhere else, to meet the 2030 goals.

Yet within such cynicism lies an opportunity. Over the next year, Osaka’s leaders have a choice. In raising public awareness of the SDGs and attempting to get the Japanese government to adopt a proactive stance as G20 host, local leaders can be inclusive or exclusive.

Inclusive means seeking the advice of those in Kansai’s large and diverse NGO and academic communities, regardless of whether they’re thick as thieves with local political and corporate bigwigs. It means — and yes, I know I’m being radical here — talking to Kansai’s large and diverse population of foreign residents about the SDGs. Especially members of the Kansai consular corps, foreign business groups, and foreign environmental activists.

It means, in other words, doing something official Kansai, and official Japan, too often does not do, which is listen and take the advice of gaikokujin, which in this case simply means “anyone not part of our insular little group.”

No one should expect miracles, of course. But it would be a shame if the only people in Kansai talking about SDGs and the G20, and influencing the agenda, are just the usual old men in suits.

View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.


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