National

Activists urge G20 leaders to make sure underrepresented voices aren't marginalized

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Social activists and NGO representatives from Osaka and beyond called on Japan and Group of 20 leaders Wednesday to ensure input from the public is included in their deliberations.

“At a time of shrinking public space worldwide and when human rights and democracy are under threat, it is imperative that the voices of people with different values are respected,” said Tatsuro Niikawa, head of the two-day G20 Osaka Citizens’ Summit, a gathering of both professional and volunteer activists that concluded Wednesday.

Niikawa said it is important that women, LGBTI, the physically challenged, indigenous people, and others are not marginalized, and that the voices of ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities, as well as refugees and the elderly, are heard.

The summit included discussions on gender, education, the rights of foreign workers, the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) communities, climate change and renewable energy. There were calls to push the G20 to make a strong commitment to keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees this century, as per the 2015 Paris agreement, for efforts to end child labor, and to protect the human rights of the elderly.

Many participants touched on how Japan in particular can make positive contributions on three themes it will discuss when the leaders of 37 countries and international organizations begin their summit Friday. On the G20 agenda are issues such as how to deal with climate change, ensuring quality infrastructure investments and discussions on the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

The way to start, some participants at the Osaka gathering said, is by closing down coal-fired plants.

“There are eight coal thermal plants financially supported by Japan — five in Indonesia and three in Vietnam — under construction that Japanese firms are involved with,” said Hatae Hozue, an environment campaigner at Friends of Earth Japan who is involved in development finance. “Japan’s export of coal power technologies is not ‘quality infrastructure’ — is not compatible with the Paris agreement.”

At a meeting of G20 environment and energy ministers earlier this month, Hiroshige Seko, minister of economy, trade and industry, said coal was still a necessary energy source for parts of the world where other forms of energy were currently too expensive to introduce.

The summit also touched on issues of local concern. During the G20, Osaka will seek promises from world leaders that their countries will participate in the 2025 World Expo, which will be held on Yumeshima, an artificial island in Osaka Bay.

At one session, participants warned that hosting the expo, and plans to also have an integrated resort on the island, would lead to biodiversity loss in and around Yumeshima. They also said that the choice of location was problematic because the whole island was vulnerable to natural disasters.

Citing research by Kobe University geology professor Yoshiaki Tainosho, participants warned that an earthquake in the Nankai trough off Osaka Bay could trigger a tsunami of between 3.2 meters and 5.4 meters and that there is a high risk facilities on Yumeshima could be flooded.

The Osaka Citizens’ Summit comes two months after Japanese and international civil society groups formally presented their recommendations to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Its purpose was to raise awareness in Osaka of the official G20 agenda, as well as providing a forum for discussing themes like foreign labor and LGBTI issues not expected to be brought up at the G20.