Leaders of more than 150 countries at a United Nations summit in September 2015 adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that must be achieved by 2030. Under the key principle that “no one will be left behind,” the goals include “no poverty,” “zero hunger,” “good health and well-being,” “quality education” and “gender equality” as well as “affordable and clean energy” and “climate action,” and specific targets are set for each of the goals.

Achieving these goals will indeed contribute to enabling people all over the world to enjoy a secure and healthy life. Despite the significance of the 2030 Agenda and its goals, however, public recognition remains low in Japan. The government needs to take steps to enlighten people and various organizations about the SDGs’ importance so they will take concrete action to help achieve the goals.

According to the U.N., about 10 percent of employed workers worldwide who live with family members were in extreme poverty as of 2016, earning less than $1.90 a day. The situation is particularly serious in sub-Saharan regions, with 34 percent of such workers reported to live in extreme poverty. The percentage of children younger than 5 suffering from growth retardation went down from 32.7 percent in 2000 to 22.9 percent last year. Still, an estimated 155 million children belong to that category, with those in South Asia and sub-Saharan regions accounting for 75 percent of the total. Women this year make up only 23.4 percent of members of parliamentary lower houses or unicameral chambers across the globe.

Last year, the Japanese government set up the SDGs Promotion Headquarters headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and in December adopted the SDGs Implementation Guiding Principles. It has set out eight priority areas in “Five Ps” clusters — 1) “empowerment of all people” and 2) “achievement of good health and longevity” (people); 3) “creating growth markets, revitalization of rural areas, and promoting science technology and innovation” and 4) “sustainable and resilient land use, promoting quality infrastructure” (planet); 5) “energy conservation, renewable energy, climate-change countermeasures and sound material-cycle society” and 6) “conservation of environment, including biodiversity, forests and the oceans” (planet); 7) “achieving peaceful, safe and secure societies” (peace) and 8) “strengthening the means and frameworks for the implementation of the SDGs” (partnership).

In mid-July, the United Nations held a Cabinet minister-level meeting called the High-level Political Forum for follow-up and review of the 2030 agenda. Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told the meeting that “Japan will promote international cooperation based on the notion of human security” and announced Tokyo’s commitment to provide $1 billion in aid by 2018 focusing on “children and youth, particularly in the areas of education, health, disaster risk education and gender equality.” He also pledged Japan will enhance efforts “to mainstream SDGs by creating a nationwide movement.”

These efforts are laudable. But what is important is to quickly take concrete action and implement the measures. The eight priority areas represent important domestic issues Japan needs to tackle. The government should re-examine and flesh out its actions in those areas. It also should use the principles as a gauge to examine the appropriateness of policies it takes.

While offering funds to assist SDGs-related international efforts will be meaningful, Japan should also consider providing its technology, if possible by involving the business sector. Technology can contribute to both domestic and international efforts to enhance good health and longevity, quality infrastructure and renewable energy.

Governments and people worldwide should be serious about achieving the SDGs since they are indispensable for the survival of humankind. In reality, the world remains far from achieving many of the goals in the 2030 Agenda, including the eradication of poverty and inequality. People’s lives are lost to terrorism. The world appears far removed from the ideal of upholding the dignity of each member of its population.

In Japan, where recognition of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs remains sluggish, there are many things that the national and local governments, businesses, NGOs, science community and consumers can do to help achieve the SDGs. It is all the more important to rouse interest in the agenda and the goals among people and organizations and let them think about what contributions they can make.

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