Interviews & Opinions


Can the SDGs really be achieved by 2030? Thoughts from President Naoko Iwasaki of the International Academy of CIO Japan


Progress on the SDGs and Japan's rating

In June 2023, the 'Sustainable Development Report 2023' assessed the progress of the United Nations (UN) SDGs and was published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). Japan's overall score regarding the progress on the SDGs ranked 21st out of 166 countries, a drop of two places and the lowest result since the rankings began.

The Report pointed out that all SDGs are seriously off track regarding their achievement at the midpoint of the 2030 Agenda. It also states that Japan has particularly serious challenges in achieving the targets in four areas, including gender issues.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are the predecessors to and origins of the SDGs, were formulated in 2000. Based on the UN Millennium Declaration adopted at the UN Millennium Summit, the MDGs were targets to be met collectively by the international community over the following 15 years.

The MDGs set eight goals, mainly for developing countries, including eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, and improving the status of women. Subsequently, the SDGs were launched in 2015 following reflection on the lack of concreteness of the goals set, and the world's vision for the subsequent 15 years was formulated into 17 goals and 169 targets. Despite the targets and goals being set, the SDGs are non-binding because of the lack of an established universal implementation mechanism or set of rules.

Efforts made by Japan's Industries, Government, and Academia

Progress on the SDGs has been greatly hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic that broke out in early 2020, rising commodity prices, food and energy availability problems triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, and the impact of climate change.

In this context, Japan's industries, government, and academic organizations have been more active in addressing the SDGs than other countries. As the survey shows that more than 80% of Japanese are familiar with the SDGs, private companies are expanding their Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) investments to solve environmental, social, governance, and other issues to achieve the goals of the SDGs.

Furthermore, efforts to pursue SDGs and ESG initiatives are emphasized amid calls for enhanced disclosure of non-financial information stemming from revising the Corporate Governance Code. Awareness of the SDGs is broadening in the government, as evidenced by a Nikkei survey of 815 municipalities across the country that showed the progress made in decarbonization and sustainable urban development.

Additionally, more than 300 municipalities have pledged to be zero-carbon entities. In education as well, 'Education for Sustainable Development' is being promoted, where students learn to think and act proactively to find solutions to various global issues.

These findings show that the public educational activities conducted by industries, government, and academia have contributed to raising awareness of the SDGs across the country.

Can the SDGs really be achieved?

The problem is that the SDGs are now evaluated as being less likely to be achieved, and questions have emerged regarding whether the goals can really be achieved and how they should be reformed to be much more regarded worldwide.

In 2022, the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) released a research report on R&D field operations undertaken in response to the SDGs/ESG. The report points out that Japan's domestic institutions problematically tend to take only perfunctory actions to face the SDGs/ESG without embracing the underlying principles. Therefore, it describes concrete proposals for possible actions to cope with this situation.

Now, at the midpoint of the 2030 Agenda, we would like to revisit our past efforts to ensure that they are not wasted and that we can take advantage of potential business opportunities.

Therefore, I put forward my own three recommendations as follows:

Firstly, we should strengthen global public relations activities and communications regarding Japan's industry, government, academic initiatives, and good practices related to the UN SDGs. Japan is not always good at international public relations and advertising. If we only promote SDG activities nationally, we will fail to apply the Japanese solution models to solving global issues, and we might lose the global market itself. We should strive to be a leading country by proposing solutions to social issues in developed and developing countries.

Secondly, it is also useful for Japan to host an SDG summit to create a forum for strategically publicizing SDG-related success stories and innovations. The Osaka Expo in 2025 can be used as an opportunity to highlight Japan's efforts regarding the SDGs. The International Academy of CIO (IAC), the UN Commission for Social Development, and other organizations have held annual SDGs forums at the UN Headquarters, where invited experts from various countries have shared their valuable insights.

Thirdly, the issues symbolized by SDGG (an acronym coined by the author), representing 'Silver' (aging society) (S: silver is a symbolic color of the aged in Japan), 'Digitalization' (D), 'Globalization' (G), and 'Greening' (G), are becoming serious. Although all of the SDGG issues are becoming issues globally, Japan is a frontrunner in these issues since it has entered a hyper-aged society, and the pioneering examples in this country will increasingly attract international attention into how Japan can lead the way in providing solutions.

Now that we are at the midpoint of the 2030 Agenda, we will need to review our approaches to addressing the SDGs in an agile manner. Otherwise, this grandiose initiative will be forced to amend its goals drastically at the UN.

This article has been translated by JST with permission from The Science News Ltd. ( Unauthorized reproduction of the article and photographs is prohibited.

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